I’ve visited quite a few French caves over the years, but never a cave. Wine cellars are, of course, great – and it turns out that troglodyte villages are fascinating too. Especially when they have a Renaissance château plonked on top.
That’s what makes the Château de Brézé so intriguing. It really is unlike any of the other châteaux you’ll find in the Loire. Among more than 300 châteaux in the area, it is – to employ a much over-used word – unique.
Its basement is actually an 11th century troglodytic village.
The soil is tufa – or tuffeau, in French – which is a porous type of limestone. It’s easy to dig. So easy, in fact, that the Loire is said to be littered with medieval cave dwellings.
The tufa that was dug out across the region was also used to build many of the local châteaux.
We visited the Château de Brézé a few weeks ago, when we were staying in Saumur. It is located about 20km south of the town.
It is a château of two halves. Built between the 11th and 19th centuries, it belonged to the powerful Dreux-Brézé family for centuries. Marriage meant it is now owned by the Colbert family, descendants of Jean Baptiste Colbert, one of Louis XIV’s ministers.
The château is known, in part, for its deep, dry moat, which was first dug out in the 15th century. It goes as far down as 18m in some places.
“Among more than 300 châteaux in the Loire, the Château de Brézé really is unique”
The original château – or, at least, what we see above ground – was redeveloped in the 1800s. Two of its three wings, as well as its gallery, clock tower and the outer facades, were significantly modified.
The 20th century saw it occupied by Nazis during the war and then, in the 1980s, classified as an historic monument.
It was opened to the public in 1998 and the underground passages were opened a couple of years later. These include stables and a vast bakery dug into the walls of the moat.
Down there you can also see where they made wine in the past. The château is surrounded by a vineyard several dozen hectares in size. Which means, of course, that there are caves here after all…