Cycling hotel review: Les Chambres de l’Abbaye, Saintes

Published by Lyn on 30 April 2018

The Sainte-Marie-aux-Dames Abbaye is a living, breathing piece of history – and you can be part of it when you stay at Les Chambres de l’Abbaye.

L'Abbaye aux Dames, La Cité Musicale

L'Abbaye aux Dames, La Cité Musicale
11 place de l'Abbaye, 17100 Saintes
Charente-Maritime, Poitou-Charentes (Nouvelle-Aquitaine)
+33 (0)5 46 97 48 33 / reservations@abbayeauxdames.org
(There are English speakers)
View map
Official website

The small and accessible city of Saintes is on the Flow Velo bike route between Ile d'Aix and Thiviers. It's the perfect base on the Rochefort (our accommodation for Rochefort is here) to Cognac stretch for an overnight stay. If you can, stay two nights to have a proper poke around.

The Abbaye aux Dames – along with the ancient Roman amphitheatre – is one of the highlights of a visit to Saintes. In years gone by, the abbey was home to generations of nuns (and, in bleaker times, to Nazis in occupied France). Today it's still providing a safe haven: some of us just arrive by bike these days.

Far from being a historical relic, the abbaye is a living, breathing monument – alive, for the most part, to the sound of music (see what I did there?)

5 things we liked 

I've had trouble finding five things I liked about staying here – because I could have written many more. I'm a big fan of this place, of how it's been preserved and brought back to life, and shared with a new generation of travellers, artists and musicians.

1. Bikey stuff. Firstly and importantly for anyone reading this: the bikey stuff. The hotel is accueil velo rated and it ticks all my boxes. Bikes get special treatment here. Charlie, one of the lovely staff, was keeper of the key when we visited. He showed us to the abbey’s wonderful ancient cellar. In bygone days it would have been held enough wine to keep the nuns happy for decades; now it’s accessed by a bike-friendly ramp and provides safe storage for gems of the two-wheeled variety. I spoke to the hotel manager and she is super keen to welcome more cyclists. Breakfast was delicious with all manner of treats available to power a day on the bike.

Abbaye aux Dames

Abbaye aux Dames

L'Abbaye aux Dames, La Cité Musicale

2. The history and the music. Many historic buildings are just that: places with their most interesting days behind them. That’s not the case here. The abbey has had a long and fascinating history. It dates bask to 1047 when it was founded by the Count of Anjou as a Benedictine abbey for women. Today its history lives on, largely through music. It's the venue for regular music concerts (mostly classical), and also provides a forum for local music teachers and students in a conservatory setting. The sound of the flute was echoing through the grounds when we arrived. It's possible to take a 'Musicaventure' audio tour of the grounds and buildings (English or French). I've done a few audio tours in my time and this one has to be one of the best. There are two options and both are set to music and tell the story of the abbey and its unique place in French history. That's us above en route to the bell tower.    

3. The rooms. The accommodation is simple but comfortable, much in the same way it would have been when the building was home to generations of nuns. Our room did not have an en suite, though bath robes are provided to make wandering up the elegant corridors to the shared facilities more comfortable. Note that there are two rooms that DO have en suites – book ahead and ask in advance for these as I imagine they are popular. For people on a budget, there is also a youth hostel on the grounds.

Saintes market

Saintes amphitheatre

4. The town. Saintes really is a lovely town. Aside from the abbey, the Roman amphitheatre – once one of the most important in ancient Rome – is worth a visit. In fact Saintes was once the Roman capital of Aquitaine. The towering Arch of Germanicus near the river was built in 18-19 AD and was once a gateway at the end of the Via Agrippa – the Roman road linking the Atlantic coast to Lyon and Rome. If Roman history isn't your thing, you can instead while away the hours wandering the streets of the old town or stocking your panniers at the market. There's a Saturday morning market at Place St Pierre (and again on Wednesdays), plus other smaller markets scattered throughout the town during the week.

Saintes

5. Eating out. For a small town, Saintes has an excellent range of quality restaurants serving affordable menus made up of fresh produce. We ate at Saveurs de l'Abbaye (1 place St Pallais, 17100 Saintes; 05 46 94 17 91) just outside the abbey walls (my main meal is above). The location was excellent for tired cycling legs but the food, the wine and the friendly staff were even better. 

We enjoyed our stay at L'Abbaye aux Dames. It was lovely to experience a historically important place that has maintained its importance and opened its doors to new generations. It was also a pleasure to speak with the manager of the abbey and hear that there's a commitment to engaging more with cyclists and encouraging visitors from a diverse range of backgrounds to enjoy the abbey and its surrounds.     

L'Abbaye aux Dames, La Cité Musicale
11 place de l'Abbaye, 17100 Saintes
Charente-Maritime, Poitou-Charentes (Nouvelle-Aquitaine)
+33 (0)5 46 97 48 33 / reservations@abbayeauxdames.org
View map
Official website

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