Updated: Jul 27, 2019
As you drive or cycle along the Loire river in Saumur, you’ll see great white chalk cliffs against which homes have been built. Above on the well-drained chalky soils, you’ll find vines growing premium Cabernet Franc. Below, on the fertile loam, by the river, higher-yielding Cabernets.
What really interests me, is the cliffs and the chalky soils. Originally used as limestone quarries to build castles for the Seigneurs and country estates for the the Kings of France, the farmers soon gave these cold shelters new purpose. If you get the chance to walk through one, the deeper it goes, the cooler it gets and the more humid it gets.
The first one we visited was a restaurant, poultry farm and personal wine cellar. It’s Vincent Cuisinier de Campagne calls a zero kilometre restaurant. All the food served comes from his garden, from the potager above the cave and poultry farm below, you actually have to order some dishes with 24-hour notice. Whilst the tall cavernous carved rock ceiling evokes unusual sensations, I’d rather eat in a clean, warm room with windows or outside in the sun, both of which he also offers.
The second we visited was a bed and breakfast. Half built into the cliff and half out. The bedrooms were well lit and airy, the bathrooms in the cliff and eery, and the dining room in a cave and scary. Not actually that scary, it was well lit, homely and the host cooked cote de boeuf in an original fireplace, the chimney also built through the rock.
The third was the mushroom museum. Sounds weird, but caves are the perfect place for growing autumnal fungi all year round. I’ll leaf it at that.
The fourth, sixth and seventh all belonged to wineries. Again, the perfect cool and humid location for storing and ageing wine under barrel and bottle. One thing I noticed, they tell you the thickness of the cave topside with great pride, be it 15 or 50 meters. At the 15-meter one, you could see the vine roots growing through the vaulting.
In conclusion, my feelings about these spaces are mixed. In theory and initially I was really excited by them and still am. I just have little interest in going too deep or for long periods. Have a browse of the photos below and you’ll see troglodytes of all shapes and sizes. Some producers have vast caves with thousands of bottles and some are smaller, private cellars and cold tasting rooms.