One of the Loire Valley’s great landmarks, the 12th-century Fontevraud L’Hôtel has played many roles over the years, from monastery to prison (not to mention burial place of Richard the Lionheart and Eleanor of Aquitaine). It’s now a cultural center and one of its priories is the setting for the ascetically luxurious lodging, restaurant included.
The years-long conversion is the work of Canadian-born architect Sanit Manku and French designer Patrick Jouin of Jouin Manku. Their greatest challenge? They weren’t permitted to touch the ceilings and walls of the UNESCO World Heritage site–”everything is built from chalky, white limestone, and when I say ‘everything’ I mean everything,” says Manku. Take a look at how they employed what they call “microarchitecture” and their own minimalist furniture to create a setting that gracefully celebrates past and present, simplicity and grandeur. Wool monk robes available for those who want the full-immersion experience.
Photography by Nicolas Mathéus.
Above: Fontevraud L’Hôtel is located in the abbey’s Saint-Lazare priory. The lobby, with its minimalist oak-paneled desk amid original stonework, sets the hushed and hallowed tone that permeates throughout. The glass-and-metal front door borrows its geometric pattern from stained glass. “We quietly slipped into the Saint-Lazare priory, immersing ourselves in its history,” write the designers. “We tried to capture its essence, from its monastic simplicity to its prison austerity. Then we had to fine-tune our approach to give life to a contemporary vision that would respect and preserve the spirit of the building. We don’t want the visitor to forget where they are.”
Above: A place for contemplation—and perhaps a cognac. The designers used alter-like freestanding black screens to create intimate spaces within the vast chapel, a meeting place intended as a combination bar and “digital mediatheque.” They warmed the chilly space with furniture built from old beams, some of which have touchscreen tabletops and built-in tablets. There’s also radiant heat flooring—and for further warmth, those monk robes hang nearby on wall hooks.