31 March 2008

Last day of March

Another March passes into history. This one was typical: rainy, chilly, blustery. A lot of flowers are blooming but they are waiting in vain for some nice weather. It rained most of the day yesterday and came down steadily all afternoon. The grass is green and growing, that's for sure. On Saturday our neighbor came down from Blois and rode around on his riding mower for a few hours in the early afternoon. It was the first mowing. A few years ago he did the first mowing on February 24.


Several more red tulips have bloomed around the yard.

Saturday was the exceptional day, in fact. We were invited for apéritifs by some friends who live down in the village (he's French, she's English). We actually sat outside for about three hours at noontime and enjoyed a couple of glasses of Sauvignon and some finger food. The sun was warm, but when the random cloud went over we were glad to have our jackets on.

There's a bumblebee in one of the flowers here.

Our friends live across the street from the plumber who has done a lot of work for us over the last five years, Mr Rougemont. They are renovating a house on the main square in Saint-Aignan these days, and Rougemont is doing the plumbing work for them. We asked about him, since we haven't had occasion to call or see him in a while, and we especially asked about his wife, whose health had been iffy the last time we did talk to him.

These cowslips have just come up in the back yard.

Mme Rougemont worked in the offices of the real estate agency in Amboise that we used to find and buy our house here in Saint-Aignan. We first met her in 2002, and then when we bought the house we found out that she was one of our neighbors. The fact that her husband was a plumber was good news for us, because our house needed some upgrades in that area.

I saw three caterpillars like this one
out in the vineyard yesterday morning.


In 2005, Mr Rougement put in a new shower stall for us, turning our big bathroom into a much more usable room. Mme Rougemont came in one afternoon and helped him do part of the work. It was then that we found out she was being treated for cancer. And then on Saturday we found out from our friends that she had passed away about a year ago. We didn't know.

Mme Rougemont couldn't have been much more than 50 years old. She and her husband and daughter had moved to the Saint-Aignan area just a couple of years before we did. They said they were escaping the noise, crowds, and commuting stress of the northern Paris suburbs. Now Mr Rougemont is raising their teenage daughter alone.

Cowslips in French are coucous.

Other subjects: we changed our clocks yesterday and lost an hour of sleep. Now it stays light until about 8:30 p.m., but we have to get up in the semi-dark if we want to walk the dog at her ususal time, which is 8:00 a.m. That's especially the case on cloudy gray mornings. Callie woke me up at 7:00 this morning — she wanted to go out. So I groggily stumbled down the stairs and opened the back door for her. At least it wasn't raining.

Coucou ! Nous voilà !

Yesterday morning when I took Callie out for her walk the temperature was already over 50ºF. I had a face full of gnats and flies the whole time I was out there, so the insects are becoming active again. I saw bumblebees and big caterpillars. Oh, and the cuckoo birds are back too. They arrive here in late March or early April and migrate on to other regions at the end of June or beginning of July. You get used to hearing them cuckooing in the background for a few months.

What are these nice purple flowers, I wonder?

April 1 is tomorrow, and let's hope it's not just a bad joke. Last April turned off warm and sunny and dry. I'll take that kind of April again this year. Hope springs eternal.

30 March 2008

More views of Vendôme

The south bank of the Loir at Vendôme is a high bluff or escarpment that is known locally as La Montagne. And on top are the ruins of a medieval château. From the promenade at the top of the escarpment you get nice views out over the city.

View of the Abbaye de La Trinité from the Montagne

The most striking feature of the Vendôme skyline is the tall steeple of the Abbaye de la Trinité, which was founded in the year 1040 by a community of Benedictines. There had been Celtic and then Gallo-Roman settlements on the site for centuries, but the town really grew up around this abbey over the past 1000 years.

L'Abbaye de la Trinité at Vendôme

In the 11th century, Geoffroy Martel, Count of Anjou, returning from a crusade to the Holy Land, brought back a drop of liquid from Constantinople that was claimed was a tear Jesus had shed on the tomb of Lazarus. For centuries, pilgrims made the trek to Vendôme to see the « Sainte Larme » — the Holy Tear — especially those who need a cure for diseases of the eye.

La Tour Saint-Martin at Vendôme

In the Renaissance, a great church was built on the central Place Saint-Martin, not far from the Abbey. The church was demolished in the 19th century, but the bell tower remains as one of the town's main landmarks.

