Charente Maritime, France. Places to visit.
This area of France, with its plethora of limestone cliffs, has a long tradition of cave dwelling.
At Meschers there are the Grottes de Regulus, named after a ship. Measuring 55 metres long and carrying 700 men, the ship was fired by Captain Jacques Regneau during the night of April 7 1814, when, failing to hold out against the British, he saved her from falling into foreign hands. She burned for 3 days and nights.
During the C19th infestation of the vineyards with Phyloxia, destitute workers were given the right to live in the caves. One of the most famous troglodites was Marie Guichard, who sold shrimps and post cards. She lived quite comfortably, with a small allotment and pens for rabbits and poultry.
A knife grinder, Pere Gregoire, also plied his trade from a cave here, he also sold soused sardines, known as ‘Royans’.
The caves were home to Cadet, a famous local pirate, who lured ships onto the rocks with false lights before pillaging them. He hid his booty in the cracks and crevices .
They provided shelter for at least one Protestant pasteur, hiding from the Catholic persecution. During the period, 600 of his fellows starved to death and countless others were hung or shot. The coastline suffered heavy bombardment from the Spanish.
As tourism developed at the end of the C19th, with the new fashion for sea bathing, a small restaurant opened, with music and dancing. This was not welcomed by the fisherman who lived right next door. He claimed that the noise scared the fish, making his living even more precarious. Little did he know that his fortune was right under his nose – when he caught sturgeon, he threw the caviar to the chickens – the ‘poules d’or’, not realising, until the fashion arrived with overseas travellers, that he was throwing away a great delicacy!
A show celebrating the lives of the troglodites takes place every Tuesday night during July and August in the caves, and there are daily tours throughout the tourist season.
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