Almost unique in the world, the Cadre Noir is something not to miss if you're following the great châteaux or wines of the Loire Valley
Anyone familiar with the Loire Valley won’t need any explanation as to why so many people visit this part of France every year.
The wines here are of a general character that will suit many palates – a mixture of light but sophisticated fruitiness and heady satisfying maturity. Then there are the châteaux. So many superb examples of these erstwhile bastions of the wealthy exist that a visit to even a few of them will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time to the middle ages.
Saumur is located on a broad stretch of the Loire River. It has all the elements you would associate with the area – pretty white sandstone town, magnificent château (Unmissable in its dominant position above the town) and surrounded by superb vineyards.Just 3km outside of the town is the École du Cadre Noir. This elite school is attached to the military and was set up during the Napoleonic era. Although horses no longer serve a function in modern warfare, it exists (along with the Lippizaner centre in Vienna) as one of the very few elite equine dressage centres in the world.
There are regular guided tours that take you around the famous centre, learning all about the history of the school and where you can take your seat quietly and watch the horses being put through their paces in the enormous indoor arena or practising outdoors. You also get to walk through the stables and pat the heads of the beautiful creatures.
The cadets themselves look every bit as smart and well-groomed in their black dress uniforms as the horses that they persuade to perform unnaturally impressive feats and poses.Although the buildings themselves don’t physically look like anything too far beyond what you might expect from a large, clean, well-maintained riding school, you do get an impression of the sense of elite involved from the air of reverential calm that permeates the entire grounds of the school. During the general panic and polarized loyalties that characterised the sudden invasion of France by the Nazis in 1940, Saumur proved itself a bastion of honour, holding out against the invaders and defended to the death by teenage cadets of the École du Cadre Noir; some of whom had already been evacuated from Dunkirk and returned to defend their beloved town and school.
It’s an impressive place to visit at any time and if you’re heading there, it’s worth consulting their website to see if you can catch one of the evening performances or special galas that take place throughout the year.