Les Halles, the covered marketplace, at Vendôme

For centuries, Vendôme was a county, presided over by a count. In the Renaissance François Ier elevated the county to a dukedom, and later Henri de Navarre became the Duc de Vendôme before he converted to Catholicism at the end of the 1500s and became the French king called Henri IV.

A branch of the Loir River at Vendôme

The Place Vendôme in Paris, where the Ritz Hotel, several expensive jewelry stores, and the French Ministry of Justice are located, was named that because Henri IV's son, the Duke of Vendôme, built a mansion there in the 1600s.

This is a stitched-together panorama of Vendôme from
pictures I took up on La Montagne.

29 March 2008

Vendôme's Porte St-Georges

Vendôme, a town 30 minutes north of Blois by car, was ringed by fortifications in the Middle Ages. Of the old ramparts, the south gate into the city, called the Porte St-Georges, is one of the few pieces that remain.

The Porte St-Georges at Vendôme

The Porte St-Georges stonework dates back to the 14th century. The Michelin Guide says that the gateway itself was widened in the 19th century so that Napoleon's armies could pass through it.

Vendôme's town council has used a room in the
Porte St-Georges
for its meetings since the 16th century.


Looking into town through the gate

The name Vendôme has Celtic origins, and the town was called Vindocinum by the Romans. These days, the population is about 20,000.

Gargoyle

Walt and I first went there in January 2004, on one of the first sunny days we had seen in weeks. It's more than an hour's drive from Saint-Aignan, but it was a place we hadn't visited yet. We put the dog in the car and spent the afternoon enjoying the scenery and good weather.

27 March 2008

A talk with some local wine-makers

Day before yesterday, I met some neighbors I hadn’t gotten to know before. I think I had seen them working out in the vineyards, but we had never spoken. I went to see them on the recommendation of some other people I have met working out in the vineyards and who own a lot of parcels of land and grapes out there.

The Guerriers said they don't have a business card, but
they
gave me an old label with their contact info on it.

Monsieur and Madame Guerrier — his name is Jean-Noël but I don't know hers — are grape-growers and wine-makers on a pretty small scale. They are both locals. He was born and grew up in the house where he has his wine cellar — his parents still live there. She was born and grew up about three miles up the road, on the other side of the village.

They live in the house next door to his parents’ place, which is about a mile from our house as the crow flies. I went to see them in their cave (cellar) and we sampled some of their 2006 and even 2007 wines.

Mr Guerrier told me that the grape varieties he grows are Côt (aka Malbec), Gamay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pineau d’Aunis (a local specialty used to make rosé wines). He and his wife do all the work of trimming and treating the vines themselves. They harvest the grapes too, many of them by hand. He said a lot of his vines are too old to be harvested by machine. The couple themselves must be in their mid-40s, and I assume they took over the business from his father (I didn't ask).

They do all the work themselves because, economically, it’s the only way they can stay in the business. Besides, Mme Guerrier said, it’s too difficult to find people who are willing to do the work, especially when the weather is cold and rainy, and who know what they are doing or are willing to learn.

The Guerriers make their own wine, and they sell some of it in bulk. Some they bottle for sale. They don’t export. And they sell a lot of their wine in bulk to négociants — wholesalers who bottle the wine and put their own label on it for sale. Two of the négociants he mentioned are Paul Buisse and the Caves Monmousseau over in Montrichard. I’ve driven past their signs and facilities over there hundreds of times.

Mr Guerrier joked that his name is a little strange and can put people off, but that he no meaner than most people. Guerrier means "warrior" in French.

This is a small plot of vines the Guerriers own and work on
the gravel road out back.
They said they haven't gotten around
to pruning these vines yet this spring. I noticed that the canes
are covered in buds, so I hope it's not too late.


I thought the rosé wine I tasted was excellent. It’s an assemblage, or blend, of wine from two grapes, Pineau d’Aunis (75%) and Gamay (25%). The 2006 Gamay was also very good — supple and fruity, and very drinkable. The 2006 Côt was much more tannic, but also delicious. He sells the rosé to retail customers like me for €1.65; the Gamay for €1.15; and the Côt for €1.30. If you do the math, you figure out that the wines sell for between U.S. $1.25 and $1.90 per bottle.

The Guerriers said that I should taste the 2007 Gamay red after tasting the 2006, but that I should be prepare my taste buds for a shock. And they were right — the 2007 was a sharp and thin as the 2006 was supple and rich. They said 2007 was a very difficult vintage to work with. We had a very cool, wet summer, with about a month of warm sunny weather from the 20th of August to the 20th of September. The same plant and even the same bunch had some grapes that were rotting, some that were not yet ripe, and some that were just right. That was a challenge. With a few months of age, the 2007 will probably mellow out at least a little.

