This event is taking place every year in mid-november in this particular village: during two or three days on a weekend, a former quarry [see its entry on the right] which is also a former mushroom bed is turned into an ephemeral flower and foliage exhibition by community volunteers and artisans of the region.
The hills of the Loire region is covered with such tuff quaries, they've been used along the centuries to build all the houses and Chateaus of the region and while some are now used as cellars by wineries, most are empty and don't have a special use outside of storing farm equipment for example. In some places, the houses have been literally built partially into the hill, these are maisons troglodytes and they extend in the depth of the tuff through similar quarries. These quarries/cellars are usually stretched on one level only, with the opening being on the side of the hill and leading to horizontal extensions in all directions, sometimes hundreds of meters deep.
The idea of the people of Villentrois was to use one of the many quarries near the village for a special flower & foliage exhibition, some sort of last ode to the nature before the winter settles in for good. The organizers (a village community group) decides of a different theme every year (this year it was the cinema world) and the flowery decoration of each of the underground rooms follows this theme accordingly through still scenes that the visitors go see one after the other like they would do for paintings in a museum. The entry is free and whole families, who come mostly from the surrounding villages can bath in this otherworldy atmosphere with fairy-tale overtones. There is almost a Christmas crib flavor in this collection of scenes displayed to the multi-generational public.
Now, that's for the consensual family side of the event. In the evening, part of the underground tuff quarry transforms itself into a big multi-room restaurant where hearty food and generous wine make for a more pagan (but still civilized) atmosphere. Welcome to the underground cave dinner...
November being usually cold and wet (this year is exceptionnally mild in that regard), you're sure at least that in there the weather can't disturb the party. I didn't check the temperature but the people and the lighting helping, it's a very bearable temperature.
Kir, why do they always serve Kir in the countryside ? a simple Sauvignon could do a good job, I'd prefer to sip a basic Sauvignon than having to mix it with a syrup. But I guess that if the wine is so-so (which happens as they often buy the cheapest bulk available), the blackcurrant helps.
In the previous years, the kitchen was set up in one of the quarry rooms near the "restaurant" rooms, but for safety reasons it had to be set outside of the quarry (in a tent facing the entry) this year even if they have never encountered any problems (rules, rules, rules....). Having looked how the volunteers work, I can say that they could run a real restaurant, they were efficient, well-organized and fast, and we barely had to wait to be served. Children also take part as you can see on the pictures on the side, and they represent this next generation of village volunteers (none of this would exist without this volunteer philosophy).
Another thing is that there was both young and older people, including very old locals, some with a walking stick, something you don't see much in towns.
We were in the middle of our dinner when 6 or 7 people from the next table grabbed their instruments and began to play. They are all artists or comedians who live nearby and have a day job while also setting up shows here and there in the region. The instruments were local, traditional instruments like this vielle à roue and this was so nice (it sounds like that), we rarely hear traditional music in France compared to other European countries and that's too bad.The woman on the picture was the lead musician and she did a good job. They started at their own table then moved accross the quarry to entertain every room one after the other. I don't know if they do that every year but that was certainly a strong point in the evening. Of course, I had left my M-Audio microtrack at home and can't share this music...