The population of the town of Cluny has not grown in the last 900 years, which means that this village retains all the charms of its heyday, if with slightly more tourism to boot. Cluny is famous, of course, for its abbey, the monastery of which was founded in 910 AD to counter the corrupt church that existed at the time. Gradually it grew and became more important.
The 11th-century church built by Hugues de Semar was the largest in Christendom until St Peter's Basilica was built in the Vatican. At one stage the abbey controlled about 1100 priories and monasteries across Europe, from Portugal in the west to Poland in the east, and the abbot's word was second only to the pope's. However, as with all such buildings, the king's power gradually eroded that of the abbot until the position became a gift from the king rather than an elected post.
Richelieu and Mazarin both held the title at some point during their careers. Now all that remains of this vast abbey, which was larger than two football pitches stuck together, are a few columns, the south transept an the octagonal belfry, which you can visit for €5.50.
If you want to get some idea of how large the abbey would have looked and its layout, go to the tourist office at 6 rue Mercière which is housed in the Tour du Fromage (where they used to ripen and store cheese, hence the name). From the top of the tower you get a good view of the whole village. Other interesting old houses abound in Cluny and there are two particularly fine examples at number 6 and 25 rue d'Avril, both built in the same period as the abbey.
Map of Cluny
For those of you who wish to stay in Cluny there are several options. The best location is the Hotel de Bourgogne, place de l'Abbaye (03 85 59 00 58) which is right where the north transept of the abbey would have been and has rooms from €55-70. Alternatively there is the adorable Le Potin Gourmand at 4 place du Champ de Foire (03 85 59 02 06) which has lovely rooms around a floral courtyard from €40-55. Less expensive is the Hotel du Commerce at 8 place du Commerce (03 85 59 03 09) with rooms for under €30. Le Potin Gourmand serves up good food on €12-26 menus, or the Brasserie du Nord in the place de l'Abbaye has a good selection of French classics.