The Loire Region
The region of Anjou is one of the most diverse in France.
The Loire in Anjou.
For 80 miles,The favourite river of the Kings of France and the white tern, Anjou owes almost everything to the Loire.in the east to Champtoceaux, It has brought precious materials, irrigated the fields, inspired monumental buildings and the river, in a great loop, provoked ideas. It also brings the alluvial sand, perfect for growing flowers and market gardening.
Responsible for ideas of grandeur, prosperity and the occasional flood, the river is rightfully known as the last untamed river of Europe; a fact that has not passed unnoticed: the Loire has officially been proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Whatever her mood, one thing is sure, here in Anjou the river is at its very best.
How fortuitous for a country that its wonders below ground match those above! Discover buried treasures beneath Saumur, carved from tufa (tufaceous limestone), the same material used for building châteaux and abbeys. A stone so renowned for its light- reflecting properties that, having graced the Loire valley, it was shipped to England as a building material. What is left is more than 600 miles of underground galleries used as wine-sampling cellars, museums, art galleries and unusual places to eat. Don't miss the mushroom museum and growing caves near Saumur.
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, home to the cave-dwelling Andes tribe when the area was part of Gaul was also, because of its prosperity, 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 defence covering half a square mile, its vast wings are protectively folded over a masterpiece-- the Apocalypse Tapestry.
A place for wine, a place for mass". Here grape juice and the divine service 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. No pain, no gain though, whether this applies to the grower who onerously harvests the grape by hand or the visitor who climbs the steep slopes to explore the area.
Undoubtedly the most reserved of the Loire valley royal provinces, Anjou attracted dukes and princes, builders and patrons who all came together to produce a profusion of châteaux,manor houses and minor stately homes. Anjou châteaux combine the virtues of fortified buildings with the need for a comfortable home, somewhere to relax and enjoy oneself. A vineyard added here, there a garden, over there a stud farm. So developed the three things 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. Wars can no longer be won without prayers and conquests require the backing of faith. 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, around 1100 he founds what was to become one of the wealthiest and impressive monastic settlements of the Christian west: the Abbey of Fontevraud. With its 45 hectares and three priories, the community is 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. Not death but life however now triumphs at Fontevraud. Concerts are organised by the Cultural Centre for the West and listeners can hear classical music and Gregorian chants. Calligraphy workshops are also held. Recently a French abbot, rebuked for keeping churches open in spite of thefts, replied "If by that you save a chandelier, you also extinguish a light for ever" Romanesque, Gothic, classical, 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 Baugeois and Saumur area, churches are generally Romanesque in design. The best example being at Cunault, a wonder of solemnity and purity. Bring succour to the soul and you bring succour to the body. However faith often needed miracles. Visits to springs and pilgrimages for the saints to cure ailments punc-tured daily life, provided ritual and 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, perched on a rocky peak has been one of the most popular venues for worshipping the Virgin Mary, while the nearby church of Savennières with its herringbone pattern bricks is one of the oldest in France. Discovering churches will soon bring you to Baugé with 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, by passing from hand to hand through marriage and allegiance, becoming the present symbol of Lorraine. The actual artefact has since been returned and can be admired in Baugé. One of the strangest sites in Anjou, in the area around Baugé, home to pine and broad- leaved forests, is eight churches with twisted steeples. Nowhere else in France is there such a prolific gathering 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 comes through its weavers. At the end of the seven- teenth century the town had around ten thread makers who made single coloured cloth and cottons. Cholet 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. Did the handkerchiefs of Cholet dry the tears of history? In past times the town was the centre 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.