By NormaK

The Loire Valley is known for its magnificent castles and wines.  Been there, done that!  Last weekend, I sought something a little different…

Saumur is a beautiful town with a lovely chateau overlooking the Loire River – all built in the chalky white tufastone that is so characteristic of the area. When they were building the chateau, so much stone was excavated that it left a network of tunnels. It sits regally on top of a small hill above the town overlooking the river. The fortress was built during the 13th century, it has since been a palace, a prison and now houses the municipal museum since 1912. Apparently during its time as a prison, the Marquis de Sade was one of its inmates – we can only imagine what happened inside!

For the past ten years the castle has been undergoing major reconstruction, so visits are out of the question – but it is pretty impressive from the outside. 

We drove along the road running parallel to the River with troglodyte caves on the opposite side.  The best way to get an idea of what these fascinating caves are like is to do a troglodyte tour. It’s quite amazing how the caves are used – even today – for wine fermentation and storage, cultivating mushrooms and snails, as restaurants, shops, hotels and even for a creepy zoo! 

The highlight for me was a visit to a mushroom farm in one of the caves.  The amazing network of troglodyte cellars has allowed the Saumur region to become the mushroom capital of France, producing about 70% of Paris’ world-famous button mushrooms called “Champignons de Paris“.  Who’d ever imagine?  Nothing hallucinogenic about them, but I was in seventh heaven…

When you think of the Loire Valley you think of Chateaux and wines. This weekend I saw a totally different side, at a much slower pace and I’d highly recommend it along with a bit of Nirvana, Marianne Faithfull or Velvet Underground on the Ipod…

For information on GlobeBleu tours to the Loire Valley region, email info@globebleu.com

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