Our wines are very different from year to year, the Guerriers said. They don't use any additives in the wine-making process, though the wines are not organic — they use an herbicide to keep the grass and weeds down in the rows between the vines.

A lot of their wine is sold as vin de pays, not A.O.C., Mr Guerrier said. That makes it less expensive and therefore more competitive. A.O.C. (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) means that the wines are inspected and analyzed by an industry group for quality, the wine-making methods are strictly defined, and the grapes are certified to have been grown on certain plots of land where conditions are ideal. Vin de pays is not necessarily inferior in quality, and it can actually be better wine than some A.O.C. wines from grapes grown nearby, but it is not as strictly regulated.

Even selling non-A.O.C. wines, Mr Guerrier said he has to take samples of his wines to a local lab at several points during the wine-making process to be analyzed for sugar and alcohol content and general quality and clarity. It gets expensive, he says.

Locally, the Guerriers told me, grape-growers and wine-makers are starting to give up the business. Whether this is really a trend, I don’t know. Maybe it’s just that they know a few people who have decided to quit. They named three, two in our village that I do know and from whom I have bought wine over the past few years, and one whose vineyards and cellars are over on the south side of Saint-Aignan.

I think it is true that many thousands of acres of vines are being ripped out of the ground all around France these days. There is a glut of wine, and the strong euro can’t be helping sales in countries that are part of what is called the “dollar zone.” Competition from wine areas in the southern hemisphere — Malbec wines made in Argentina, Sauvignon Blancs in New Zealand... not to mention Chile, South Africa, and Australia — is fierce.

Yesterday it was raining overhead
but the rain wasn't reaching the ground.


The Guerriers say that thousands of acres of vines are now being planted in China. I’ll have to take their word for that. They didn’t seem to have much of an opinion about California wines or the wine business in the U.S. I’ll have to ask them about that the next time I go see them.

And I’ll have to take some pictures of their cellar too. It’s a dark, vaulted room maybe 75 feet long and 30 feet wide. There are big fiber-glass and stainless steel vats of wine at one end, and the whole room is lined with racks of bottles, some of them full and some of them empties.

They said the best way to do business with them is to call them and make an appointment when I want to come by. They don’t have any employees, and they both work out in the vineyard most days.

They also don’t have an answering machine (or a fax machine, so I assume they don’t have a computer) so they aren’t that easy to get in touch with. They didn’t mention a cell phone. They are almost always at home at noon and after about 8:00 in the evening, however. That's when people make phone calls here — at meal times.

Himalayan Cedar — Cedrus deodarus

Thanks to Susan of Days on the Claise, the big tree in our yard is now no longer a mystery. Every sign points to it being a Cedrus deodarus — a Himalayan Cedar or Deodar Cedar — and not a Lebanon Cedar or a Turkish Cedar. (See the original topic with pictures of the tree by clicking this link.)

Here is one more piece of evidence. Earlier, I posted this scan of an image that I found in Taylor's Guide to Trees. It shows the cones of the Deodar Cedar.


A couple of day ago I was out during one of our (too rare) sunny periods and I took another good look at the tree in question. Lo and behold, up on a high branch, I spied some cones that I had never noticed before. I've never found one like them on the ground under the tree either, but here they are.

Cones on our Himalayan Cedar, taken at a zoom level of 15x

I think the existence of these cones pretty much seals the deal. I really had never noticed them before.

Here's what Taylor says about Cedrus deodarus:
A tree, up to 150 ft. (45 m) high in nature, reaching 80 ft. (24 m) as usually cultivated. Branch tips, including the leader, generally pendulous. Leaves dark bluish- or grayish-green, nearly 2 in. (5 cm) long, not very rigid. Cones 3-5 in. (7.5-12.5 cm) long, reddish brown. One of the most graceful of all evergreens. 'Shalimar', 'Kingsville', and 'Kashmir' are the hardier cultivars, possibly in descending order. Himalayas. Cones throughout the year...
Thanks, Susan. I really hoped the tree was a Lebanon Cedar after you explained the status attached to those particular conifers. But a cedar from the Himalayas is even more exotic-sounding, don't you think?

