Abbaye de St-Savin sur Gartempe

Abbey in Poitou

Nicknamed the 'Romanesque Sistine Chapel', this Romanesque abbey-church – a Unesco World Heritage Site – showcases extraordinarily fine frescoes from the 11th and 12th centuries. The murals, illustrating biblical scenes, are well preserved and cover more than 460 sq metres in the vast barrel-vaulted nave alone. Choir frescoes tell the gory tale of martyr brothers Saints Savin and Cyprien. A multimedia exhibition in the former monk cells explains the murals, and a 25-minute film looks at painting techniques.

The abbey was founded in 800 when 20 monks and an abbot settled in the village of St-Savin under the protection of Charlemagne. Construction work started on the vast abbey-church in 1010, and during the Wars of Religion in the 16th century, it was the only building to miraculously survive. Between 1682 and 1692 Benedictine monks rebuilt the abbey complex – a sacristy, chapter house, refectory, kitchen, monks dormitory and the abbot’s residence – in local pink-hued limestone and laid out beautiful gardens.

Find the abbey 45km east of Poitiers via the D951; you'll need your own wheels.