When the parade has melted away (so to speak) it is pleasant to stroll the streets. This has the added benefit of aiding digestion and clearing the head. There is a variety of wares to inspect, many of them produced locally in private homes and workshops. There is also a number of performing players – jugglers, singers, comedians (if you can understand them), acrobats and fire-eaters.
In the narrow streets the midsummer temperatures climb and the atmosphere becomes unbreathable. You can sit in a shady square and listen to a medieval play if your understanding of the language is good enough to follow it. But the best relief is to follow one of the signs pointing to Les Caves. The whole of the great limestone hill beneath the castle is honeycombed with caverns and passageways cut out of the rock when the stone was quarried to build the town centuries ago.
If you follow the signs up one of the narrow lanes leading to the foot of the cliff you will come to an entrance, perhaps twelve feet wide and twenty feet high. Normally it will be shut off from the public by a pair of bolted gates but today the place is open and the lights fixed to the roof are turned on. At first it is a relief to enter into the blessed cool, but soon the sudden drop in temperature will induce shivering, so you will need to carry a light sweater.
The tunnel curves gently upwards for perhaps thirty metres until it enters a large cavern. Along one side is a bar with many barrels of wine behind it. Around the cave are a number of tables, most occupied by a shouting laughing throng. On each table is a dozen or more open bottles. Chinon’s speciality is a light red wine with a fragrant bouquet redolent of raspberries
Wine drunk by a hot body under these cool conditions in the middle of the day appears to be extremely refreshing. But beware! Leaving the cave an hour later, after sampling perhaps half a dozen of the wines on offer, and emerging into the heat of the late afternoon hits you like a sledge hammer. An irregular stagger back to the hotel is necessary to sleep it off and prepare for the evening’s entertainment.
Next week I will tell you about what happens during the evening.