Now that that is done, what about this tree? I think of it as a Sapin bleu, or a Blue Spruce. Is it?

Sapin bleu ?

The tree in Taylor's Guide that most resembles this one is the Colorado Spruce, Picea pungens. Actually, I'm pretty happy calling this one by the names I mentioned above, whereas the Deodar Cedar was truly unidentifiable to me until this week.

And if we get this second tree a name, I have still another one to ask about!

26 March 2008

Blois on a foggy day in March

The Loire, the bridge, and the cathedral at Blois

Blois is the big town closest to Saint-Aignan; it's 25 mi./40 km north. Because you have to make the trip on little roads and either drive the direct route through a half-dozen villages or take a much less direct route through open countryside to get there, the going is slow. It takes a good 45 minutes to drive the 25 miles to get there. We don't go very often.

The population of Blois is only about 75,000. While that is 20 times bigger than Saint-Aignan, Blois is a small city compared to nearby Tours and Orléans. But as an old royal town, Blois has historical and cultural significance much greater than its importance as an urban center. It's also the administrative city for our département, the Loir-et-Cher. In other words, the national government has its offices and services there.

The towers and spires of the 12th-century Eglise St-Nicolas
seen from the south bank of the Loire through fog


In the Middle Ages, the Counts of Blois ruled over two large territories in France. One was the area that includes Blois, of course, but also Chartres to the north, closer to Paris and Normandy. The other territory they controlled was Champagne, where the wine of the same name is made, east of Paris.

The cathedral rises high above the streets of Blois

One of the Counts of Blois married William the Conqueror's daughter, all those centuries ago, and their son became King Steven of England in the year 1135. The most powerful of the Blois counts was Thibaud IV, who died in 1152.

Two years later, Henri II Plantagenêt, count of Anjou in France, became king of England. At the same time, the House of Blois turned its attention to its territories in Champagne, leaving the Blois area under the thumb of the Plantagenêts, who held the lands down the Loire River toward Chinon and Angers, as well as the English throne. Henri II Plantagenêt was married to Eleanor of Aquitaine (southwest France), so his French holdings were vast.

The old bridge at Blois seen from the cathedral above town

Some 250 years later, in 1392 during the 100 Years War, the last of the counts of Blois sold his territories in the Loire Valley to the Duke of Orleans, who was the brother of the French king Charles VI. The French royal court moved to Blois for a time. Charles VI, who was known as Charles le Bien-Aime — the Beloved — later became known as Charles le Fol — Mad King Charles — because he went insane.

The Eglise St-Nicolas seen from
the terrace of the château in Blois


A couple of generations later, in 1498, King Louis XII, who was born in Blois, moved the French royal residence there again. When Louis XII, known as "the father of the people," died and his successor the great king François Ier rose to the throne, he set up his residence in Blois and built a new wing onto the château. He also began construction of his masterpiece, the château/hunting lodge at Chambord, nearby. Those were the real glory days of Blois, at the beginning of the French Renaissance and before the Wars of Religion between Catholics and Protestants ravaged the country.

Window shopping on the narrow streets in old Blois

As you can see, Blois played a main role in French history, with the actors being the descendents of William the Conqueror and the Plantagenêts, who gave England several kings, and finally several great French kings.

In more modern times, Blois has been known as the political fiefdom of the Socialist Party "heavyweight" Jack Lang — one of the éléphants of the party, as they have been called. Lang was mayor of Blois, member of parliament, and Minister of Culture under President François Mitterrand in the 1980s and '90s. He is still a major figure among French socialists.

A wing of the château in Blois: La Façade des Loges

Lang's father was an Americanophile, evidently, and that's how he came to name his son Jack instead of Jacques. As a national figure, Jack Lang was a major force in Blois, bringing big changes to the city. Many were viewed as positive by the local people — new museums, renovated gardens and monuments, pedestrian shopping streets downtown, for example — but some were not.

"Main Street" in the business district of Blois

One more controversial contribution Mayor Lang made to Blois was the construction of major housing projects for low-income residents on the west side of the city. Nowadays Blois has a greater proportion of its citizenry living in subsidized, low-rent housing than any other city in France except Marseilles, my friends from Blois tell me.

Looking across to the Blois neighborhoods
on the south bank of the Loire


Outside its historical interest, we find Blois to be much less "useful" as an urban center than Tours, which is not much farther from us and which is a much bigger city. Blois seems to have a lot of the problems of modern cities, one of the greatest of which is heavy traffic, but not many of the advantages of a major urban center. We more often go to Blois to do special shopping or to go to concerts.

