And, as we walked up rue Victor Hugo toward the last home of Leonardo da Vinci, we passed by half-timbered homes and troglodyte dwellings tucked into ancient cliffs – unusual dwellings with flower boxes, brightly-colored shutters and little stone alcoves that held their satellite dishes. Can you even imagine this mix of ancient rock and contemporary electronics?
So what is this business of building homes straight into the ancient (like millions of years old) white stone walls of caves that hover above the Loire River? Some homes are actually built of the tuffeau stone, cut in blocks from those walls. The most serious use of the stone, though, was for the construction of the many renowned chateaux and castles throughout the valley.
And that’s the real story. Quarrying of the tuffeau dates to the 11th century, when great cavities were created in the hills. People moved in to those spaces, finding them to be a low-cost refuge. These spaces, you see, don’t go away. People find new uses, learn to dress them up to their own pleasure and convert them into their own vacation retreats, artist galleries or – I am not kidding – create a hotel in a honeycomb of caves. For my taste, I rather think I’d prefer to be very much above ground with expansive views of the sky and the landscape.