The region of Anjou is one of the most diverse in France.
The Loire in Anjou.
Anjou owes almost everything to France’s famous Loire river. Running for nearly 80 miles, the Loire highlights some of France’s most beautiful landscapes. In the east to Champtoceaux, it has provided the region with precious materials, irrigated the fields, and inspired monumental buildings. It also brings in alluvial sand, perfect for growing flowers and market gardening.
Responsible for inspiring writers and artists, environmental prosperity, and the occasional flood, the river is rightfully known as the last untamed river of Europe. The Loire has officially been proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Whatever her mood, one thing is sure, the river is at her very best here in Anjou.
Playing a crucial role in French history, Angers castle bears witness to the might of an empire that stretched from Scotland to the Pyrenees.
Angers, because of its prosperity, is known as Juliomagnus – Julius Caesar's market. It was from here that the Plantagenets took control of the English crown under first Henry II and then Richard I (Lionheart). A century later, the province was returned to the French crown and Louis IX (Saint Louis) and his mother, Blanche of Castile, erected the castle. A huge fortified defense covering half a square mile, its vast wings are protectively folded over a masterpiece—the Apocalypse Tapestry.
Angers castle: “a place for wine, a place for mass." Here, grape juice and divine services were closely linked. The Coteaux du Layon vineyards that stretch to the top of the hillside were planted by monks and the sweet and beautifully golden wine produced was drunk by the crowned heads of Europe. It still graces the tables of discerning drinkers.
Undoubtedly the most reserved of the Loire valley royal provinces, Anjou attracted dukes, princes, builders, and patrons who all came together to produce a profusion of châteaux manor houses and minor stately homes. Anjou chateaus combine the virtues of fortified buildings with the need for a comfortable home, somewhere to relax and enjoy oneself. Anjou prides itself on: wine, flowers and horses. Some of the stately homes are still occupied, even by the same family and the most splendid are open to the public so you too can experience a hospitality that is rarely found elsewhere.
From the royal abbey of Fontevraud to the astonishing twisted steeples of the Baugeois, once upon a time...
Imagine it is 300 AD. As the Roman occupation retreats, the landscape of Anjou takes on a religious dimension as Christianity spreads. With the conversion of the first archbishop of Tours, Saint Martin, comes a swift reaction in the countryside and people's minds. There are pioneering monks, to whom much is owed and Robert d'Arbrissel is one of them. A hermit devoted to prayers and poverty, he founds what was to become one of the wealthiest and most impressive monastic settlements of the Christian west: the Abbey of Fontevraud. With its 45 hectares and three priories, the community has been run for 700 years by nuns under the protection of the king. Here is the chosen resting place of Henry II, King of England, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, his son Richard I and the wife of his other son, King John, Isabella of Angoulême.
Life, not death, now triumphs at Fontevraud. Concerts are organized by the Cultural Centre for the West and listeners can hear classical music and Gregorian chants. Romanesque Anjou has 400 bell towers, some of which are included in the "open church" scheme. This is an initiative that arranges special visits with lighting, sacred music and information. In the areas of Baugeois and Saumur, churches are generally Romanesque in design—the best example being at Cunault, a wonder of solemnity and purity.
The saints’ pilgrimages punctured daily life and provided the religious landscape of Anjou. In Cheviré-le-Rouge, Le Thoureil, Cuon and Montjean, water was said to cure eye problems, fever and madness. The amazing church of Béhuard Island has been one of the most popular venues for worshipping the Virgin Mary, while the nearby church of Savennières is one of the oldest in France. Discovering churches will soon bring you to Baugé and its wooden cross, decorated with gold and precious stones. The story relates that, in the thirteenth century, a crusade returning from the Holy Land gave a fragment of the original cross of Jesus to the monks of Baugé. The double headed cross became first the symbol of the Dukes of Anjou before becoming the present symbol of Lorraine. The actual artifact has since been returned and can be admired in Baugé. One of the strangest sites in Anjou, in the area around Baugé, is home to pine and broad- leaved forests as well as eight churches with twisted steeples. Nowhere else in France is there such a display of this design—for which there seems to be no explanation. Were they an architect's whim, the effect of the wind, or even the hand of the devil?
CHOLET,WITNESS TO THE WARS OF THE VENDÉE.
Cholet's claim to fame is its weavers. At the end of the 17th century, the town had around ten thread makers who made single colored cloth and cottons. Cholet soon became known for its red handkerchiefs. Today, the whole area is renowned for its textiles and exports French fashion collections to the rest of the world. You can explore historic Cholet best by starting at the Rougé Square in the old town. Don't forget to visit the textile museum housed in a former laundry.
In past times, the town was the center of bloody battles in the wars of the Vendée; today, the town is the starting point for a tour of remembrance taking in the commemorative windows of the Vendée uprising. 102 stained glass windows have been installed in many churches in the Mauges near Cholet. Visit Chemillé, Chanzeaux, Le Pin-en-Mauges and La Chapelle-Saint-Florent to see some examples in all their glory.