Founded in 1118 and enshrined as a Unesco World Heritage site, Fontenay Abbey offers a fascinating glimpse of the austere, serene surroundings in which Cistercian monks lived lives of contemplation and manual labour. Set at road's end in a bucolic wooded valley beside a tranquil stream, this restored masterpiece of medieval monastic architecture includes an unadorned Romanesque church, a barrel-vaulted monks’ dormitory, and Europe's earliest metallurgical forge, complete with a working reconstruction of the hydraulic hammer used by 13th-century monks.
A self-guided tour, with printed information in six languages, is available year-round. From April to October, optional guided tours (in French with multilingual handout) are available at 10am, 11am, noon, 1.45pm, 2.45pm, 4pm and 5pm.
From the parking lot, the GR213 trail forms part of two verdant walking circuits: one to Montbard (13km return), the other (11.5km) through Touillon and Le Petit Jailly. Maps and extensive guides to plant life are available in the abbey shop.
Fontenay is 25km north of Semur-en-Auxois. The nearest train station is Montbard, where fast trains connect regularly with Dijon (€15, 35 minutes). A taxi from Montbard to the abbey costs about €15 (more on Sundays and holidays).