The creamy tuffeau stone of the Loire Valley is soft and easy to excavate, which made it a popular building material for the great chateaux of this French region. Over the centuries, though, mining and quarrying the stone for construction had the side effect of producing a huge network of troglodytic caves whose constant temperature made them suitable for use as wine cellars and even as homes.
Some of these troglodyte houses date back as far as the seventh century, while others are more modern with unique contemporary architecture, and today, many of the caves have been rehabilitated and modernised to make marvellous eco-conscious accommodation both for locals and for visitors in search of something a little out of the ordinary.
Known as the Garden of France, the Loire valley is famed for its fresh produce – fruits, asparagus, artichokes... – and the expanses of vineyards from which the local wines derive their crisp clean flavours. The area is on the UNESCO World Heritage list, where it is described as “an outstanding cultural landscape of great beauty, containing historic towns and villages, great architectural monuments, and cultivated lands formed by many centuries of interaction between their population and the physical environment.” Part of this living and evolving landscape is the troglodytic culture that forms a fundamental part of the rich heritage of the area.
The light stone's natural insulating properties ensure a perfect temperature in both winter and summer, and the ancient man-made caverns are used for a variety of purposes. As well as homes, there are wine cellars, chapels, museums, workshops, mushroom caves, restaurants and hotel accommodation of all types, from rural eco-retreats to the height of luxury. Here are just two options to whet your appetites:
Troglododo (Azay le Rideau)
Overlooking the Indre Valley, this original and eco-conscious guesthouse has just five tastefully decorated rooms – four troglodytic rooms dug into the hillside and one in a converted pigeon loft.
Relais & Château Les Hautes Roches (Rochecorbon)
Set in the core of the cliffs overlooking the Loire, this is France's leading troglodytic hotel. The caves which once belonged to the Mamoutier Abbey were renovated and transformed from monastic cells to luxury accommodation.