This is the first in a series of posts on our recent trip to the Loire Valley.
We never stick to the beaten track when we travel and always try to find some of the “hidden secrets” of the place we’re visiting. Read along to see some of what we discovered: where we stayed, what we saw and what we ate.
Part 1: Forget the hotel; stay in a cave.
We spent our first night in Azay-le-Rideau, a small town located along the Indre River and known for its 16th century chateau. What I remember most from our visit isn’t only the picturesque castle and its collection of remarkable tapestries, but the cave we slept in!
The bed & breakfast, TrogloDélice is situated a mere five minutes from the chateau and is etched into the rocky hillside. The owners have transformed a former troglodytic dwelling into a unique accommodation in the heart of the Parc naturel régional Loire-Anjou-Touraine.
The Loire Valley has been classed a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000, for its historical monuments and villages as well as for its natural landscape. The Parc naturel régional spans 270,858 hectares (669,019 acres) and regroups 141 different communes, including Azay-le-Rideau. One of the park’s primary goals is to preserve the area’s natural, historic and cultural patrimony through different partnerships, including those with local hotels and restaurants.
TrogoDélice gets extra kudos for their commitment to sustainability and their involvement with the park’s program Hébergements nature et patrimoine. Participating bed & breakfasts, rural gites and hotels encourage visitors to respect and enjoy the surrounding environment. They propose, for example, hiking itineraries and promise to use eco-friendly cleaning products.
Now for a little history. The caves (grottes troglodytiques) scattered throughout the Loire Valley date back to the Medieval and Renaissance periods. Limestone, or more specifically tuffeau, was extracted from the masses of rock covering the hillsides in order to build many of the monuments still standing today. As an indirect result, caves were created where poor rural families took up residence. These people are referred to as troglodytes (cave dwellers) and their “houses” are commonly called habitations troglodytiques. These dwellings were inhabited for many centuries, some until the early 1900s.
Today, these grottes are considered highly original and sought after for a variety of purposes. Some have been turned anew into homes (with contemporary heating systems, of course), while others serve as museums, restaurants, mushroom nurseries or wine cellars. Their stable temperature and humidity levels make them especially suitable for the latter.
We found TrogloDélice on one of my favorite websites: Gîtes de France. This is an excellent resource for finding rural, off-the-beaten-track accommodations. Instead of using stars, the site classes its recommendations with ears of corn. In addition to the unique setting, this bed & breakfast (classed “3 ears of corn”) proposes a very satisfying breakfast, including brioches (fresh from the local bakery) and fig and current jams. You just have to choose whether you want to take it on the terrace or in your cave!