Turquant (Pays de La Loire), France May 2024 (Tour 9)

This small village of fewer than 600 inhabitants, just a mile or two west of Montsoreau, is packed with caves and troglodyte houses, most of which are currently used by various artisans and/or craftworkers as workshops and galleries.

We didn’t stay long (we were going to the Leclerc Hypermarket in Saumur) but, not having seen a bakery, a chemist and a tabac-bar (establishments which are common to almost every village in France) I’m wondering if we missed a part of the village? What we did see was fascinating and it would be a great shame if we did miss out on something but the place is a bit of a warren.

POSTSCRIPT: Back at the Van I scoured a local map and, in hindsight, I don’t think we missed much at all. One interesting point arising out of my search, however, is that the ancient town of Loudun is less than 20 miles from Turquant. In 1634 Loudon was the site of a notorious witchcraft trial after a convent of Ursuline nuns claimed to have been possessed by demons. The full story is told in Aldous Huxley’s book ‘The Devils of Loudun’ which in 1972 was made into a Ken Russell film starring Vanessa Redgrave and Oliver Reed (in the principal roles of, respectively, Sister Jeanne des Anges and Father Urbain Grandier). I recall seeing the film in London when it first came out (and before it was banned).

Back to Turquant. Almost everything in Turquant is made of tuffeau stone (tufa stone in English) which is soft and grey when mined but hardens and turns white when exposed to sunlight. It was dug out of local cliffs during the late Middle Ages to build churches, castles, mansions and houses all along the Loire Valley. The resulting caves, some little more than holes in the cliffs, were subsequently sought out by the destitute and used as homes. Some of these cave homes continued to be occupied until the 1930’s. Now they are mostly used by local artisans as workshops and galleries although; I did see one that has been turned into a restaurant and there are signs that an increasing number are being converted into Airbnbs.

Enough about tuffeau stone except to say that there are a couple of short well marked walking routes starting start down by the church car parks which will lead the visitor past many of the caves and around Turquant. Follow these and you will see most everything the village has to offer (except a bakery, chemist or tabac-bar).

One final word on local food before I get back to exploring this area. Pommes Tapees are produced and sold in the village. When wine production was ruined by the phylloxera epidemic in the late 19th century, some of the local wineries looked to apples as an alternative business option. To make Pommes Tapees, the apples are dried for no less than 5 days in ovens built into the local caves. During this time they are turned daily and tapped with a small hammer so as to flatten them. They are then bottled and should keep at least 10 years.

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