The Priory d’Orsan is an unusual stop along the road south through the Loire Valley. Founded in the 12th century by Robert d’Arbrissel Abbot of Fontevraud Abbey and occupied by nuns for four centuries, the Priory was burned and sacked in 1569 during the wars of religion. In the confusion the nuns fled and took refuge in a nearby castle.
When tempers calmed the nuns returned and the Priory was rebuilt by the Bourbons. It then endured until the Revolution when it was seized by the French state, the nuns were expelled and likely joined the flight of religious from all of France to safety in England, then France’s arch enemy. The English blockade of the coast prevented the forced expatriation of French Priest to prison farms in Guyana.
In 1991, only four buildings remained of the Orsan Priory; The church, the cloisters and the mill had been destroyed and their stones used for agricultural constructions. Two architects, Patrice Taravella and Sonia Lesot, bought the priory in a dilapidated state and began to renovate it. In the place of the former church the owners have constructed a fascinating formal garden with many outside “rooms” through which one may wander.
The Priory also offers a restaurant and a tea room, neither of which were open the day we visited. We were happy to spend a few hours wandering through garden after garden, enjoying the beautiful sunny day and reflecting on the nuns who walked those grounds over four hundred years before and enjoying the peaceful space constructed there.
The main entry to the Priory is through a former outbuilding which has been renovated into a restaurant and store.
The trees and shrubs frame innumerable beautiful and verdant views of the surrounding meadows and create fascinating light and dark contrasts. The hedges also create markers that make the perspective understandable.
Here the monk’s gardens are replicated, with vegetables and herbs grown for use in the restaurant.
A frame for the rosemary, and a spray of white flowers borders one walk.
One of many interesting seats and other structures constructed wholly or partially of rough branches. They make a fine throne for the queen of the garden for a day.
The walking surface is changing from grass to wood to grass. Here, there is a “roof” suggested with walls of fragrant roses.
Bees and other creatures come to sniff and sample the pollen. The seeds are still in this sunflower as it faces the midday August sun. Luz stops and poses with her favorite flower.
An older olive tree caught my attention. It seemed that it might have been there before the gardens were reconstructed in 1991.
And, lest we forget, the fountain in the center of it all reminds us that water is life.
We thoroughly enjoyed our several hours walk through the gardens of the Priory of Orsan and recommend it to anyone driving through that part of the Loire Valley. We hope to get back another time to try the restaurant.