Saumur is an ancient town of some 27,000 people on the Loire River in Western France in the area historically known as Anjou. It’s a pretty town, overlooked by the very prominent Chateau de Saumur, and built almost entirely of an attractive cream coloured stone (Tuffeau) which was mined here throughout the Middle Ages. The miles of caves resulting from that mining have since been converted for wine storage (the renowned Saumur wines and especially Cremant de Loire) and mushrooms (80% of France’s button mushrooms are grown in these caves).
We arrived fairly late in the day and, after parking up at the Flower Camp Site which sits on the L’Ile d’Offard in the middle of the Loire River, walked across the Pont Cessart for a quick look at the old town and something to eat. We found somewhere on the Place de Saint Pierre and spent a delightful evening eating French tapas and drinking Cremant de Loire.
The next day was about exploring the town and my first destination was the Chateau de Saumur fortress which dominates so much of the town. It was first built in the 9th century to deter Norman invaders and considerably developed over the next hundreds of years (particularly by the English King, Henry II) but it’s current fairytale shape and style is 15th century and down to Louis I and Louis II of Anjou who wanted rather more of a palace than a fortress. Up close the chateau is not as impressive as when seen from a distance with many of the walls crumbling and in need of repair. The good news is that it is happening. The place was crawling with stonemasons hard at work. I arrived too early in the morning to go into the chateau which is now a museum.
A significant military presence is evident across Saumur. France lost almost all of it’s cavalry during the Napoleonic Wars and a decision was made to rebuild that arm of the military in and around Saumur with the establishment of the Ecole Nationale d’Equitation. The Cavalry Academy is now home to the Cadre Noir, an elite corps of black clad cavalry instructors who have made up the teaching staff at the school since 1828. During the Summer months the Cadre Noir put on a series of ballet like galas to showcase the skills of horses and riders and the riders have often taken gold in eventing, dressage and jumping at the Olympic Games. Unfortunately, Covid put has paid to any such gala this Summer.
With cavalry having long given way to tanks it is perhaps not surprising that Saumur is also home to the Musee des Blindes which is one of the largest tank museums in the world with 800+ armoured vehicles (200 of which are driven in a military tattoo every July). I suspect that too will be cancelled this year.
With Saumur being home to Cremant de Loire (currently Vanya’s favourite tipple) it was inevitable that Vanya and I would want to go on a local wine tour and tasting session. We were spoilt for choice here with so many producers based alongside of each other on the Rue d’Ackerman. We finally settled on the Langlois Chateau and we were not disappointed. Between us we have previously partaken of many wine tours and tasting sessions but none as enjoyable and as informative as the one at the Langlois Chateau. It was a private tour, just the two of us, and; it involved going back into a classroom to learn more about grapes, bloom & sediment and; our walking some of the their 3 kilometres of caves and; well, it was simply brilliant. We learned so much of real interest. And the wine? Vanya now has a new favourite Cremant and we have a case of it in the back of the Van.
I walked more than 15 miles of the town that first day (getting a little lost more than once) and there is so much more I could write about but we need to move on to our next destination so I will quickly write about our last night in Saumur and leave it at that.
We had the good fortune to be in Saumur during the evening that France were playing Switzerland in the first knockout stage of the European Championship Finals. That being so we found a small bar, La Verriere, showing the match out on the main square in the centre of town and ordered an early meal so as to gain the best seats. We had a fantastic evening. France lost but there were sufficient goals (3-3 after extra time and then the match went to penalties) to keep the neutral supporters well entertained and the atmosphere was electric. Oh and the food and wine was great.