Breizh Poellrezh SF - Douarañ Santel
Breizh Poellrezh SF - Douarañ Santel

This départment was formed mainly from the province of Anjou with it varied landscapes and forested hills spreading outward from the River Loire, this is a place to discover who you really are. What could be more enchanting than to find your roots may actually go back to this corner of France? Here, where the Loire, on its journey across France, has gathered up all the gold from the towns and the countryside and sifted it into the land to give warm welcoming towns, wide fertile valleys just made for growing crops and age-old vineyards where time appears to have stood still.

 

You know you are in Anjou because the equitable climate has carved a soul from land and water to produce a rolling countryside, impressive abbeys and châteaux with a story to tell. This is a land of the rare and the commonplace, the sublime and the enchanted, where, everything is in perfect balance. 

Amongst the delights are amazing castles, elegant manor houses and extravagant buildings – this former province boasts twelve hundred châteaux and stately homes! Then there is the Royal Abbey at Fontevraud with its Plantagenet tombs, the final resting place of Plantagenet kings, it is here that Henry II, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, son Richard 1 (Lionheart) and daughter-in-law Isabelle of Angoulême. Add to that the horsemen of the Cadre Noir in Saumur and there is no doubt, you are indeed in the Loire Valley.

Here you will see rows of vineyards and sunflowers which get you in the mood for wine-tasting. Almost every wine imaginable is produced here from just two varieties of grape; you will be spoiled for choice!

These are just some of the delights of Anjou and the beautiful Loire valley, just come and enjoy yourself!

Angers

This former capital of Anjou, now the prefecture of the départment, stands on the banks of the Maine River, which is formed by the confluence of the Sarthe and Mayenne. Many consider the town to be the gateway to the Loire Valley. Formally the home of home of the royal court until Henri IV moved it to Chinon in the 12th century.

A visit to the Chateau d'Angers, a Plantagenet fief, built in the early 13th century of white stone is a must. Here you will find the internationally renowned 'L'Apocalypse' tapestry. This is the longest and most ornate medieval tapestry in the world. Open daily: May–Aug 0930 - 1830; Sept–April 1000 -1730; 5.50€


Not far from the castle in the historic centre is the Cathedrale St-Maurice which is another of Anger's gems boasting a magnificent Norman entrance and beautiful stained-glass. Inside, the unusually wide, aisle-less nave with its dome-like Plantagenet vaulting is illuminated by twelfth-century stained glass. In the choir one window is dedicated to Thomas Becket, murdered on the orders of Henry Plantagenet, Count of Anjou and King of England.

On the outskirts of the town is Distillerie Cointreau where the world famous orange flavoured liqueur is produced from a recipe by Adolphe and Edouard-Jean Cointreau 1849. Whilst the recipe is a closely guarded
secret, you can participate in a guided tour, visit the museum and partake in a tasting of the world famous liqueur. Cost of the visit is around 9,50 Euros with reduction for children.

Saumur

This charming historic town, located between the Loire and Thouet rivers, and surrounded by the vineyards of Saumur, Chinon, Bourgueil, Coteaux du Layon, etc. which produce some of France's finest wines, is a peaceful, pretty town whose château looks out over an idyllic Loire as it crosses the city. Home to the famous Cadre Noir (Black Squad - a troop of elite horsemen), the École Nationale d'Équitation (National School of Horsemanship), known for its annual horse shows, as well as the Armoured Branch and Cavalry Training School, the officer school for armoured forces (tanks). Its delightful sparkling wines made using the traditional method are a wonder, with so many to chose from you are spoiled for choice. With the elegant Chateau de Saumur, the local wines, the sandy banks of the river, the equestrian traditions and historical sites, everything about the Loire region seems to come together in here. Then there are troglodyte dwellings in the cliffs nearby, if the chic town centre begins to seem too comfortable for you

A visit to the château which dominates the town from its hilltop is a must, a fortress during the 13th century under the minority of Saint Louis then residence of the Dukes of Anjou; is a splendid example of 14th century architecture. In 1480 Saumur returned to the estates of Louis XI, King of France, following the death of King René, the st Duke of Anjou. The site successively became a residence for the town governors, a prison and a munitions depot. For the past ten years it has been undergoing major reconstruction and public access to the château has been restricted.

