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The Tuffeau stone that makes up the bulk of the Loire Valley has been used for building for millennia, and this has left behind a lot of caves. It has also left us lots of lovely buildings too - most of the Chateaux in the area are made of the off-white Tuffeau stone!

Today, it's very easy to find places growing mushrooms in the caves (apparently the Loire is the largest supplier of mushrooms to Paris!), and many places offer tours around them. Equally there are a very large number of houses in the caves, again with many places offering tours and visits. Another popular use is for Saumur Brut, the sparkling wine, which is in many places around Saumur made and aged in the caves, and here too you can often visit.

For all of these popular three reasons for visiting the caves, any guide book or tourist information office will be able to supply you with places to visit, so we've no need of a question for that! However, the caves and the stone have wonderful artistic potential too, and yet looking through a guidebook you won't see anything about caves to visit for this. So, are there any caves that are "arty" that can be visited?

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3 Answers 3

There are a number of caves in the Loire Valley which have sculpted walls, as well as caves which serve as artists' studios. The Hélice Terrestre, which you mention, is superb, and Philip Cormand's sculptures in Bouvet-Ladubay, are, as you say, great. You can see considerably more of Cormand’s work in the nearby Pierre et Lumière, where he sculpted miniature versions of a number of Loire Valley monuments and bas-reliefs of whole villages.

For another winery with sculpted scenes on its walls, though of a completely different style, take a look at Les Caves Rupestres at the Vouvray winery Domaine Bourillon Dorléans. Some of the bas-reliefs were made by the local sculptor Zaeli, who has a cave studio in the adjoining village of Rochecorbon.

The caves of the Loire Valley, which usually started as tuffeau extraction quarries, are hard to compare to the natural caves of the Dordogne. They have their own charm, much of it owing to the new uses to which the Loire caves have been put.

I've identified 10 sculpted caves plus 14 artists' studios or sales rooms (and much more) located in Loire Valley caves in my eBook "Deep in the Heart of France: A Guide to the Loire Valley's Contemporary Caves", available at www.smashwords.com/books/view/148646. Enjoy!

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I think you're "onto" something with your question, but the most interesting caves (to most connoisseurs) are a bit further south, in the Dordogne region in France, south and east of Bordeaux. These are appealing from both an art and archeological perspective because there are cave paintings done by prehistoric man.

The most famous of the caves in question is the Lascaux.

This is in contrast to the central Loire, which cuts west across France to Nantes. But some of the southernmost tributaries of the river approach the region of greatest interest.

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

Self answering, as after much hunting I did find two, and I figure it's worth sharing!

Bouvet-Ladubay are one of the better known sparkling winemakers in Saumur, and own an extensive collection of caves where they store their sparkling wines. In common with many of the winemakers in Saumur, they offer tours which include looking around the caves, learning about how they make the wine, and a tasting at the end.

What's different about the Bouvet-Ladubay caves is that in 2002, they had the artist Philip Cormand come into the caves to sculpt the rock. The rest is that around 400m of the caves feature small to large sculptures around their edges. Sometimes it's a pillar, sometimes an apparently ornate staircase, or perhaps just a small design in the rock:

Carvings in the cave wall

Much much harder to find than that is the Helice Terrestre de l'Orbiere, near Saint Georges des Sept Voies just south-east of Angers. When you arrive here, it feels like you're in a small quary village, but the magic lies within...

Entry to the village

Inside, you discover the work of Jacques Warminsky, who has created amazing sculptures and patterns in the caves. Small passageways lead into giant carved chambers, on into rooms with a wonderful echo, and on past small carvings and then suddenly back into the sunlight. It's magical what can be done with the lights, the carvings, and tunnels. One of the caves

It's hard to do the caves justice with just a few photos, but luckily the Anjou tourist board have a virtual tour of one of the chambers to give you an idea!

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