Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Leprechauns looking for real estate

Not exactly what you would expect to find in the French Loire Valley ... and yet!

Whilst staying in Loué, we decided to make a daytrip to the Loire. We took our Michelin roadmap and looked up some spots that ‘sounded’ interesting or attractive. Not objective criterions to go by, I admit, but this was the ‘pre-internet’ age, remember. We had no ‘Google’ or ‘Yahoo’ search engine to help us. So preparing an excursion wasn’t as easy then as it is now.

The name Les Rosiers-sur-Loire certainly had a nice ring to it, so off we went. It’s only 83km, but it took us one hour and thirty minutes to get there by the ‘routes départementales’ This is the best way to travel when you’re not in a hurry, as you get to see a lot more than by traveling over the motorway.

The countryside between Loué and les Rosiers is rather spectacular, very bucolic with dramatic skies. You drive through attractive towns, such as La Flêche, Durtal, Beaufort-en-Vallée, many of which hold the label of ‘Villes et Villages Fleuris’. A jury uses three criterions to rank the participating towns/villages from 1 up to 4 ‘flowers’. A sign by the side of the road at the entrance of the town/village tells you the number of ‘flowers’ it has obtained: La Flêche, Durtal and Les Rosiers have 2, Beaufort-en-Vallée 3.

Les Rosiers is a dainty little town, halfway between Saumur and Angers. Here I finally got to see the Loire River. I was impressed by its natural and unspoiled beauty. Next we drove west, to Angers, where we took a quick look at the Château. We didn’t go in though, as we wanted to enjoy the sunny weather while it lasted. In the morning, Météo France had predicted thunderstorms for later that day, so time was precious.

We made a U-turn and drove east to Saumur. In Chênehutte-les-Tuffeaux we saw this ‘cave troglodyte’: ‘La Cave aux Moines’. Like many of the former limestone quarries, it was being used to grow mushrooms and apparently to raise snails. Although tourist season had already started, the place was tightly shut.

Further east, on the outskirts of Saumur, in Saint Hilaire – Saint Florent, we were lucky to find another mushroom ‘cave’. We took the guided tour, which was very interesting. I had eaten ‘champignons de Paris’ and ‘pleurottes’ before , but I never knew that they were grown on big plastic bags filled with … horse manure! (These ‘pleurottes’ had the most fantastic shapes and iridescent colors.)

At the end of the guided tour we were invited to taste some of the locally grown mushrooms. They tasted great and we tried not to think about the bags of horse manure that had produced them!

You’ll find many of these mushroom ‘caves’ in the Loire Region The most famous is 'Le Saut aux Loups’ near Monsoreau and ‘La Cave des Roches’ in Bourré, on the Cher River. They are definitely worth a visit. But when you’ve seen one, there is little interest in visiting another … unless you’re a leprechaun looking for real estate. Indeed, these ‘caves’ have a vast selection of toadstools, which offer very nice housing facilities when you’re a leprechaun.

1 comment:

Ken Broadhurst said...

At the mushroom caves in Bourré they grow mushrooms the same way. Our guide, when we did the tour, specified that the bags are filled with 'sterilized' horse manure. Knowing that helps a little, doesn't it?