For €2 you get to climb up the watchtower and visit the dungeons and for €6 you gain entry to the royal apartments as well, which house the two museums. The Musée des Arts Décoratifs has tapestries and china, but the Musée du Cheval up in the attic is the best bit (excuse the pun). There are bridles and saddles from all over the world in an impressive collection that spans time and space.

After the chateau, museums, gardens and a wander through the old town you might need a pick-me-up at the Maison du Vin, quai Lucien, which serves méthode champenoise sparkling wines, and also has useful lists of wine-growers and local caves.

Then it's on to the École Nationale d'Équitation in St-Hilaire-St-Florent for a guided tour of the riding school where, for €6.50 in the morning, you'll also be able to observe the elite Cadre Noir riders in training, or €4.50 in the afternoon (training sessions are in the morning).

Nearby is the Musée de Champignon (€6.50) where you can tour (some of) the 500km of underground mushroom-growing caves, which account for 70% of France’s supply of champignons de Paris.

Cholet

Formally the capital of the Military Vendée, it was at the heart of the Vendée Wars. In 1793 the town was taken and retaken by both side on numerous occasions, ultimately becoming a ruin after being put to fire and sword by the warring factions. Thus there is scarcely a building that dates from before that time.

Built on the site of prehistoric remains, the town started its textile career in the 12th century during the reign of Saint Louis. During the 15th century, Antoinette De Magnelais, cousin of Agnès Sorel and mistress of the Duke of Brittany François II, with whom she had three children, made Cholet a place of pleasure and rejoicing.

In the heart of the town, at the Art and History Museum you will discover an exceptional collection of sculptures, paintings, tapestry and memorable objects that cohabit in rooms that are spacious and airy. The visit is in two parts, fascinating galleries mainly dedicated to the history of the vendee War and others to the development of art from 16th to 20th century.

From Gallo-Romain times to the beginning of the 20th century, the History Gallery retraces the great times in Cholet and its region. Weapons, sculptures and monumental paintings from the 19th century (David d'Angers, Girodet Trioson) illustrate and tell the story of the Vendée Wars, a landmark in Cholet's history.

From the elegant and light works of Pierre Charles Trémolières (1703 - 1739) to the minimalist composing of François Morellet (born in Cholet in 1926), you can discover an astonishing and remarkable collection, executed by the greatest painters: Coypel, Van Loo, Nattier, Vasarely, Valmier, Kupka, etc... Abstract geometrical art is especially prevalent.

Fontevraud L'Abbaye

This stunning Abbeye complex on the borders of Anjou, Touraine and Poitou is a key site in French and English history because of its role as the burial place of both countries' monarchs (daily: June–September 0900 – 1830; April, May & October 1000 – 1800; November – March 1000 – 1730; €8.40). The community was established in 1099 by Robert d’Arbrissel as both a nunnery and a monastery with an abbess in charge – an unconventional move, even if the post was filled solely by queens and princesses as supremacy that lasted until the Revolution.

The remaining buildings date from the twelfth century and are immense, built as they were as five separate buildings to accommodate and separate not only the contemplative nuns, lay-sisters, priests and lay-brothers but also the sick and the lepers. These five communities led separate lives, each with its own church and cloister, chapter-house, refectory, kitchen and dormitory. Today, three still gracefully stand in Romanesque solidity.

The abbey church is an awe-inspiring space, not least for its emptiness, though the restorers could be accused of being a little overzealous in their cleaning work. This was the burial ground of the Plantagenet kings, and four tombstone effigies remain: Henry II, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, who died here, their son Richard the Lionheart and daughter-in-law Isabelle of Angoulême, King John's queen

 Carved as they were at the time of their deaths – instead of being almost imaginary characters, as in the stories told at so many of the Loire châteaux – their deathly figures are eerily lifelike. The strange domed roof, the great cream-coloured columns of the choir and the graceful capitals of the nave add to the atmosphere.

After the magnificent cloisters adjoining the church, you pass through an exquisitely carved doorway to enter the chapterhouse, decorated with sixteenth-century murals, to which many of the abbesses had their portraits added. The refectory, on the opposite side of the cloisters to the church, is another vast impressive space with Gothic vaulting surmounting the Romanesque walls. All the cooking for the religious community, which would have numbered several hundred, was done in the – now perfectly restored – Romanesque kitchen, an octagonal building as extraordinary from the outside (with its 21 chimneys) as it is from within.

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