A rare Troglodyte Abbey beside Beaucaire, carved out of the solid rock, from the 5th century and fortified in the 12th century.
Two hilltops in the woods just northwest of Beaucaire were occupied in the 5th century by monkish Hermits, who made caves for themselves in the rock. These adjacent hilltops were isolated from the occupied river plains of the confluent of the Gardon and Rhône rivers.
Around the 7th century the community of Hermits adopted the rules of Saint Benoît and became a Benedictine Abbey. They carved out of the rock a chapel, monks cells and other rooms, and individual graves.
A moat was carved out of the rock surrounding the Abbey site in the 14th century, and fortification walls were built.
In the 16th century the Abbey was abandoned and then sold to an individual. That owner built a small chateau on the top, but it was soon demolished and the site definitely abandoned.
Archeological excavation began in the 20th century to explore the site and prepare it for visiting.
Troglodyte Abbey Layout
1. Fortified walls
3. Wine Press
6. Abbot's seat
7. Central corridor
8. Large room
9. Base of the old tower
Visiting hours and costs are posted at the entry kiosk at the very top of the 15-minute walk to the top. (We're hoping a sign at the bottom is posted when the Abbey is closed.)
- Entry: 5.50€ (2013); under 18 free. NO credit cards.
- Open 1 July - 31 Aug: every day, 10h-13h, 14h-19h
- Open 1 Apr - 30 June, 1 Sept - 20 Oct: 10h-13h, 14h-18h30; closed Mon and Tue morning.
- Open 21 Oct - 1 Mar: Sat, sun, school vacations, 14h-17h30
- Open 2 -31 Mar: Tue - Sun, 14h-18h30
From Beaucaire go west-northwest on the D999, Route de Nimes for just over 2 km. At the large roundabout, junction with the D90, the small Chemin de la Tapie road goes north-northwest from the roundabout, with a sign for the Abbey. It's another 2 km in to the south-side parking area for the Abbey. A security guard is stationed there, all year, whenever the Abbey is open, to keep an eye on the area and the parked cars.
Access to the Abbey
It's a 15-minute walk up through the woods to the Abbey. The path is wide and paved, and either slopes up or has very long and shallow steps. There are a couple of places to sit and rest along the way. For people of limited mobility, the real problem is when you arrive at the Abbey itself. Except for a couple of the bottom-level rooms, most of the troglodyte Abbey is accessed via an iron spiral stairway with 35 steps. There is no other access, and the same spiral stairway is needed for the exit.
There are no toilets at the Abbey.
Visiting the Abbey
Visiting the troglodyte Abbey is a self-guided tour. You're free to wander through the site, but there's one defined path to follow.
You begin by climbing the spiral staircase, explore inside the caves of the middle level where the chapel and the Abbot's seat are located.
Up on the top (open) level, the tombs are carved into the rock. You have a great view of the surrounding forest and the Rhône river. You can see the Aiguille (needle) peak nearby, where other hermitage caves are also located.
A walk across the top towards the narrow eastern end takes you by more tombs carved into the surface. At the far end you go down into the lower level to see the Monks' cells
Climbing back up to the top surface, the path takes you towards the center, then back down inside through the chapel area and out through the entry cave. You can have a look at the deep cave where the wine press was located before completing this part and descending the spiral stairway.
Walking back along the base of the cliff you'll come to the entry to the Grandes Salles (the Large Rooms). This massively tall chamber was once separated by floor into three rooms.
After exiting the Large Rooms, you have the option of taking a walk around the periphery of the fortress top; it takes only a few minutes.