January 17, 2017

The view from a traditional troglodyte cliff face The view from a traditional troglodyte cliff face © Flickr user Steve Jurvetson


Exploring the French countryside is one of my all-time-favourite things to do. It’s full of incredible landscapes, just waiting to be discovered, and few French treasures are more interesting than France’s troglodyte caves. So, this year, spend your time seeking out new experiences and say “oui” to more fantastic adventures across France.

Use my guide for some of the best places to see the Loire Valley troglodyte caves, which are just a five-hour-drive from Calais, plus we’ll take a brief look at the caves found in France’s beautiful Dordogne region.


What are the Troglodyte Caves?

Historically, the caves were used for places of residence by the Loire Valley’s less wealthy inhabitants. They are beautiful cave-like houses, carved into tufa limestone cliffs, and were used for hundreds of years by local dwellers. You can find many examples of the caves throughout the Loire Valley, and most of them are still used today. The location and material of the caves mean that they’re often used for storing wine, with rooms staying cool in the summer and cosy and warm in winter.


Saumur

Nestled between the river Loire and the river Thouet, Saumur is an enchanting destination in the Maine-et-Loire department. Dating back to the fourth century BC, Saumur was originally only home to the troglodytes and their inhabitants. The caves were first excavated to harvest the tuffeau limestome, which was formed over 90 million years ago when the Loire Valley formed the floor of a great ocean.

Many of the troglodytes are still in use today, either by residents looking for a simpler way of life or those making and maturing wine. If you’re looking for a place nearby to sleep, check out Demeure de la Vignole for a luxurious stay, just 10 minutes’ walk from Saumur.

Explore troglodyte caves, home to residents of the Loire Valley thousands of years ago

Explore troglodyte caves, home to residents of the Loire Valley thousands of years ago © Flickr user Daniel Jolivet

Doué-la-Fontaine

Doué-la-Fontaine is a striking commune, near to Saumur. Offering vast troglodyte caves to discover, Doué-la-Fontaine is popular with anyone who wishes to explore French history. Within the Regional Natural Park of Loire-Anjou-Touraine, you can walk through silent caves with high vaulted ceilings, visit the town’s history museum, the Musée "Aux Anciens Commerces", and the Zoo de Doué, a 14-hectare zoo home to about 100 different species of animal.

I always love any chance to be active, and this area is fantastic for both cycling and horse riding, with many paths coursing through local vineyards. Stay in a real troglodyte cave when you sleep at Logis Hôtel Rocaminori, in Rochemenier, just outside of Doué-la-Fontaine.


La Fosse-de-Tigne

Just 34 kilometres from Angers, La Fosse-de-Tigne is home to a quaint troglodyte, which is still used as a house today. Maisons Troglodytes de Forges is open daily to visitors for just a few euros, existing as the first private troglodyte cave which was opened in 1979.

You can take a free tour of the site, which has a maze of cave systems and a farm, while the front of the property is beautifully-decorated with vines and painted wood. It’s a really pleasant place to visit, with owners who are happy to host and educate anyone who wishes to learn about this part of French history.


La Madeleine, Dordogne

In France’s Dordogne region, further south, you can find a quaint troglodyte village by the name of La Madeleine. Not too far from Tursac, the prehistoric caves found here are the best example of their kind in the area.

This dwelling is far more basic than the shelters found in and around the Loire Valley, and when I first read about it, it struck me just how old the site is – our ancestors, hunter-gatherers, would have used the cave almost 20,000 years ago! It’s unfortunately not possible to visit the prehistoric site close-up, but you can check out the surrounding troglodyte village which dates back to the eighth century and is equally fascinating. 

An example of France’s ancient troglodyte ruins

An example of France’s ancient troglodyte ruins © Flickr user dynamosquito
Visit France’s troglodyte caves on your next adventure. With Eurotunnel Le Shuttle, you can travel from Folkestone to Calais in just 35-minutes, so you have no reason not to say “oui”!


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