A Tour to Touraine
A recent two-day trip in Precious, the camper van, took Chris, Tobi the dog and me to Touraine.
Touraine is one of the ancient provinces of France that existed until 1790, when it was subsumed into the départements of Indre, Indre-et-Loire, Loir-et-Cher and Vienne. The name Touraine is derived from Turones, the Gaulish people who once inhabited the area. Like some of the other ancient provinces, such as Berry into which our part of north-east Creuse fitted, although it’s physically gone its memory lives strongly on in gastronomy and assorted regional idiosyncrasies. Touraine even has a local currency known as la gabare.
Touraine is also famous for its faluns, and our first stop was in Ciran to visit one of these. A falun is an accumulation of fossil shells found in sandy sedimentary rock. This sediment was laid down by prehistoric shallow seas. Up until about 15 million years ago, what is now the Loire valley and surrounding lowlands was a marine gulf. The majority of the fossils are long-extinct bivalves, such as rhynchostreon suborbiculatum, a type of oyster, and pecten cockles, ancient relatives of today’s coquilles St Jacques. These fossils date back to the Cenamanian era of 110.5-93.3 mya.
In Ciran an anticline – the geological term for an arch-like fold with the oldest beds of rock at its core – has brought these ancient marine deposits to the surface and weathering has revealed them. However, local inhabitants seem to be doing their best to rebury them under garden waste. Talk about familiarity breeding contempt! This is a stunning geological feature that’s being used as a dump. Fortunately enough of it remains free from grass cuttings and flower pots for us to have had a good firkle through. The fossils shells were scattered over the ground as well as still lodged in their crumbly, sandy bedrock. We had a fascinating time gleaning a few treasures.
From Ciran we progressed to Le Louroux. This is a tiny town, or large village, with a large lake and an incredible priory, parts of which date back to the eleventh century. The majority of it is much more modern, having been built in the fifteenth century. We parked up (in a park4night spot) right behind the priory church of St Sulpice.
We set off at once on an enjoyable geocaching trail around the lake. The dam wall of this was constructed by monks from the priory. The lake today is a nature reserve for waterfowl and we saw coots, moorhens, ducks, herons, egrets and swans.
After tea we had a potter around the magnificent priory.
For me its most striking component is the pigeonnier (pigeon loft) with room for 4000 inhabitants!
We also passed a house where artist Eugène Lacroix, French romantic artist, had lived for a while. His best-known painting is Liberty Leading the People, which commemorates the July 1830 Revolution which toppled King Charles X, and not, as I’d always thought until doing my research just now, the French Revolution of 1789.
Le Louroux’s name possibly comes from the priory. In medieval times it was known as Oradorio, from the Latin oratorium which signifies a place where people pray. However, another hypothesis is that Le Louroux is derived from le loup roux = the red wolf. There’s a legend about a particularly nasty wolf with diabolical red fur that terrorised the area for a while. The locals called on St Martin to help them. When he couldn’t kill the beast with his lance, he first set fire to the forest it lived in as a means of pest control and, when that failed, unleashed another ecological catastrophe by summoning a flood to submerge the whole area and, with it, the wolf. This latter ploy worked apparently, but there’s no record (conveniently) on how many other people and animals perished alongside the wolf!
Next day we geocached our way through some of the surrounding forest, fortunately long-recovered from St Martin’s heavy-handed wolf elimination programme. We came across this colossal oak tree.
There was one last interesting discovery to make on the way back to Precious. We spotted this croix hosannière (hosanna cross) in the cemetery. Such a cross is a monument to the dead, built somewhere between the 12th and 15th centuries, and a lot of them are found in Touraine. In other parts of France an illuminated lanterne des morts is the go-to cemetery adornment.
Thoroughly delighted with our short but fascinating outing to Touraine, we headed for home, already planning our next camper-van trip.