The mushroom caves are themselves an old limestone quarry recycled as mushroom farms. The tunnels within stretch for 150 km and are distributed across 7 levels both underground and into the hillside. I'm like"Wow! Whaaaaat?!"
But that isn't THE most amazing thing about the tunnels. The most amazing thing about those tunnels is a man called Christian Lhermite. Christian is a stone mason. He started learning to work stone when he was 14 years old. Christian set for himself an ambitious project 10 years ago - to sculpt a complete 1914 village underground in the limestone tunnels.
We saw stables and horses. We saw huge vines with pendulous grapes, a tree, lizards on walls, cats climbing into houses and dogs sneaking into half-opened doors. We saw a well with water in it, poor villagers' roughly hewn stone houses, rich merchants' refined houses... rickety wooden doors all in limestone. He even sculpted a rich merchant's wife peeking out from an upstairs window. A little boy poked his head out of a wooden door with a sling shot in his hand, about to let fly at a bird.
It was a sight to behold and I didn't want to leave. I wanted to stay, close my eyes and imagine the village from the year 1914 come alive with the hustle and bustle of life. Deep inside the limestone caverns, I felt like I had walked straight into Tolkien's dwarf kingdoms where stone comes alive because of skilled stone masons. Christian sculpted life into the lifeless.
None of us expected what we saw. We thought we would see mushroom farming and we saw a work of art. It was life-sized and it was all the work of one man working over weekends, public holidays and evenings for the past 10 years. We were lucky to even see Christian because he does live up to his name of Lhermite (the Hermit). He sneaks off deeper into the caves when he hears people coming. And it was further amazing that "the artist with the temperament of a bear" even agreed to be photographed. But here he is - Christian Lhermitte.