December 2006

Trôo: Village of Caves by Kate Kilbourne

Located on the river Loir, (not to be confused with the feminine version, La Loire, of châteaux renown) Trôo is only a couple of hours west of Paris. One of the most charming and unusual villages of France, Troo used to be a walled town built high on a hill-but what’s unique about the village these days is its cave homes carved into the hillside overlooking the river. With stunning views of the valley, flowering terraces, winding staircases and quiet lanes forbidden to cars, Trôo feels like a hobbit village, full of mystery and enchantment.

It is generally hypothesized that excavation of the cave dwellings began in the high Middle Ages and continued throughout history for various purposes. The lush vegetation of the riverbank blankets chalky tufa, or tuffeau in French, a soft white limestone at one time much sought-after for building. The caves, whether scratched out for shelter or the result of mining the stone, have at one time or another been used to store wine, grow mushrooms, house families and livestock, and hide members of the French Résistance during World War II.

Held by Richard the Lion-Hearted at the end of the 12th century, Trôo prospered due to its strategic high lookout and fortifications. In fact, during the 11th and 12th centuries its inhabitants numbered around 4,500, the majority of whom lived in caves. Today, with a population of less than 300, Trôo is still evolving, attracting Parisians, Londoners and even a few Americans with literal holes-in-the-wall. Running water came to Trôo in 1972, and electricity and telephones have brought the subterranean town up to present-day standards. Many of the cave accommodations are curiously cutting-edge these days, equipped with broadband Internet for their connected owners and guests.

Kate Kilbourne is a San Francisco-based writer and website director who lives part of the year in Trôo.

Getting there ?By car Trôo is about 250 km (155 mi) west of Paris. ?By train TGV from Montparnasse station in Paris to Vendôme, 42 minutes. Rent a car in Vendôme or ask your host in Trôo to meet you at the TGV station. ?Map of the area


B&B Cave Troglodyte bed-and-breakfast?

Cave Yuccas Cave and cottage vacation rental?[email protected]

Troglogîtes Cave accommodations, nightly or weekly rentals?[email protected]


Le Cheval Blanc By the bridge in Trôo?

Auberge Sainte Catherine Across from the Mayor’s office in Trôo?

Le Relais d’Antan By the bridge in Lavardin (a few kilometers from Trôo)?

What to do

The Cave Yuccas Maison de la Patrimoine ?A cave house as it was lived in a hundred years ago. Have a crêpe in the garden and enjoy the spectacular view over the Loir.

Cave des Amis de Trôo Visit this cave museum featuring thematic displays on human history, tufa, the hidden children of Trôo and local craftsmanship.

Les Caforts Explore the old tufa quarry that tunnels 6 kilometers into the depths of the hillside. Tickets at the Cave Yuccas or the Cave des Amis.

L’Église de St-Jacques-des-Guérets Take a walk over the bridge and along the river to this lovely church with 12th-century Byzantine frescos and a beautiful wooden cathedral ceiling.

Farmers’ market In Montoire, Wed afternoons and Sat mornings.

Tourist information ?

Explore before you go?


Les Vernades

Refuge Atop St-Trop’ by Paul Moreira

A small path twists up the hillside above the house to a promontory. Far below you, in the distance, five kilometers as the crow flies: St-Tropez…. You contemplate the city laid out before you in miniature, the fury of the cars as they rattle and honk in their impatience to speed on. The flash, the swagger; giant billboards, mini carnivals. A Japanese motorcycle is heard revving to a hysterical whine. You smile: Still as fadas as ever, down there. Fadas in Provençal means crazed, on edge. And there couldn’t be a better word for the human comedy of teeming St-Tropez.

With the song of the cicadas in your ears, you turn your back on the scene and slowly return to the hamlet, drawing deep breaths of thyme, rosemary, the scent of the pines. In the tiny settlement of Les Vernades, hidden behind the village of Grimaud, there is nothing to ruffle the côte d’azur. Just a few houses and a rural inn. The inn, or gîte, belongs to Alain Spada, the former mayor of St-Tropez, who built his refuge here with his own hands. A refuge he will rent out to a few rare tourists.

You reach the hamlet of Les Vernades by a four-kilometer lane. When it rains, this can become impassable, requiring a long detour to get home. There, at an altitude of nearly 1,000 feet in the Massif of Maures, one of the loveliest spots in the South of France, there is silence, perhaps the sound of the wind and a few children playing. Five houses. A field. A cherry tree, an almond tree. A few dogs.

Do your shopping at the market in Garde-Freinet and return to this haven of peace. You can light the logs in the huge fireplace or look out at the sublime landscape spread before the bedroom window. [END BOX]

Paul Moreira is a TV journalist who creates investigative documentaries for Canal+.

To book at Alain Spada’s inn at Hameau des Vernades, contact Gîtes de France. It is gîte rural number 1445, in the Var département (83).,



Provence à la Pagnol by Hélène Goupil

Qui a vu Paris, et pas Cassis, n’a rien vu-“If you’ve seen Paris but not Cassis, you haven’t seen anything yet.” This local saying may sound a little pretentious, but once you behold the charming fishing town of Cassis, you may decide it’s no exaggeration. Only 30 kilometers (18.5 mi) outside the busy city of Marseille, Cassis is a quiet, easygoing town at the foot of the majestic red-rock Cap Canaille. With its narrow streets, earth-tone houses and Provençal street names, the city is like something straight out of a Marcel Pagnol novel. The local author, who penned best-sellers such as La Gloire de Mon Père, Le Château de Ma Mère and, most famously for the U.S. audience, Fanny, also used Cassis as a filming location for some of the movies based on his books.

Although the town is now known for its Provençal charm-the harbor is lined with ochre, yellow and anise-green restaurants and cafés where people soak up the sun-Cassis first became famous for its limestone. The solid rock was used in the harbors of both Alexandria and Algiers and for the base of a landmark that’s much closer to home, the Statue of Liberty. There’s no better way to see the limestone cliffs than by visiting the calanques, natural harbors carved by time from the steep coastal bluffs. Hiking three or four hours down to the rocky inlets is rewarding, but a boat tour is a lot less tiring and eminently enjoyable. En route, you’ll see Les Roches Blanches, a hotel where Sir Winston Churchill spent time painting, and the peninsula owned by Paul Ricard, of Pastis fame.

where to stay

Hôtel Cassitel ** Place Clémenceau? the harbor, this two-star hotel is a good choice for those on a budget. Ask for a room facing the town if you’re a light sleeper.

Le Jardin d’Émile La Plage du Bestouan ?

Les Roches Blanches Route des Calanques?

Château de Cassis Traverse du Château? Roman castle turned into a luxury hotel overlooks the city center and the harbor.

where to eat

A visit to Cassis isn’t complete without trying two local specialties: sea urchins, which are in season from mid-October to mid-April; and the local wine, the first in the region to receive the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée label. We recommend trying Domaine du Paternel and Château de Fontblanche. Sample these at Chez M. Brun, 2 quai Calendal, For a romantic dinner with beautiful views of the city and the sea, head to Restaurant La Presqu’île,Quartier Port Miou,, Chez César offers fine Provençal meals by the harbor.21 quai des Baux,

to visit the calanques

Les Bateliers Cassidains?13, rue Lamartine ?

how to get there

From Marseille, drive the hills along the Mediterranean coast for a scenic route. You can also take the train to Cassis. A bus gets you to downtown, as the station is outside the city. Take number 2, 3 or 4, leaving approximately every 10 minutes.