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Nestled on the very southeastern edge of Maine-et-Loire, situated halfway between Saumur and Chinon at the junction of the Loire and Vienne rivers, lies the charming little village of Montsoreau. Originally called Villa de Rest in the 6th century, its history can be traced back to Gallo-Roman times. Renamed Le castrum de Montsorelli in 1089 after the fortification which was built there, this sleepy village doesn't attract much attention in the guidebooks. Nevertheless, it played a part in the historic architecture of the Loire Valley.
Montsoreau's population of artisans, fishermen, and wine producers remained relatively steady for about 700 years, rarely wavering above 600 inhabitants until the time of the French Revolution. When limestone became popular as a building material in the Loire Valley, the village's numbers swelled to over 1,000 as an influx of perreyeurs (quarrymen) descended on the area to exploit a rich vein of the malleable stone.
By the time the vein was depleted in the early 19th century, the perreyeurs had abandoned the village. The caves and tunnels which they had created, however, became an ideal environment for growing mushrooms whose harvest would be packaged in the factories of Saumur. Many of the caves were also adopted as living quarters by the local residents.
The village is a protagonist in an Alexandre Dumas (père) novel, La Dame de Montsoreau, a story based on the murder of Bussy d'Amboise by the Comte de Montsoreau in 1576 a real-life drama which actually took place at the Château de la Coutancière in Brain-sur-Alonnes. Today, Montsoreau occupies an area of only 2 square miles (519 ha), and its inhabitants still number only 558. Vacationers find it a lovely, relaxing stop in a tour of the river valley.
Le Château de Montsoreau
The Montsoreau Castle was first constructed in the 11th century at a strategic spot where the Loire and Vienne converge, serving the Count of Anjou as a defensive stronghold in clashes with the counts of Blois. It was rebuilt in 1455 by Jean de Chambes, a wealthy and brilliant diplomat during Charles VII's reign.
Monsoreau is the only castle to be erected right on the water's edge of the Loire. It has changed owners several times over the centuries, was abandoned and allowed to fall into a state of disrepair for a hundred years, and was eventually purchased by Maine-et-Loire in 1910. Restoration work was undertaken in two phases (1964 and 1999), at a cost of over 8 million euros, and the château was first opened to the public in 2001.
Address: SCER Château Montsoreau, 49730 Montsoreau.
Author: Ian C. Mills.
Bay of Biscay
The Bay of Biscay (derived from the Spanish name, Vizcaya) is a triangular extension of the North Atlantic Ocean along the west coast of France between Brittany and the northern coast of Spain. It has an area of 223,000 km2 (86,000 mi2) and a maximum depth of 4,732 m (15,525 ft). Its western waters are important shipping routes from Europe to the Strait of Gibraltar. The principal ports on its shores La Rochelle, Nantes, Brest, Bilbao, and Gijon are unable to accommodate large ships and are primarily fishing ports. Seas are often rough, and the bay is noted for its sudden storms.
Source: 2001 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.
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