Troglodyte Living Along the Cher River
Updated: Feb 24, 2020
Troglodyte. When I first moved to the Loire Valley beside the Cher River, the word "troglodyte" popped out of nowhere, generating thoughts of dinosaurs, murky bogs, and ogres waiting to pop out from deep dark caves. That’s not too far from the truth. Age-wise, anyway. Millions of years ago, the Loire Valley was a vast sea. Over the millennia, the sediments compressed in a limestone known as tuffeau—a material which has become integral to the area.
I was exploring my new town by walking above it on low cliff with a view of the river when chimney tops appeared incongruously at my feet. I They were evidence of a literal pied a terre below me. It was far from unique.
Eventually, I learned that tuffeau stone from the Loire Valley is lightweight and easy to cut, then hardens and whitens as it ages making it the ideal building block. Thus the stone was mined in nearby Bourré and surrounding areas to form thick walls in countless châteaux including the famous Chenonceaux that crosses the Cher south of Bourré. In fact, the stone is ubiquitous within much of the Loire Valley, creating entire villages.
All that mining created massive galleries running for miles underground. These subterranean spaces created the ideal temperature for storing wine, growing mushrooms, asparagus, raising silkworms.
The wine caves of Monmousseau (between Bourre and Montrichard) include tastings and tours that warn visitors to stay with the guide. The tunnels extend 15 kilometers (about 12 miles.) During the WWII Occupation, German troops had used these deep caverns to store supplies. According to locals, their lorries are still rusting away in the farthest tunnels, along German soldiers who wandered off and were never seen again.
Les Caves Champignonnierres des Roches provides mushroom tours in its caves and a boutique to select your favorites to take home.
The Magnanerie de Bourré provides an inside look at family’s original troglodyte home. I expected darkness but the rooms inside are luminous with indirect lighting that bounces off the white walls through its small windows.
Also along the Cher, Les Deux Caves is just one restaurant that provides a taste of cave dining. The rough stone walls are cut to hold small lamps. It’s my favorite down-to-earth spot – literally – for the simple but succulent grilled beef or lamb with rosemary, along with heaping pots of paté, fries, and salads.
I’ve only skimmed the surface of the underground life in the Bourré/Montrichard area. If you want to know more, see the Tourism Office in Montrichard on 1 Rue du Pont.
Ps: Other Loire Valley areas are also known for their troglodyte caves, including west to Saumur and Doué-la-Fontaine, north to Trôo and Vendome, south toward Loches. You could spend an entire vacation—or a year discovering the “underground!”