“Wait, what..?”

You’d think after 37 years of marriage (if we last until September,that is) we’d know each other so well that we’d be finishing each other’s sentences. We’d be able to tell what the other is thinking with just a glance. Spirits in total harmony and all that. Not so much.

We’d had a planning session over breakfast in Saumur, studying the maps and the apps. Decisions were made, Doué-la-Fontaine and its troglodyte dwellings would be our next stop. Great! Gill popped over to the bins with our recycling while I put Vince’s little table away. I turned the driver & passenger seats back round to the front, disconnected & stowed the electric hook-up cable and set up the satnav. All systems go! Gill returned…

“What are you doing?”

“We’re all set to go.”

“B-but that’s tomorrow, I thought we were having another day here..?”

Oops. Ah well, as we were ready we just headed off anyway. Look at it as a day gained rather than a day lost.

Saumur Chateau
Saumur from across the Loire

We’d already had a good look round Saumur the day before. As I mentioned last time, our stopover was on an island in the Loire river in the middle of town. Not quite as exotic as it sounds as it was joined to each bank by busy road bridges. Walking into town gave us great views across the wide river to the imposing Chateau de Saumur. This was rebuilt by Henry II of England in the second half of the 12th century. 

We also managed our first outdoor aperitifs of the trip on the way back to Vince’s island retreat. Served by a polite but not very switched on teen waiter, we had to walk him to the drinks menu on a board outside the bistro to point out which drinks we wanted. I’m sure his confusion had nothing to do with my perfect French. Ahem. It’s always good to try the local specialities when you’re visiting somewhere new. Gill’s mission was to try Cremant, a sparkling white wine made in exactly the same way as Champagne. But without all the fuss. Very nice it was too; we’ve already found somewhere in Yorkshire where we can get the same Louis de Grenelle Cremant de Loire at a sensible price. Sensible that is, in comparison to an equivalent Champagne.

Troglodyte houses
Houses carved into the side of the quarry

Doué-la-Fontaine was less than an hour down the road from Saumur, and was the reason for the marital misunderstanding described above. I’d read an article about people living in caves there, and got a bit overenthusiastic. These were different cave-dwellers to the kind I’d encountered in the troglodyte villages of the Loire on one of my bike trips. This time the tall underground chambers were man-made 200-250 years ago as workers quarried building blocks from a layer of falun. This type of stone is formed from the compressed remains of coral and shell from millions of years ago. 

One part of these workings has been enlarged over the years and converted to dwellings, while the remainder is now a museum of sorts where you can wander through the tall chambers and learn how they were formed both geologically, and later by hard human graft with pickaxes, shovels and wooden cranes. Hopefully the photos will give you an idea of what an interesting place it is.

One of the beautiful displays in the caverns of Doué-La-Fontaine. Each jellyfish is more than 2m long

I’ve had to rein in my singalongaKen tendencies since driving Gill nuts in Spain on an earlier trip – full story here – however I couldn’t hold back on the way to our next destination, Niort. In my best Sinatra voice, to the tune of New York, New York, it was, “It’s up to you, Niort…Niort! Dum dum da da-da, Dum dum da da-da” (kicks legs in the air). Sorry. Can’t help myself sometimes but I bet you’re singing it now 😀

After the obligatory cathedral visit in Niort (always a good landmark for finding the old medieval quarter of a town) we wandered around the shopping area, which sadly became more of a sopping area as the heavens opened once more. What to do? We’d read earlier that Saumur is one of around twenty French towns and cities which have made their bus service free. In the process they’ve seen up to a 300% increase in passenger uptake and reaped the environmental benefits of slashing the number of cars in their town centres. So hopping on board one of Niort’s free electric buses we enjoyed a circular tour of the city in the warm and dry, getting off at the same stop where we’d originally boarded. Coincidentally right beside a bar, steaming gently in the sunshine after the rain.

Archaeological dig
We stumbled across what were originally roadworks in front of Niort Town Hall. They’re now a full-on archaeological dig revealing Roman remains. Exciting to watch – but not for very long…

Bringing us bang up to date I’m writing this in 20° – yes 20° sunshine sitting on the grass beside Vince in our first west coast seaside town of the trip. Royan is absolutely lovely. A grand old seaside resort on the Gironde estuary, it has one huge beach and several little coves either side of the town. A proper promenade runs the full length of the seafront, with restaurants, little seaside shops and kiddy funfair rides here and there. Really charming, especially the expensive-looking belle-epoque villas overlooking the sea in the posh part of town. 

When I say up to date, by the time I add photos, edit & publish this drivel it’ll probably be from Bordeaux tomorrow so by then, today will actually be yesterday and tomorrow will be today. Do try and keep up.

We’ll be back in touch after Bordeaux, see you then 🙂


Tourist train
Going full tourist in Royan!
Royan’s beautiful beach
Royan’s beautiful beach
Niort stopover
Niort’s cosy stopover
Doué-La-Fontaine caverns
Doué-La-Fontaine’s spectacular caverns
Whale skeleton
You can walk through the skeleton of a whale in the caverns. I suspect it wasn’t there when the stone was originally being quarried…
About Ken Tomlinson 217 Articles
Semi-retired biker, blogger and world’s best grandad. Doesn’t take life too seriously. Discovered motorhoming in 2015, sold up and downsized to fund more travels. Now with added Yorkshire.

2 Comments on Saumur

  1. Can’t get that song out of my head now!
    Caverns sound amazing. We loved Royan when we visited briefly. Enjoy Bordeaux and definitely try the Pineau Noir Gill xx

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