Drive south from the western Channel ports and it won’t be long before you see signs for Angers, ancient capital of the historic Anjou region. Located at the confluence of the Loire and Maine rivers, Angers is the western gateway to the chateaux and vineyards of the Loire Valley.
But don’t be in too much of a hurry. This attractive city offers a mix of historic sites, unique galleries, and green spaces, not to mention a buzzing restaurant scene, riverside walks and retail temptations. You could whizz round the highlights in a few hours, but I’d recommend taking your time and staying over, especially if you want to discover one of Europe’s most unusual theme parks, the only one dedicated to the fascinating world of plants.
I stayed at a boutique B&B in a 16th century, half-timbered property just behind the cathedral in the heart of the old quarter. Opened in 2018, L’Oisellerie has been restored with passion and a keen eye for detail by its two young owners, who also run a shop on the ground floor selling local crafts and produce. Atmosphere oozes from every rafter, but if you’re not keen on stairs, book a room on one of the lower floors. Parking is available in a private garage just down the street.
So what are you going to do on your city stay? Here are my top six suggestions:
Tour the riverside castle
Angers Castle has a very different feel from most of the Loire Valley chateaux built in the Renaissance. Seat of the Counts of Anjou, later elevated to Dukes, this no-nonsense fortress beside the Maine was begun in the 10th century and has high walls of black schist decorated with white tuffeau. Measuring almost half a kilometre in length, they are punctuated with 17 towers. Follow the complete rampart walk and explore the buildings and gardens inside.
Top up your tapestry know-how
Tucked inside the castle precincts, a purpose-built gallery houses the extraordinary Apocalypse Tapestry, commissioned in 1375 by Duke Louis I to depict the war between good and evil as described by St John in the Book of Revelations. Removed from the cathedral after the Revolution, it was eventually cut up and dispersed. But in the 19th century, pieces were gradually tracked down and reassembled, and today, this extraordinary work is the world’s largest medieval tapestry. Then cross the Maine to the Jean-Lurçat Museum inside the former Hospital of St John, founded in 1180, to see stunning contemporary tapestries on the themes of joy and hope after chaos and destruction.
Admire some outstanding artworks
You may not know his name but if you’ve been to Paris, you may well have seen his frieze above the entrance to The Panthéon, last resting place of major French figures. Pierre-Jean David was an outstanding 19th century sculptor whose work is displayed here in his hometown in the Galerie David d’Angers. The figures, busts and medallions are outstanding, but so too is the building, a deconsecrated church ruined in the Revolution and now topped with a glass roof for the ultimate in natural light. Then cross the garden to the Fine Arts Museum, housed in another impressive building, this time the former home of a 16th century aide to the king.
Get interactive with plants
The words ‘plants’ and ‘theme park’ don’t usually sit together in one sentence, but Terra Botanica, just 10 minutes from Angers city centre, is Europe’s only theme park dedicated to plants. Expect a mix of relaxation, fun and education amongst more than 500,000 botanical species from across the world as you explore different climate zones, take a leisurely boat ride, and discover the history of the plant hunters. Enjoy the butterfly house, watch a 4-D movie, and take a bird’s eye view from a tethered balloon. Hours of fun for all ages.
Learn the art of cocktails
Angers has been home for more than a century to Cointreau liqueur, now produced at Saint-Barthelemy-d’Anjou, on the edge of the city. Tour the museum, enjoy a tasting, and find out how to make a range of cocktails with that distinctive orange flavour at the Carré Cointreau. Also in Angers, close to Terra Botanica is L’Espace Menthe-Pastille, the visitor centre and factory for Giffard, makers of spirits, liqueurs and syrups. Menthe Pastille, the best known, is a white mint liqueur and another delicious cocktail component. Santé!