The cathedral of Blois rises above the rooftops of the town

Blois is very picturesque, as you can see from these photos I took one day in March two years ago. The town sits on the banks of the Loire at a point where there are high bluffs on the north side of the river. The cathedral sits high above the town. I've published other pictures of Blois here and here. I seem to have spent a lot of time in Blois in March 2006.

25 March 2008

Last snowy pictures for 2008

I suppose April snowstorms are not unheard of here in the Loire Valley. We had them — and sometimes they were major storms — in other places I've lived: North Carolina, Washington DC, Urbana IL. S'il vous plaît, Météo France, spare us that misery.

Flowers and ice

Our mindset is different, and it's all based on what happened in 2007. A year ago, the month of April turned virtually hot and was perfectly dry. The temperature might not have hit 80, but the afternoon sun felt tropical. And the afternoons seemed extraordinarily long, because the onset of l'heure d'été — Daylight Saving Time — meant the sun didn't set until about 8:00 p.m.

So you see, that's what we are expecting to happen again this April. Never mind that last April was, by any standard, completely exceptional. The human mind ignores that bit of information. Or mine does, anyway. I'm itching to get out and start digging in the dirt. Or maybe I've put the cart before the horse: I'll be itching all over from insect bites once I am able to get out and start digging and planting and weeding.

Plum blossoms and crusty snow in the garden

No question of digging right now. When it's not cold, it's wet, and vice versa. Or it's both, like yesterday. The garden plots that I was so proud to have gotten all tilled up last fall are gradually being invaded by grasses and weeds. Tilling them again will be like starting from scratch again. There's nothing I can do about it. The dirt is too heavy and wet to be worked for the time being.

Yesterday I needed to go to the grocery store. I thought I'd go to Ed, the discount grocer, because I needed milk, lardons, and fruit juice — products that Ed carries, that I like, and that are less expensive there than at other supermarkets.

Vineyard scene

When I drove up to Ed, it was closed. Easter Monday is a holiday here. There's no mail or bread delivery, for example. But I thought the markets would be open for the morning, the way they are on Sundays and most holidays. But no.

SuperU, our biggest supermarket, is just up the street from Ed, so I drove up there. It's always open. Drat. Not on Easter Monday, it wasn't. Okay, now what?

The other two supermarkets are on the other side of the river, over in Noyers-sur-Cher. I drove on over there, enjoying the sight-seeing, actually, even though with melting snow and a dim sun in a gray sky, everything looked kind of dingy. Run down. Wintry. European.

Old Monsieur Denis, who is otherwise retired from the
wine business, still takes care of pruning one plot of new vines.
He does things the old way, gathering up the clippings and
tying them into bundles using willow withies (osier).
Callie thought the yellow willow whips needed moving...

I headed for "downtown" Noyers and Champion first. If that market wasn't open, I would drive over to Intermarché, in the zone d'activités commerciales on the edge of town. I was encouraged to see that Champion's parking lot was full of cars and the place was bustling.

As I wandered the aisles looking for the things I needed, and just generally browsing and checking the prices on staple items in this store where I don't often shop, I noticed that the checkout lines were snaking up and down the aisles closest to the registers. I resigned myself to a long wait. Tant pis.

And I continued to explore, examining the coffee section (no bargains there), looking at the wine shelves (Bordeaux and Beaujolais wines for less than two euros a bottle, the same for Sauvignon Blanc from the Languedoc region and a white wine from Gascogne) and the meat counter (again, no bargains there, and we didn't need anything).

A winter scene — wind blew a big empty pot over and it broke

By the time I found everything and was good to go, all the lines at the registers had magically disappeared. No waiting. The only line left in the store was the six or eight people waiting to buy a baguette at the bakery counter in the front of the store, which operates separately from the supermarket. The bread at Champion is good. And on a Monday, especially an Easter Monday, most of the boulangeries around the area are closed.

We planned to have soup for lunch. It was a soup we made a few weeks ago and we were going to eat leftovers that I had put in the freezer. So I had the luxury of exploring greater Saint-Aignan "metropolitan area" by car and then nosing around in the one supermarket I found open — I didn't need to cook lunch. I probably put seven miles on the car. For me these days, that passes for a day out on the town.

