Nov 2, 2014

My Dream House: L'Abbaye de Cîteaux


Visiting the Cistercian Abbey de Fontenay, founded in the year 1118, I see a private chef coming out of the family house -- off limits to the public tour -- on the property: It's that big series of connected buildings straight in front in the photo. And it gets me thinking. Well, fantasizing is more like it. What would my French dream house be?

My husband knows I am drawn to fixer-uppers, not just in my dreams but also in real life (our place in San Francisco was a real dump before we renovated it....twice). I bet this one could be had for a good price.

I love that in rural France, a house like this is even allowed to stay standing (if, in fact, you can call this "standing"). The San Franciscan in me is thinking of the accessible danger, the lawsuits, and the zoning requirements that would condemn it and force me to pay to tear it down.

I'm finding much of my inspiration at the Abbaye de Fontenay, simply because Burgundy is the most recent trip I've taken. For example, I've always loved a cloistered courtyard.


But I think my dream home should also have elements of Southern France, near the Spanish border. I love the Moorish influence of the architecture there. So this one, in Languedoc, is more to my taste (yes, please).

The southern Moorish doors also really float my boat.


But these Burgundy doors (I mean the region, not the color) will do. I like the door-within-the-door concept.

And the colors of these door -- a red one from Strasbourg. And this one, from Flavigny in Burgundy, for a door in my fantasy garden. I'm drooling.
Heck, I even like the Abbey's attic.

To get up there, I'll take this staircase, from the Musée Gustave Moreau in Paris. I don't remember a single thing about any of the paintings I saw in the museum, but I sometimes still recommend people visit here, just for this staircase.


I don't need 10 meter high ceilings, but I'm charmed by the black and white floors, here at Vaux-le-Vicomte and at the Château d'Ussé in the Loire valley.
And if I did have to have super high ceilings (twist my arm), or even just an enclosed patio, I'm kind of partial to the ceilings at the Grand and Petit Palais in Paris. Sure, I could go with something gilded, painted, and ornate, but this is my fantasy house, not yours (and not Louis XIV's, either).

Let's be practical here, however. I'm not just pie in the sky. I also want to be pie in the oven. I need a kitchen. Maybe like the ones at Vaux-le-Vicomte, or at the Château de Chenonceaux.

My writing office also comes from Chenonceaux, and sits right over a body of water. Clearly, it will have to be wired for internet, and the plant will be dead within minutes of me trying to take care of it.

For the exterior, I'm torn. I like the stone look of the Abbey, and I've never met a round, cone-topped tower I didn't like.

On the other hand, colombage -- the wood and plaster construction method -- speaks to me. Brown and white is classic but, since I generally like colorful things I might opt for one of the brighter hues from Alsace.


The windows could be painted a nice red, as in the Loire, or have blue shutters, as in Provence.


And I've decided to banish boring roofs, so I must, of course, have the colorful tiles from Château Rochepot.

I'm happy that the people in this house in a little town in Burgundy feel like they're living in "La Maison Des Rêves" ("The House of Dreams"). I may not actually live in mine, but I still feel really lucky to visit its parts all over the country. Also, I do realize that while I may dream about the house, the upkeep on my fantasy villa would be a nightmare.

THE CHEESE: L'Abbaye de Cîteaux

L'Abbaye de Cîteaux is a cows' milk cheese from the L'Abbaye de Cîteaux (more fully called l’Abbaye de Saint-Nicolas-les-Cîteaux), which is not just a Cistercian abbey, it's the Cistercian abbey, the original from which we get the word Cistercian. The raw milk comes from Montbéliarde race cows. L'Abbaye de Cîteaux is an artisanal cheese, pressed to eliminate moisture in a manner similar to the manufacturing process of Reblochon. In fact, it looks something like a Reblochon -- a sort of fluffy pizza. It's washed while it ages for a minimum of two months.

The results is a slightly orange, slightly stinky, fruity-creamy cheese that's got the real flavor of a classic. Though the abbey is over 900 years old, the cheese has been made here, exclusively, since 1925.


L'Abbaye de Cîteaux is an abbey in Burgundy, from which the word "Cistertian" is derived. The private residence at L'Abbaye de Fontanay, a Cistertian abbey in Burgundy, serves as the inspiration for much of my dream house.


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