Visit Saumur in the Loire Valley

Photo of Saumur

Saumur tourism, attractions and sights of interest

Saumur attractions

Saumur is situated at the southern end of Anjou, at the confluence of the Thouet and the Loire Rivers, in an area of ancient settlement. Saumur dates back to the fourth century BC - it was created as a small village in ancient times  called simply ‘Mur’ with  people who lived in caves (called ‘habitations troglodytes’), dug along the sides of steep mountain ranges to the east of Saumur.

Although best known for the Chateau de Saumur, this attractively located town has other attractions that will also detain you.

Another renowned institution of Saumur is its riding school, founded in 1771 with the task of training the officers. It was moved to Versailles in 1822, but in 1824 it was back to Saumur, where it still exists, making the city one of the main centres of riding around France, where horses follow a standardized training that lasts five years. The school conceived a horse show, the ‘Cadre Noir’, so called because the Knights (officers and NCOs) wear a completely black uniform and gold spurs. The show consists of figures in which the rider controls the horse from the ground using the long reins.

In addition to his riding school, Saumur is now famous for another institution, namely its ‘Musée des blindés’ (Museum of arms), which preserves valuable collections of tanks, cannons and other vintage vehicles.

Among the religious buildings to visit in Saumur are the church of ‘Notre Dame des Ardilliers’ (XIV century), a pilgrimage destination for many centuries. It is a large and beautiful church with a façade adorned with porticos and illuminated from inside by large windows.

See also the church of St. Peter (XVII century), of classical style and with two works of great value by Rubens and Murillo. Equally important is the Nantilly Church (XII century), the oldest in Saumur and in the Romanesque style, with a remarkable collection of tapestries from the 16th and 18th centuries.

Places near Saumur

Nearby, the Abbey of Fontevraud (XII century) is very beautiful; of Romanesque style and among the largest in Europe. In the Napoleonic era it was transformed into a prison, but today is home to important cultural conferences.

The excursion around Saumur is also an excellent opportunity to try the typical local cuisine, made of ‘fouées’ eels, ‘galipettes’ accompanied by the ‘Saumur Champigny’, rightly considered the best red wine of the Loire.

History of Saumur

The ‘Mur’ part of the name of the town probably derives from the fact that the caves and hills have the form of a ‘compact wall’; indeed, a real ‘defensive rampart,’ (from the Latin word ‘murus’ which not only means 'wall’, but also ‘bulwark’ suitable for defence).

Medieval half timbered house in Saumur, FranceIn its early history Saumur passed under the dominion of the Romans, Visigoths, and finally to the Kings of France, Dagobert (603-639) and Pippin (714-768), who, in the mid-eighth century, came here to build a church dedicated to St. John. Given the defensible position they also built a castle, which was called ‘The Trunk’, because, seen from afar, the tower looked like a tree trunk. A village of huts developed around the church of Saint John, which was called ‘Johannis Villa’,  in honour of the saint to whom the church was dedicated.

With the Norman invasion, the inhabitants abandoned the ‘Villa’ to flee inland, but from the 10th century the village was repopulated again, taking the name of ‘Saulmeur’ and ‘Saumeur’, which means ‘Under the wall’, from which the present name of the city is derived (named for the new fortifications that were built around the church and convent for fear of further Norman raids). In the eleventh century, Saumur was hotly contested by the Counts of Blois and Anjou, until in 1025 the Count of Anjou ‘Fulk the Black’ (972-1040) occupied the city.

Certainly the most difficult years were those of the Wars of Religion. The rich bourgeoisie of Saumur had welcomed the ideas of John Calvin (1509-1564), which took root deeply in the city, leading to bitter religious strife between Catholics and Protestants. After the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 a large number of Protestants left the city, and the population was nearly halved, while the economic activities were severely affected.

Saumur came out of the crisis under the reign of Louis XIV (1638-1715), and especially of Louis XV (1710-1774) with his school of chivalry which was founded in 1771 by Duke of Choiseul (1719-1785), the minister of Louis XV - with a particular responsibility to properly train the Cavalry officers.

The city experienced another difficult time during the French Revolution, when it was besieged by troops from Vendée. After the Napoleonic age and the Restoration (1814), Saumur became one of the most important cities for its cavalry school and for a number of economic activities related to agriculture and wine production.

Map of Saumur & places nearby

Castle Town village

Selected places to visit in or near Saumur, Loire Valley