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Part one: Enjoy the charm of the French countryside while partaking of the gastronomic delights of Lyon

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

When I decided to write the monastery book on France, one of the cities I didn’t want to miss was Lyon. It is a history-filled city with art, architecture and of course, wonderful gastronomic delights. The Institution where I stayed is situated on the grounds of a verdant 15-acre parkland on a hill dominating Lyon. Conveniently located on the west side of Lyon, the facility is accessible to the Perrache and Part-Dieu high-speed train stations. Once an old estate built in 1680, it is for all intents and purposes a stone’s throw from Lyon.

While on a mission to Gaul in 43 BC, one of Caesar’s lieutenants founded a Roman colony and named it Lugdunum. It became the capital of Roman Gaul and is now the core of present-day Lyon. Its most provocative artifact from the Roman period is the bronze Claudian Table granting citizens the right to become Roman senators. The table is part of the priceless collection of the Musee de la Civilisation Gallo.

A lovely city in the Rhone Alps, Lyon offers a cornucopia of diversions, from its world famous cuisine to its medieval and Renaissance old square. It is organized into nine arrondissements and the best way to explore the city on foot. Fourviere hill, the “praying hill” is defined by the extravagant 19th century Our Lady of Fourviere Basilica, beloved symbol of the city and a revered place of pilgrimage. Mosaics and stained glass opulently fill the interior. Easy access is provided by a funicular railway, la ficelle, which travels to the top of the hill and amazing views of the city below.

The cost of the rooms is quite reasonable with rates starting at about 35E per person/per night including breakfast.

The cost of the rooms is quite reasonable with rates starting at about 35E per person/per night including breakfast. Other meals can also be arranged for an additional charge. Men and women are welcome. Each single, double and dorm rooms have private baths and views of the park. The institute is accessible to the handicapped.

To be continued…

For more information go to: Monasteries of France









The Allure of the Ligurian Coast is its history and beautiful cities (Part two)

Friday, February 17th, 2012

The monastery we selected (from among hundreds in The Guide to Lodging in Italy’s Monasteries) has eight double rooms with private bath.

Portofino is one of the most exclusive resorts in Italy. A harbor town, it is anchored on a promontory overlooking the sea and coastline. What makes the town even more delightful are the brightly colored houses that edge the portside piazza and compose a postcard pretty picture. As hikers, we found another trail that was quite lovely. If you’re up for the walk, take the road near the16th century Castle of San Giorgio through a pine woodland to the Punta del Capo lighthouse. And whatever you do, wherever you go in this part of Italy, don’t forget your camera.

Nearby Genoa, capital of the region, remains the most important harbor in Italy. It is laid out along the seashore like an amphitheater. A maze of narrow streets comprise the heart of the old city where humble houses, medieval churches and 16th century palaces stand side by side. The austere facades of the churches, often layers of black and white marble, belie the beauty within. The surrounding hilltops are scattered with walls and fortresses from the early 17th century. In the 13th century, the city was the main maritime power of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Some of the city’s sights include the Palazzo Rosso and its fine gallery showcasing Tintoretto, Caravaggio, Veronese and Durer while the Palazzo Bianco exhibits the works of Pontormo, Reubens and Van Dyck. Don’t miss the Staglieno. It is as much a sculpture garden as an amazing cemetery. Planned in the mid 15th century, it is a place unto itself. There’s a map that will show the way down numerous cedar and cypress lined avenues to some impressive monuments. Make note of the often provocative granite and marble female figures on the tombstones.

The monastery we selected (from among hundreds in The Guide to Lodging in Italy’s Monasteries) has eight double rooms with private bath. The rooms are in a recently renovated section that is open year-round. The cost per person, per night depends on the time of year. As an aside, the monks produce an ointment that heals wounds and extracts splinters from under the skin. The ointment is sold throughout Italy. For more information about other monasteries in every part of Italy, visit

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Spend the night or a week at an ancient abbey considered one of the most beautiful Romanesque structures in France and bask in the beauty of the Midi Pyrenees and its lovely, inviting bastides.

Saturday, September 10th, 2011

The abbey-church was a popular stop for pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela, in what is now Spain.

The abbey’s church is celebrated for its tympanum depicting the “Last Judgment.” It is embellished with 124 carved figures. There is also a gilded wood reliquary studded with precious stones that is one of the oldest statues of the Christian era.

Nearby Conques is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is among the very few sites in France that can boast such a grand heritage. Stroll through its city streets and take note of the fact that Conques is a place that seems to have traveled through time unchanged. A stop on the route to Santiago de Compostela, the allure of the village is highlighted by its Romanesque -style abbey church. The area encompassing the church is a picture postcard setting of slate-roofed, half-timbered houses.

Close to Conques, Rodez lies on a hill with wide horizons dominated by the late 13th century red sand stone Cathedrale Notre-Dame, an outstanding edifice of northern Gothic style crowned by a 240’ tower. The interior preserves a finely worked 15th century screen, a 16th century “Entombment” in polychrome stone and a double row of sculpted stalls. There is a sense of history in Rodez as seen in the town’s ancient quarter, now a pedestrian zone, retains its old world charm.

Among the main reasons to visit this part of France are the bastides. “new” towns built by feudal lords to attract settlers and soldiers in the 13th century. The bastides  are defined by a central marketplace bordered by arcaded houses, an adjacent church and checkerboard streets. More than three hundred bastides are strewn in an enchanting galaxy across the entire southwestern part of France.  Of special note, no two are alike, yet all share the same basic grid design; a central market and market square with a network of streets and lanes radiating out in perfect symmetry.

The bastide Villefrance-de-Rouergue is a landscape of architectural charm, old world sensibility and charm. A regimented alignment of roofs, narrow lanes, a central arcaded square and a church form the heart of the village. A fortified town, it was founded in 1252 by Alphonse de Poitiers, brother of King Louis IX. The ancient core is overshadowed by the stalwart bulk of Cathedrale Notre-Dame. Built in southern Gothic style, the church is marked by a massive 15th century belfry. The Penitents Noirs Chapel has a gilded wooded altarpiece and 15th century choir stalls.

Montauban is one of the finest and earliest bastides. Built of pink bricks by the Count of Toulouse, it traces its founding to 1144. Also a fortified village, excellent examples of the golden age of the 13th century are obvious in its place Nationale and bishop’s palace, now the Musee Ingres.