Angers, the former capital of Anjou on the River Maine, does a healthy trade in Anjou wines, medicinal plants, flowers and seeds. It is an all-year-round city with a thriving student population, decent museums, a direct TGV link to Paris (just 1h30 from Gare Montparnasse) and a tradition for the arts, which comes to a head during July’s Festival d’Anjou, a month long celebration of drama, music and poetry.
It is also home to the famous medieval Apocalypse tapestry (inside Good King René’s formidable 13th-century château); and a modern replica, Le Chant du Monde, inside the Musée Jean-Lurçat et de la Tapisserie Contemporaine (02.41.24.18.48), sealing the city’s reputation as an international centre for modern tapestry making.
The prettiest parts of Angers are in the old town between the château, the Cathédrale St-Maurice - a majestic medieval edifice with vivid 13th-century blue and red stained glass and an 18th-century organ propped up by four strong-armed telamones - and the Logis Barrault, which houses the interesting Musée des Beaux Arts (32 rue Lenepveu, 02.41.05.38.00). One of the funkiest buildings is the Galerie David d’Angers, a glass-covered ruin of a 13th-century church that displays plaster casts of the 19th-century Angers-born sculptor’s works (37 rue Toussaint, 02.41.05.38.90). If it’s views your after, cross over to the north bank and walk along the water’s edge between the bridges Pont de la Haute-Chaine and Pont de la Basse Chaine for fine vistas of the château.
The Château d’Angers itself (2 promenade du Bout-du-Monde, 02.41.86.48.77), was built by Saint Louis between 1230 and 1240 with seventeen daunting, stripy slate and tufa defence towers. In the 14th and 15th centuries the Dukes of Anjou moved their court here, then Good King René (15th-century) introduced the first elements of Renaissance architecture, visible in the Royal apartments (a fire tragically swept through here in January 2009). After René, the castle was used mainly as a prison, for defence and arms storage. Today you can see one of the world’s longest and oldest medieval tapestries, know as the Apocalypse, with 76 scenes recounted as per the Revelation of John (the last book of the New Testament). Even if old cloth isn’t your forte, there’s no denying that it’s beautiful and that the explanations behind the tapestry’s scenes are interestingly contemporary – fire, flooding, worldwide illness, the fall of great cities. They also fan the flames of the old French-English love-hate relationship depicting the destruction of Babylon as London.
For more information on Angers, consult the Tourist Office website.