24 March 2008

A frosty Easter Monday

Snow was predicted and it did fall sometime during the night. It's just the slightest dusting but its significance is that it will have been our only snow of the 2007-2008 winter. I hope I am not speaking too soon. Actually, it's not even winter. Spring has sprung. You wouldn't know it...

Sunrise from the kitchen window at La Renaudière
Easter Monday — 24 March 2008

Now I have to go take Callie for her morning walk — in the cold. She already went out and sniffed — no, stiffed AND tasted — the little bit of snow dust she could lick up. It didn't seem to phase her. She walked around in it, did her business, chased a low-flying bird, and then came back in the house to start begging for her walk. Guess I'd better go.

A dusting of snow on the back yard

Weather reports say we might have showers of rain and even grésil — ice pellets, a kind of fine hail that is common here and was in San Francisco in winter too — through the day today.

Here's one more photo of the yard, just for the record books

According to the TV news, it's snowing in eastern France this morning, mostly in the mountains but also at lower elevations around Lyon. I haven't heard if Paris got any snow overnight, but it was supposed to. Some people we know, who live in Sacramento, California, are spending most of March in Paris, and they say they never imagined that the weather could be so changeable. The only thing it hasn't been since their arrival is warm.

23 March 2008

Trôo, c'est trop !

That means: "Trôo is just too much!" And what or where is Trôo? It's a village on and around a big hill overlooking the Loir River and its valley.

The Loir River Valley seen from the top of the bluff at Trôo
June 2001

The Loir River? Didn't you spell that wrong? It's the Loire river, with an E. Well, no, not this time. The Loire River is the big water feature in the region, of course, of Loire Valley fame. But the Loir is a smaller river a little ways north, and a tributary of the larger Loire.

The Eglise Saint-Martin at Trôo was built in the 10th century
at the top of the hill overlooking the river valley

The Loir is a miniature Loire, in some ways. It has vineyards all along its banks, and it has some nice châteaux. The Loir flows through the northern part of our département (county), which is called the Loir-et-Cher. The Cher is the river we live near, and it's sort of the southern reflection of the Loir. Both are tributaries of the Loire, and the département is named for them. (In reality, the Loir flows into the Sarthe, which flows into the Maine, which flows into the Sèvre Nantaise, which flows into the Loire... so it finally gets there.)

Trôo, like all French villages, lost many soldiers
in World War I and has a monument to them


The big town along the Loir River, north of Blois, is Vendôme, with the ruins of a medieval château and a huge church. I have some pictures of Vendôme that I will post here soon.

The Eglise St-Jacques-des-Guérets is in the valley below Trôo
25 January 2004

Then there's Montoire-sur-le-Loire, a town of 10,000 so that is famous (or infamous) as the place where Adolph Hitler and the president of France signed a treaty sealing France's surrender and occupation at the beginning of World War II. They met in the town's little train station, which is still there but has only a very small sign to indicate its historical significance.

Restaurant at the top of the hill in Trôo

The village of Lavardin is just outside Montoire. It has a ruined château too, high on a hill overlooking village and river. Lavardin is one of the famous « plus beaux villages de France » — one of France's most beautiful villages. I have some pictures from Lavardin too.

Champignons — mushrooms — are grown in the caves at Trôo

The pictures in this post show the village called Trôo, pronounced [TROH], not [TROO]. As I said, it is on a hill, and it is trogodytic. In other words, there are caves carved out of the side of the hill in places, and those caves are used as dwellings or out-buildings (wine storage and aging, mushroom growing, and so on).

The newer village at the base of the hill in Trôo
25 January 2004

The church at the top of the hill in Trôo is pretty, and the view out over the valley is very nice. It's one of those places in France where you feel like you might be the first tourist of visit in years, or decades, or ever. One book I have, the Signpost Guide to the Loire Valley, calls Trôo a "strange little village." It's not even listed in the Cadogan guide.

Also at the top of the hill is this house called Le Louvre

The Signpost Guide says that Trôo not only has cave dwellings, but it also has underground passageways and stairs that serve as streets and alleys linking the troglodyte homes to each other. I didn't see those.

Another view of the St-Martin church in Trôo

I did see the church at the top of the hill and other sights, which are pictured here. I've seen the name of the village spelled Trôo, with the accent (as on the WWI monument pictured above), or Troo, without (as in the Micheline guide). Either way, c'est trop. The people there are called Troiens — all 350 of them.

Trôo and the other towns and villages along the Loir River are a good hour's drive north of Saint-Aignan and about 30 minutes north of Blois or Amboise.