A handsome young guy named Benjamin explained. We were at his family business, La Cave aux Moines in Préban, near the city of Saumur, where dark, low, underground tunnels revealed (in no particular order) a nightclub and bar, a nice restaurant that served troglodyte food to troglodytes like me, a mushroom farm and, in a huge terrarium, a farm to harvest the eggs of giant snails. Like my brother Dave, the giant snails copulate for eight to twelve hours, according to Benjamin, and then stick their heads into dirt pots and eject hundreds of eggs from their necks. Cool! And this was just a fraction of the tunnels where Benjamin lived, which extend some six miles in several dark, bewildering directions.
There are hundreds of miles of tunnels like this throughout the cliffs of the Loire, mined mostly by hand in the old days in order to remove the blocks of limestone that built all of the grand chateaus around here. As the stone moved out, the people moved in, and you can see handsome wooden doorways on the faces of cliffs throughout the Loire where people live in caves. The caves are cool year-round and a trifle damp, but you never need to water the lawn because nothing grows inside them other than mushrooms. How they get water, electricity and plumbing in there is utterly beyond me.
A troglodyte lunch prepared by Benjamin consisted of an appetizer of snails, sautéed mushrooms (of course), and "fouées," which were like little, fresh pita breads baked on the spot in a wood-fired oven and spread with the local "rillettes," a delicious pork pate, sweet butter, white beans and sausage. Quite delicious with a glass of fruity Loire wine. Even a caveman could see why this kind of casual, family dining is so popular around here. If you go, you'll want to tour the great chateau, but save some time to visit the little people (and their pet snails) underground.