My day was filled with exploration. I went, with the international student organization, to a small village in France called Turquant. Never heard of it? Well, I hadn’t either…until I signed up for the trip! It is a town of only 560 inhabitants and it is located about two hours east of Nantes. What makes Turquant special?
Turquant is built into the rocks. All of the homes are cut into this massive hill. Turquant is considered an artisan town now. There are many craftsmen whose shops are part of the hill. They sell everything from jewelry to apple tarts to sculptures. However, since it was morning, most of the shops were closed. We received a tour of the city from a local guide and then were given time to explore the town on our own. I found a vineyard and an old windmill! And a home that looks like a hobbit hole (for those of you unfamiliar with J.R.R Tolkien’s works, I can only quote Tolkien himself, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort”)!
After getting slightly turned around, the bus driver drove us to Saumur. Saumur is well-known for their famous horseback riding school, but I didn’t get a chance to explore the city. We were there to eat lunch. I brought a lunch with me and sat with friends at the base of the Saumur Castle. After eating lunch quickly, we got back on the road to the Château de Brézé. This is my first château on the Loire River. I was very excited to see it. But what makes this château different? It isn’t just a castle. It’s a castle that also has an underground castle!
The Château de Brézé is currently owned by the descendants of the original owners. They reside in one part of the castle so we weren’t able to go there, but we were able to go underground. The underground portion included a jail, a defense system, stables, living rooms, a quarry, the wine cellars, and a boulangerie (a bakery where they still make bread today). I was amazed at the vast network of tunnels underground. It really was a castle underground. But why did they build such a network? Well, it was for defense. The castle had extremely tall walls to protect it, but they were still worried about attacks. So, in the event of an attack, they could survive underground for a long time!
Above ground, we were able to see a few rooms of the castle. I was very impressed with the castle, which also had a vineyard on site and a pigeon coup. It was really cool to explore the underground tunnels. I loved it.
We left to go to a wine tasting. First, the tour guide showed us the wine cellars which were quite interesting. I went to a wine tasting in Italy in a castle, but the wine process was never explained to us. Here, in France, I finally learned how wine is fermented. While I found that to be informative, I found the actually cellars themselves interesting. They were hand carved many centuries ago by some famous architecture. The last part of the wine tour was, of course, the actual tasting. Now, I am honestly the best person to bring to a wine tasting. Why am I the best person to bring if I don’t even drink wine? Well, that’s the point. My friends definitely benefit. They get more wine and I learn more about the cultural aspects of wine in France. Everyone wins.
The day had passed swiftly and it was time to head home. As the countryside rolled by, I couldn’t help but be very content with this trip. It was great to see a different side of France. When I say I am studying abroad in France, everyone thinks of Paris, but Paris is only one part of France. Another part of France is the beautiful countryside. I saw grazing cows and lazy horses. I saw sheep and heard chickens. It was a very relaxing day and it almost made me want to move into the French countryside with a bunch of cats and live among the rocks…almost. I came back to reality quite quickly when I realized that homes in hills, prior to renovation, don’t have electricity!
When I returned to Nantes, I remembered that it was the braderie. What is that? It’s a huge sale that occurs in Nantes. All of the vendors place their goods on the streets and sell things for very, very cheap. The trams are stopped because vendors are on the tracks and there are food vendors and it’s madness. Of course, we were gone all day, so we returned to this.
So much trash – everywhere! I hope Nantes cleans up its act – this doesn’t look like the European Green Capital anymore.