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Loire: Truly Troglo
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A window in every room sounds like the norm for a 21st century French home but to one growing band of homeowners, a room with a view is something of a luxury.


Loire: Truly Troglo

The Loire Valley is world famous for its fairytale chateaux built from local white stone called ‘tufa’, but the area is also becoming increasingly well known for its troglodyte dwellings or cave houses tunnelled deep inside the hillsides.

Tufa is a soft rock which hardens on contact with the air – the perfect material for building and sculpting the elegant riverside castles – but it is also easily dug out to make tunnels and caves.

Troglodyte homes certainly aren’t a new idea. Dotted not only along the Loire, but also the nearby valleys of the rivers Loir and Cher, these unusual houses have played an important role in the region’s history across the centuries. Julius Caesar referred to the ‘Gallic burrows’ which sheltered the local villagers.

As prosperity increased, so many troglodyte homes were gradually abandoned in favour of more prestigious accommodation, but in recent years, many have been restored as holiday homes, restaurants, and tourist attractions. Not so much ‘off the wall’ as ‘in the wall’! And with a constant temperature throughout the year, troglo caves are also excellent for growing mushrooms and storing wine.

One of the biggest collections of troglodyte dwellings can be found at Trôo, a beguiling small town 28 Kms west of Vendôme on the river Loir. Trôo once lay at the crossroads of communication routes and in Medieval times – at the height of its prosperity – boasted a population of some 5000 people, most of whom lived in caves. But at the turn of the 20th century, there were fewer than 800, with just 300 a century later.

In recent years however, steps have been taken to preserve the town’s unique history and heritage. Visitors can tour the Cave des Yuccas, a restored troglo home with six interlinked rooms which have been furnished in early 20th century style. Each has its own window overlooking the Loir Valley – a situation made possible by its unusual location on the corner of a cliff.

Don’t miss the exhibition cave either with its atmospheric sepia photographs, the old bread oven or the well which supplied all the town’s fresh water until running water was laid on in 1972. Then climb the steps which lead to the three levels of troglo homes with their tiny front gardens, neat shutters and painted front doors.

If you want to experience cave dwelling for yourself, the Cote Sud Chambres d’Hotes offers B&B for two in a semi-troglodyte apartment for just 46€ (http://site.wanadoo.fr/cotesudtroo.wanadoo.fr). Owners Dominique and Eric have even installed a bar in an old ground floor cave for that truly troglo feeling!

At Lavardin, 8 Km from Troo on the south bank of the Loir, you’ll find many caves being used as wine cellars, storerooms and even restaurants. Classified as one of The Most Beautiful Villages in France, Lavardin also boasts a ruined hilltop fortress and a Romanesque church with some breathtaking 12th century frescoes.

South-west of Trôo on the majestic Loire, the city of Saumur is a popular base for touring the riverside castles. But the surrounding area also boasts an important troglodyte heritage - the legacy of intense quarrying by Medieval chateau-builders.

Visit the chateau-beneath-the-chateau at Brézé to see underground stables, kitchens and even a pigeon house; the subterranean zoo at Doué-la-Fontaine which is home to over 500 animals ; and the troglodyte village of Rochemenier with its farms, outbuildings and chapel. Plus houses, mushroom farms, and a wealth of unique sculpted galleries.

Mushrooms and sparkling wines are the main attractions at Montrichard a little further south on the river Cher. The wine cellars of Monmousseau extend for 15 Km on three levels deep into the hillside and the constant temperature of 12° provides the ideal conditions for ageing fine quality wines.

In nearby Bourré – 12Km from the magical chateau of Chenonceaux - the mushroom caves of Les Roches supply the restaurants of Paris with many different varieties, all grown in the darkness of the caves. Pick your own by lamplight and prepare to taste the difference. In fact you can tour a whole troglodyte settlement at Bourré including cave dwellings, a silkworm cave, and a wine cellar.

So next time you see a cave door in a cliff, look again – you just never know what might be behind it!

FACT BOX
For more information, phone the France Information Line on 09068 244 123 (lines open Monday to Friday, 8.30 am – 8 pm, calls charged at 60p/minute at all times; visit the website on www.franceguide.com, or call in at the French Travel Centre, 178 Piccadilly, London W1, open Monday to Friday 10 – 6, Saturdays 10 - 5.

USEFUL WEBSITES
www.loir-valley.com
www.monmousseau.com
www.troglosites.asso.fr
www.saumur-tourisme.com

 

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