The ruined 11th century Abbey of St. Pierre at Maillezais in the French Vendee rises beyond a bed of vivid lavender, planted where the cloister once stood. Its monks created a system of canals which turned the surrounding marshes into agricultural land. Rabelais sought refuge there during the Wars of Religion. Much of its fabric was sold after the French Revolution but its elegant remains - its nave roof was 55 metres above the ground - were saved when it was classified as a historic monument in 1923. If you're travelling in the region - do not miss the chance to see it.