Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Des Goupillieres - Troglodyte Village - Loire Valley

Cave dwellers, known as troglodytes, have made their homes in the soft tufa or limestone cliffs along the Loire since medieval times.  Because the stone was easy to carve and maintained a constant year round temperature of around 12 degrees villagers were able to create simple, secure houses, largely protected from the elements. The idea of cave dwellers is fascinating and we were keen to explore at least one troglodyte village so, one morning, a few of us set off from Prieure de Relay for Des Goupillieres, a few kilometres out of the village of Azay-le-Rideau, tucked away up a small country lane and easy to miss if you don't know it's there. While many of the Loire  troglodyte settlements have now been turned into smart holiday accommodation, or private holiday homes, this village has been restored by its owners to as near authentic a medieval troglodyte village as possible.

The village was discovered by Louis-Marie Chardon who, as a boy, enjoyed roaming and exploring his father's orchard. It had been inhabited until around 1900 but by the time his father bought the land it was overgrown with trees and brambles.  Louis-Marie eventually inherited the property and started to restore it and today the village is laid out as a medieval farming village complete with various farm animals, orchards and vegetable gardens.  Unlike some of the other troglodyte villages it is not prettified, gardens are surrounded with rustic fences cut from branches and the animals are kept in various pens, just as they would have been when the village was a bustling subsistence community.

 We were surprised by the houses.  I imagined cave like structures but the rooms are, in fact, squared off as a regular room would be and have sophisticated built in ovens.  Most houses have an adjoining room, open to the living area, where their horse or donkey was kept.  Not only was this, their most valuable possession, kept safe and dry but the animal also helped keep the house warm. There is even an underground refuge accessed by a narrow tunnel, which none of us were game to enter, where the villagers hid from marauding enemies and robbers. 

I really enjoyed strolling around this village.  I could imagine life as it was so long ago, could almost see the villagers scurrying about their business, gardening, baking, caring for the animals. It must have been a tough existence but the morning we were there it was quiet and peaceful, the only sound birds chirping in the trees.  Oh, and the fact that the people must have been very short, judging by the door and ceiling heights, made me feel right at home!