This buzzing city of more than 150,000 souls is highly regarded as urban friendly, full of fun, lively with festivals and street theatre. It’s certainly worthy of its accolade as one of the greenest cities in France. It also has a multi-era legacy of stunning architecture; a history that saw it as the pre-Revolution capital of Anjou province, and a modern-day trade in Anjou wines and liqueurs, notably Cointreau and Menthe Pastille.
Easily accessible from the UK, the city evolved at the confluence of three rivers, the Mayenne, the Sarthe, and the Loir (Le Loir), all coming from the north and flowing south to the Loire (La Loire); the short distance (just 7 miles) between the Loire and the confluence of Le Loir, the Mayenne and the Sarthe, make the Maine river one of the shortest in France.
Historic Angers in the Loire Valley
The heart of Angers lies on the south side of the Maine, and here you will find many of the city’s finest monuments and treasures. Angers is remarkably compact, and two pedestrian days will give you a fascinating taste of everything that Angers has to offer, but three or more would allow a relaxed and in-depth approach…languid lunches and lazy evenings. Located in the Val de Loire (a World Heritage Site), and the Loire-Anjou-Touraine regional natural park, Angers enjoys a vibrant cultural life, bolstered by its universities and museums.
The old centre, dating from medieval times, is still dominated by the massive chateau of the Plantagenets, and home of the astounding Apocalypse Tapestry, the largest medieval tapestry ensemble in the world.
The Tapestries of Angers
The chateau, with its 17 duo-tone towers, is a great place to start, one of the best preserved fortresses of its era in France. Housed in a purpose-built gallery, the tapestry is one of the oldest in France to have survived from the 14th century, second only to the Bayeux Tapestry. It was commissioned for Duke Louis I of Anjou, and probably made in Paris over a period of ten years. It is, without doubt, a splendid example of tapestry work, but, if I’m being honest, I believe it is outdone in terms of splendour by the modern version, Le Chant du Monde, a series of ten tapestries that represent the crowning achievement of artist Jean Lurçat (1892-1966) housed on the north side of the river, in the Hopital Saint-Jean, itself a masterpiece of Plantagenet Gothic architecture.
Le Chant du Monde is both a poetic and symbolic vision of the world in which the artists defines Man’s place within the universe. The centre of mainstream action focuses on place du Ralliement, dominatedby the splendid façade of its Grand Theatre, and flanked by shops and restaurants. Nearby the cathedral, dedicated to St-Maurice, contains superb stained glass windows reminiscent of those at Chartres, and is another example of Gothic architecture bestowed by the Plantagenet dynasty.
What to see in Angers
Well worth seeking out, for their novelty value if nothing else are the splendid wood carvings on the timber-framed Maison d’Adam at place Saint-Croix, a listed building that dates from the 16thcentury.
Nearby, at 38 rue St-Laud, the frontage of Le Boléro, formerly a café and concert hall known as ‘Alcazar’ and dating from 1892, displays the effigies of two young ladies, the oldest examples of art nouveau in Angers.
You can get a small map from the tourist office that will suggest an historic route around the city centre, which extends on both sides of the river, and this is ideally to be planned over two or more days rather than in haste. But there is merit, too, in allowing serendipity and curiosity to be your guide. There is also a fairly easy circuit, suited to visitors with children or less-abled people, and marked by bronze plaques inserted into the pavement.
The Jardin du Mail was originally created in the 17th century, but later redesigned, in 1859, to be more typically a French garden. The Jardin des Plantes, however, still has the atmosphere of a small British park, with ponds and a little animal park as well as a children’s play area…a great place to have a family picnic in delightful surroundings.
Angers has culture and heritage and wonderful architecture in abundance, something it is well worth making the journey to discover.
Dr Terry Marsh has written extensively for magazines and produced guidebooks for walkers to the French Pyrenees and the French Alps.