Sunday, May 28, 2017

May 26 - Les Maisons Troglodytes des Forges

Today we're looking for a morning activity with a goal to be back by lunch. We expect Dan and Paulette around mid-afternoon. So, we're hunting troglodytes again not far from the Troglodyte farms we visited at Rochemenier early in April. Today, we headed to Les Maisons Troglodytes des Forges, which is actually at a crossroads called La Fosse.
This map shows the troglodyte underground caves
Less organized than Rochemenier, this site was nevertheless, equally interesting.

Looking from ground level over the first courtyard which was very spacious
Like Rochemenier, the site has been inhabited into the 20th century, with the last folks leaving in the 1990s. It is known that at the turn of the century, four families were living in this underground hamlet. It was opened as an attraction in the 1980s by a gentleman, Bernard Foyer, who at the end was aging and had difficulty managing the site. He sold it 3 years ago to a young couple from Angers, Virginie André and Jan Rewerski, who had always wanted to have an unusual house. Well they have one - or in fact several.
houses from the first courtyard
bread oven in the house above

View out the window of the blue house. Doesn't feel like a cave at all.

Certainly, as in Rochemenier, there was farming above ground, and vineyards. The caves are quite extensive underneath, but what was new for us is that we started the tour above ground and could see the chimneys, light wells, and holes dug for dumping the grapes down into the press. We could see multiple ways of entering from above ground as well as underground corridors that connected rooms and houses to one another.

Above ground there were fenced areas for farm animals, including a male and female peacock couple with young chicks.
You must look carefully to see the male peacock on the lower roof

Have you ever seen a peacock chick? Here's one of the four.

Mother peacock and her chicks
A large kitchen garden was planted and well-tended. One could imagine those living below tending their gardens above ground. These types of habitations are harder to find and see because they are dug underground rather than being dug into a cliff-side. One would only see farming fields and the tops of chimneys above ground.

The houses of this hamlet are clustered around two open-to-the-sky grassy courtyards where chickens continue to wander freely.
house from the second courtyard

a very proud rooster in the courtyard
This chicken was cackling in a niche inside one of the houses. The glass next to her is an electric lamp (not so old). She had laid an egg in the niche, but it had rolled out onto the floor and broke.

In the "old days" sheep and other small livestock would likely have grazed here as well.
these sheep were grazing above ground in an enclosed pen
Another open-to-the-sky corridor had many rooms serving as barn areas - chicken roosts, stables, farm equipment storage, wine press room, etc.
farm caves - storage, animal stables, etc
flour sifter on left, bread oven in back and some other piece likely used in making bread

you can see the hay manger to the left and animal pen to the right

a jumble of farm equipment yet to be sorted out

Judy and Dave in the farm "corridor"

The houses were relatively large caves and had chimneys for cooking.
This room is also not well-organized, but you can see the fireplace in the back and the baby walker pole in the middle
We could see evidence of how families would have lived. One cave had a smooth cement-type floor installed to within 6 inches of the walls and it had a Franklin-type stove for heat and cooking.
This house was quite modern with a cement floor

Here's the chicken in the niche with the electric light in the most modern house
It is known that the previous owner lived on the site, so one could imagine he and his family living here.

Virginie spoke excellent English and seemed to enjoy our questions about their interest in this treasure of time. The signs were old, faded and only in French which is how the property had come to them. Old farm tools and furniture were scattered somewhat randomly and one would wish for better explanation of their use. She explained that the previous owner had become "tired" in his old age and wasn't able to keep up with the maintenance of such a large undertaking, although he continued to add pieces to the collections. There will be an English brochure we were told once they have been able to sort out and place all the pieces lying about. Until everything has a home, it would be a never-ending task to update a brochure as rooms were updated.

We asked about water entering through the light tubes and chimneys and she explained that the limestone of the caves was so porous that the rain just soaked right in and the caves were never damp.
a light tube

We also found a unique way of storing wine - vertically. Apparently burying the wine in the sand kept the cork from drying out. Never saw that before.
Wine bottle storage

Home for lunch outside and preparations for dinner: making ratatouille and bread pudding. But with the expert help of sous-chefs Judy and Dave, we were ready when Dan and Paulette arrived. Time to celebrate with friends we haven't seen since we lived in New York. Somehow, the time doesn't matter and we are as comfortable together as though we saw each other yesterday.

Aperos stretch into dinner and late into the evening. Renewing friendships makes you feel warm all over and talking over a lovely French meal in our lovely French garden makes you want to stay up all night. But alas, age prevents me from lasting that long.

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