Posted by: Marco | April 29, 2011

Troglos, Silk worms, and Kate

Here’s a quick post about today’s events. No complaining today, I promise.

The day started out in the usual way. Shannon went for a run, I shaved my head. We woke the kids, sent Owen to the bakery for our daily bread. We ate, did the dishes and then headed to our respective classrooms. Two hours of school later, we sat down and watched the Royal Wedding on French TV. To our amazement, it was live on 3 stations. We thought a country that did away with its royalty in spectacular fashion some time ago, and who have long-standing “issues” with the English, would not care much about the “Marriage Princier” as they called it. The ceremony was dubbed, of course, and much too long, but we watched more or less the whole thing.

Comfortable digs (pardon the pun)

Then we did the truly interesting thing.  A very “Loire” thing. We visited a troglodyte dwelling (a house carved into the stone) in a neighbouring village on the Cher River. All the famous châteaux of the Loire valley are made of a particular stone called tuffeau limestone, a beautiful white stone that is exceptionally easy to shape.  The village of Bourré, just a few kilometres to the south of our village is famous for the quality of its tuffeau. Here the rock is particularly white. All those castles needed lots of rock; therefore there are lots of quarries. The steep valleys of the Cher River are dotted with openings to former small quarries. After the major quarrying was finished, they were turned into wine cellars (les caves), livestock barns, granaries, and homes.  Still today, fully half of the inhabitants of Bourré live in “troglodyte dwellings”.  Our guide grew up in the dwelling we visited, had slept in the stable with his horse, and learned to make wine in the cave. The troglo home was large and comfortable, dry, and reasonably bright. Our guide showed us how the tuffeau was quarried and how it was shaped.

Sawing through tuffeau

As fascinating as it was to walk through this multi-level quarry/home/ barn, it was a real treat to discover the ancient art of silk making. In this part of France, in the late Middle Ages, local peasants produced raw silk by raising silk worms. Silk worms eat only the leaves of the white mulberry tree which grows in this part of the country. Since troglodyte dwellings offer large areas of constant temperature all year round, the locals cultivated this profitable product. Our guide raises a few thousand silk worms every year, to demonstrate the process to tourists. Each cocoon, created from the silk worm’s saliva in four days, produces 2 kilometres of silk thread! Each silk worm larvae eats about two mulberry leaves a day, so even our guide’s tiny “flock” requires him to cut 2000 leaves a day.  This “farming” activity didn’t interfere with other farm chores as it came before haying season and long before grape collection and wine making. It complemented perfectly the natural cycle of farm life. And as silk was literally worth its weight in gold, it was a lucrative activity for the residents of the Loire Valley.

As we biked home after our tour, we were tempted into a local bakery where we bought four almond-encrusted croissants…a nice end to a Loire day.

To see our pictures of the famous châteaux, our little town of Pontlevoy, or of our bike rides in the Loire Valley, click here.

Carpe annum,


P.S. In less than 2 months, we’ll be back on Canadian soil … under an NDP government?


  1. Hi Baillons!
    Stuart and I were just reviewing your You tube videos, and I was wondering – When are Shannon and Marco going to do a trompe-oreille? En francais, c’il vous plais!

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