SAUMUR, France -- Cave living is back. At least along the Loire
Valley west of Tours to Angers.
The troglodyte culture is being brought back by conservationists
who are restoring the traditions, activities, gastronomy and
architecture of cave life. Part of the troglodyte "renaissance"
includes caves refitted for summer vacation homes, gites (small
inns) and restaurants.
The most distinguished cave conversion is Les Hautes Roches,
northeast of Tours in Rochecorbon. The hotel has a noteworthy
restaurant and is a Relais & Chateaux member. The former cave
dwelling has 12 imaginative rooms and three suites with canopy beds
and grand fireplaces. Its lounges and dining room are housed in a
17th century villa above the rooms, and the hotel has a pool. Les
Hautes Roches is closed from Jan. 10 to mid-March. Prices in high
season start at $170, double.
The ancient inhabitants of the area, particularly around Saumur
and Angers, extracted stone destined to become construction
material for the chateaux and manor houses of the western Loire
Valley. An entire society was clustered in the caves, where
limestone galleries, carved out of the cliffs by quarrymen,
provided homes and lodgings. Underground galleries also were ideal
for stocking provisions, winemaking and mushroom cultivation.
On the plateau above the river are more hidden cave dwellings.
Dug straight down into the earth, these caves are detectable by the
chimneys that trace the roofs of the underground chambers. From
single cells to warrens of small rooms, thousands are still are in
use, as wine cellars, mushroom farms and chapels.
The fascinating Mushroom Museum outside Saumur is open to the
public from mid-February to mid-November. It occupies caves
hollowed out in the 10th century. On view are miles of underground
galleries dedicated to the culture of over 200 species of forest
mushroom. Part of the guided tour includes a tasting area serving
various mushroom dishes and wine.
In the Turquant district (between Chinon and Saumur), Troglo'Tap
is a renovated troglodyte house, decorated with historical farm
implements. The cliff cave dwelling highlights the local
agricultural heritage with its Museum of Pommes Tapees, or dried
apples, which are oven-dried, stored and then eaten in a
preparation made with local red wine flavored with cinnamon.
Also in Turquant is an exceptional site: a 16th century pigeon
house carved out of the rocks and open for tastings of
The sculpted cave at Deneze-sous-Doue features hundreds of faces
and figures cut into the walls, offering a powerful and vivid
collection of personalties who probably were alive at the end of
the 15th century.
The Rochemenier Village comprises two ancient farms of dwellings
and outbuildings cut into the rock. On view are several hundred
agriculture tools, furniture, a farmyard with animals, an
underground chapel and a modernized troglodyte house illustrating
contemporary uses for this kind of dwelling. In all, there are 20
rooms that cover 2.5 acres.
Aboveground at this end of the Loire is Chateau Angers, a
fortress perched high on the River Maine and home to the famous
Apocalypse Tapestry. The tapestry's 70 enormous panels document the
Book of Revelation in needlepoint.
Another not-to-be-missed monument in this region is the Chateau
Saumur, which stands majestically above the town of Saumur on a
Visitors then can stop in town for a wine tasting at the Maison
du Vin, the house of wine run by the producers' association.
Relais & Chateaux, Phone: (800) 735-2478 or (212) 856-0115,
Fax: (212) 856-0193.