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

Tuesday, 25 August 2009


There is ‘Candes Saint-Martin’ and then there is ‘Martin de Candre’. To make it even more confusing both are hardly 5 km apart. Except for their name, they have nothing in common, though. By now you know that Candes Saint Martin is one of the most picturesque villages in the Loire Valley, while Martin de Candre is the name of a small, privately owned soap factory. Here soap is still made according to the traditional ‘Marseille’ method. All the ingredients and perfumes are of 100% vegetal origin.
Unfortunately, you can’t visit the actual workshop as apparently soap making is a risky business. A mixture of vegetal oil (olive, palm, copra …) and soda is heated to a very high temperature. None of the synthetic ingredients that are currently used to control the chemical reaction are added. At 110°C the ‘saponification’ process results in an extremely ‘capricious’ paste. When not controlled by an experienced soap master, the hot past will boil over and project hot blobs of soap all over the place.

Perfume being added to the oil & soda mixture
While the mixture is still hot, perfume is added. At the end of the boiling process the soap paste is coloured using exclusively natural ingredients such as essential oils, balms, milk, honey, etc. It is left to cool and set in large wooden moulds. 24 hours later the giant blocs of still slightly warm and tender soap are cut into regular soap cakes, varying from 55 gr. (small guest soaps) to 300 gr. (large cakes of household soap). The company’s logo ‘Martin de Candre’ is applied using a bronze stamp.

The cakes are then ready to be packed. This is done manually and with great precision. The finished product is an attractive little or big cake of soap with a distinctive authentic look.
All this is explained in the little museum and shop at the ‘Domaine de Mestré’ near the village of Fontevraud
l’Abbaye. The Domaine used to be the main farm of the nearby Abbaye de Fontevraud. The chapel and two other buildings from the 12th and 13th century still exist. The Domaine also has three guest rooms and three family suites, ranging from 52 euros to 150 euros per night (the latter with two bathrooms and a sleeping capacity of four adults).
We’ve never stayed there, but the place looks very inviting indeed. On two occasions – the last time in 2007 if my memory serves me right – we visited the museum and the little shop to buy some presents for our friends and family. I remember getting a set of three little guest soaps with different fragrances and an embroidered guest towel attractively packed in a cellophane wrapping. I also bought a 300 gr. cake of plain household soap which it great for removing stains.
The hostess is very helpful and always happy to explain the virtues of her soap. Apparently the palm oil variety has the best skin protection qualities, which makes it very popular with surgeons who have to wash their hands frequently and thoroughly. To prove her point she even gave us a free sample. After using it, I almost blamed myself for not becoming a surgeon …

Photos borrowed from the website of 'Martin de Candre'.


Carolyn said...

I never heard of this soap, but I will look for it, because the savon de Marseille-type soap is something we always bring home.

Martine, you find the hidden places.

ladybird said...

Carolyn, I love the challenge of finding these 'insolite' places. It's so great to get off the beaten track! Martine

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ladybird said...

Anonymous, Thank you!