Following on from cave living in Spain, it is now time to check out the rest of the Continent, as we take a look at cave living in Europe.
And the first caves to check out are those in the Loire Valley, France
The Loire Valley is the heartland of cave dwellers in France, with an estimated 45,000 homes in the region (according to CATP, an organisation setup to promote and preserve the troglodylic heritage of the area).
Whilst the town of Saumur is epicentre of cave life in the Loire Valley, there are a number of truly unique cave dwellings in the surrounding towns and villages.
For instance, the Les Hautes Roches hotel in Rochecorbon, has 12 rooms that are in a honeycomb of cliff caves. Apparently, monks from the nearby Marmoutier abbey hid during 16th century wars of religion.
Whilst not to be outdone, Souzay lays claim to a 15th century troglodyte château.
The cave homes themselves are a result of the wide-spread quarrying of the local stone. Beginning in the 11th Century, the stone was used to build the chateaus and houses of the Loire valley.
This local stone, known as ‘tufa’ is soft, manageable and easy to work, so people had the double benefit of selling quarried stone while creating a living space for them or their families.
There are hundreds of miles of caves in and around the area, most are now abandoned, however until the early 20th century many people lived in these homes.
More recently, these caves are being revamped and the renovations are not just limited to houses. There are also cave hotels, restaurants, museums, art galleries, and wineries, as well as farms for mushrooms, silkworms and snails.
Next up, cave living in Europe takes us to the idyllic Greek Island of Santorini.
Oia, is the most beautiful and picturesque of all villages of Santorini. Situated on top of an impressive cliff, it offers spectacular views over the volcano of Palia and Nea Kameni and the island of Thirassia.
Now a tourist destination, traditionally Oia was a fishing village, as well as home to shipowners and their crews. Poverty and necessity made the crews unable to build their houses on top of the hill, so they had to go lower, closer to the sea. However, only the cliffs were there and the people started digging into the rock, creating houses instead of building them, by removing rock and going as far into it as possible.
Today, these cave houses give the village its distinct look and feel, with caves being sculpted one on top of each other and all hanging on the edge of the caldera.
The cave living in Europe tour continues onto the ancient cave dwellings of the Italian city of Matera.
Known as the Sassi di Matera, the caves originate from a prehistoric troglodyte settlement and are suspected to be among the first human settlements in Italy. There is evidence that people were living here as early as the year 7000 BC.
The caves are dug into the calcarenitic rock itself, locally called “tufo” although it is not volcanic tuff or tufa. The streets in some parts of the Sassi often run on top of other houses.
In the 1950s, the government of Italy forcefully relocated most of the population of the Sassi to areas of the developing modern city.
Until the late 1980s this was considered an area of poverty, since many of these houses were, and in some cases still are, uninhabitable.
Current local administration, however, has become more tourism-oriented, and it has promoted the regeneration of the Sassi with the aid of the European Union, the government, UNESCO, and Hollywood. Today there are many thriving businesses, pubs, and hotels there.
The final stop on our cave living in Europe tour takes us to the United Kingdom. And I have to say I was as surprised as anyone to find that cave houses exist in my native country.
We start our tour of the UK’s cave homes in Wolverley, Worcestershire. ‘Cottage cave’ is a three-roomed Grade II-listed property hewn straight out of a sandstone cliff. It is composed out of three sandstone caves that have been linked together. Built in the 1770’s, it was lived in until 1948. It is unmodernised, doesn’t have running water or electricity, is privately owned and uninhabited . It is, however, not unique; there are more than 50 similar dwellings scattered throughout the parish of Wolverley.
Staying in Worcestershire we head to the Wyre Forest, home to “Britain’s first luxury cave house retreat”. This Rock house was hand carved from a Triassic-era sandstone escarpment and inhabited for nearly 700 years until 1962. When it was deserted, it was left to return to its natural state until eventually being converted in 2015.
Finally, we travel to Kinver Edge in Staffordshire, home to the last occupied troglodyte dwellings in England. Here there are a set of complete cave-houses excavated into the local sandstone, one of which was a hermitage until the Reformation. The Holy Austin rock houses were inhabited until the 1960s. They are now owned by the National Trust and are open for tours. One house has been restored to a Victorian appearance, whilst another shows what life was like in the 1930s.
It has been said that these cave homes, with their petite gardens, were the real inspiration behind J.R.R. Tolkien’s Hobbiton.
So ends our cave living in Europe tour. In the final installment, we will take a look at cave living in America.
So … Who are one foot in the cave ?
We (Danny and Josie) have spent the last 10 years living and working in the Caribbean. In 2015 we decided we wanted to move closer to family and friends so bought a cave house in the Granada region of Andalucia, Spain. We moved there full time in January 2017. Now we write about our experiences of cave living and how we are adapting to life in Spain.
We also have a Facebook page full of pictures, experiences and information that we have found useful along the way. If its your thing, you can also follow us on Instagram 🙂
5 words related to this blog entry …
Valley – El Valle.
Island – La Isla.
Cliff – El Acantilado.
Forest – El Bosque.
Escarpment – La Escarpa.