Saumur is a French town of ancient origin (settled around 4 BC) in the Loire valley, built on the banks of the Loire river. We were there for an all-too-brief visit to see our niece Rose, her husband Luc and their two boys Louis and Emmanuel (Manu).
Day 1 was overcast and rainy so we went for a drive in the countryside. Our first stop was at Fontevraud Abbey in a village called, perhaps unsurprisingly, Fontevraud-l’Abbaye. The Abbey dates from 1110 and is a very photogenic structure, being built of the characteristic limestone of the area known as Tuffeau stone. This is a lovely cream colour with flecks of mica. It is a very soft stone and I think quite susceptible to weather damage. This stone is also what gives the local soils an edge in winemaking which is a feature of the area. We had the opportunity to try a couple of bottles of local wine which used mainly the Cabernet Franc grape and they were very good indeed. In NZ this variety seems more often than not to be used with blends of other grapes, perhaps because it is difficult to manage on its own but the French, with their traditions of winemaking stretching back hundreds of years, have certainly nailed it as a standalone variety.
The Abbey has an interesting history, not least because it was always run by an Abbess, even though there were both monks and nuns resident in it. And who knew, but three characters very important in English history are buried here: Henry II, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine and their son Richard the Lionheart. Their original effigies are still on display above their tombs.
After lunch at the Abbey cafe, we travelled on to the town of Chinon, noted particularly for its medieval buildings. The rooflines are fascinating.
Then a short drive to see the Troglodyte Caves. I didn’t actually know before now that troglodyte means cave-dweller. As people hollowed out the hills for the stonework, they left behind caves which are now incorporated into houses and shops. The caves keep steady temperature of 12 degrees all year round so I imagine that their wines would be well-kept in such surroundings.
A great day out in a part of France that we would not normally visit, but very pleased that we did. And there is no doubt that having local guides makes all the difference. Merci beaucoup, Rose et Luc!