A Moment of Nostalgia

at the Abbey of Notre Dame des Dombes
Abbaye Notre Dame des Dombes au PlantayAbbaye Notre Dame des Dombes, façade d'entrée
©Abbaye Notre Dame des Dombes |Michael Zeilfelder

A year at the Abbey of Notre Dame des Dombes and memories full of my mind…

Michael tells

Discovering the Dombes

I arrived in the Dombes 10 years ago, at the Abbey of Notre Dame des Dombes.
In Germany, where I am from, military service still existed at that time. To replace it, you could do civic service. I had found this Abbey by chance, which regularly hosted people in civic service. I applied, my application was accepted, and I packed my bags for France.

I knew about France: big cities like Paris, Lyon, or Strasbourg, but the Dombes was unknown to me. My first look at it was through the windows of the TER. I saw a pond and thought it was charming. Then I saw another one, then a third, a fourth; by the time I arrived at the Villars-les-Dombes station, I had seen at least ten, a tiny percentage since the Dombes has more than 1,200 ponds, which I would learn later.

The Abbey of Notre Dame des Dombes

I arrived at the Abbey with no knowledge of the history of the place and the region, just as the first monks who lived there from 1862 did.
Unknowingly, I took the same path as they did, from Villars-les-Dombes to Plantay. Like them, I was amazed by the importance of the brick buildings and this unusual architecture.

I already knew the Basilica of Fourvière in Lyon, but I had no idea that these two buildings were designed by the same architect, Pierre-Marie Bossan. I arrived at the gate, greeted by Mary, Saint Bernard, and Saint Benedict (in statue form, not in person), apprehensive about the year ahead.

Nevertheless, I crossed the gate, walked through the orchard with its 700 apple trees, to be welcomed by René, the dean of the community who is the living memory of this place.

Throughout the Year

I learned a lot about the Abbey and its history: the difficult founding of the monastery in the 18th century in an underprivileged and unhealthy region, the growth of the monastic community and its positive influence on agricultural and fish farming practices in the region, the bravery of the monks during World War II by saving many Jews, and finally their decline in the second half of the 20th century until the dissolution of the community in the 2000s and the takeover of the Abbey by the Chemin Neuf community.
I could uncover the secrets of this place: cellars filled with ancient objects and liturgical equipment, the scriptorium with the monastery archives and several hundred books, to the attic with the community’s apothecary and a secret access to the bell tower.

The Secret of Musculine

While the monks are gone, their activities continue: I worked on the farm with its cows, whose milk is used by the community to make cheese, in the orchard with its 20 varieties of apples that are turned into juice and compotes and make the best fruit jellies you will find, and I was initiated into the making of the famous Musculine.
To describe this product, I leave the floor to René: “Musculine is a fortifier invented by Dr. Guichon, who entrusted the recipe to the monks of Notre Dame des Dombes. It is a mixture of dried meat, fruits, honey, and sugar that is ground, spread, dried, and cut into small candies. Highly protein-rich and caloric, Musculine is ideal for high-level athletes, elderly people, and people recovering from a long illness. Presented to Napoleon III in person at the Universal Exhibition in Paris, Musculine is still exclusively produced at the Abbey of Notre Dame des Dombes.”


The year allowed me to discover the Dombes in all its aspects: fields covered with dandelions in spring, the blue sky reflecting on the ponds in summer, the famous pond fishings in autumn, and the harsh winter with a thick white layer covering roofs and fields.

Finally, at the end of my service, I couldn’t leave this place and decided to leave my homeland and stay in the region.


Visit the Abbey

Tour guide in the Dombes, today I have the chance to share and showcase this rich historical heritage. And even though many places are not open to the public, the Abbey is a must-visit with its church in the Cistercian’s pure style, its characteristic brick architecture of the Dombes, and the Tibhirine Oratory with Orthodox icons that demonstrate delicate craftsmanship.

After your visit, don’t forget to stop by the Abbey’s shop, where you can find cheese, apple juice, jams, Musculine, and many artisanal products.

Why Should You Come?

Exceptional Heritage
A Unique History
Quality Products
We Tell You Everything !

How to Experience This ?

  • The Abbey is open daily from 10 am to 6 pm except on Tuesdays.
  • The shop is open daily except on Tuesdays from 10 am to 12 pm and from 2:30 pm to 6 pm.
  • The Abbey offers numerous activities during the European Heritage Days and the De Ferme en Ferme weekend.

Abbaye Notre Dame des Dombes

1600 Route de l’Abbaye

01330 Le Plantay

  04 74 98 14 40


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