Apocalyptic tapestries, a buzzing student nightlife and a busy events calendar are just three reasons you should visit Angers, says Mandy Andritsi. Read on for her full recommendations.
In the Maine-et-Loire department of western France, in the region of Pays de la Loire, not far from the Atlantic ocean, lies the former capital of the historic and once autonomous province of Anjou: the beautiful city of Angers. The 16th largest city of France is located in the Loire Valley, site of more than 300 castles recently recognized as UNESCO World Heritage properties. It stands on the banks of the Maine river and it is considered one of the most beautiful cities of France with its unique Gothic Angevin architecture style. Even though the region of Anjou was once the geographical base of the Plantagenets who ruled England from 1154 until 1485, its capital is today regarded as one of the most important cultural and academic centers of France, attracting people, and especially students, from all around the world. This French city is the home town of Édouard Cointreau, creator of the Cointreau orange-flavored liquor, and the famous french chemist Joseph Proust. It is also said that Angevins speak the best and most beautiful french… making it the perfect place to perfect your Gallic prose.
Best of the Beaten Track
Culture wise and Angers has five museums, all located in historic buildings. First off is the Museum of Fine Arts, an ensemble of buildings from different epochs, the oldest of which is a private mansion known as the “Logis Barrault” built around 1486. An annex to the Museum of Fine Arts is the Museum-Castle of Villeveque which houses the works donated by Marie Dickson-Duclaux. Another addition to the Museum of Fine Arts was the collection of Lancelot-Theodore Turpin de Crisse by the painter Guillaume Bodinier, located in a private mansion known as the Pince Museum. Then, there is the the 13th century Toussaint abbey church known as Galerie David d’Angers which houses the works of sculptor Pierre Jean David. Finally the Museum of Jean Lurcat situated in the Hospital Saint Jean (12th century) and a former orphanage of the 17th century, holds the collection of tapestries “Le chant du Monde” by Jean Lurcat. In the center of the city, in the Sainte-Croix square, visitors may also enjoy visiting the Maison d’Adam, one of the oldest timber framed houses in Angers. Of course you can’t miss the Castle of Angers, which itself is home to one of the oldest collection of tapestries in the world, including the 101-metre-long Apocalypse Tapestry. Woven in Paris around 1377 by Nicolas Bataille, it depicts the end of time as potrayed in the bible and is a priceless treasure. (You can online for a virtual visit of the Chateau d’Angers here).
For something less stuffy Angers has a lovely amusement and botanical park, Terra Botanica, with countless activities for both adults and children, whilst shoppers should head to Rue Lenepveu and Rue d’Alsace, the boulevard Marechal-Foch (keep your eyes out for the Maison Bleue, a seven floor building covered with blue mosaic tiles) and the Galeries Lafayette in Ralliement square. Angers also has a huge shopping center called L’Atoll, just a 20-minute bus ride from the center of the city.
Whilst Angers is too small to divide its attractions into hipster and mainstream, there are some nice spots which some travellers might overlook but are nonetheless well worth checking out. The Jardin du Mail and the park of François Mitterand are both parks located in the center of the city, which however can easily be missed, whilst Le parc de loisirs du Lac de Maine on the banks of the river Maine is an essential spot to feel the vibe of the city. The French spend most of their summer evenings there. You can either stroll the riverbanks on foot or by bike (the favourite mode of transport of most Angevins).
Experience & Events
It is said that you can’t get bored in a French city and this is certainly true of Angers. Amongst the monthly events, those most worthy of a mention are the festival of European cinema ‘Premiers Plans’ in January, the art festival ‘Artaq’ in June, the Festival of Anjou in July, the Fête de la musique in July, the International Festival of Journalism in November, and last but not least the ever-so-famous Soleils d’hiver in December. There are also some of university music events like the Blue Moon in February and the Cathocalypse in April for younger folk.
In the unlikely case that you are not in the city while one of its events takes place, then The Castle of Brissac is a good choice for a day trip. It is inhabited but the family Brissac holds tours for visitors. And at Easter time the family organizes an ‘egg hunt’ of chocolate eggs in the gardens of the Chateau, for children and adults.
If a trip to a nearby castle is not enough for you, the high speed rail service of France, TGV offers a 50 euro ticket for weekends for the whole Pays de la Loire region which gives you the opportunity to visit major cities like Nantes, Le Mans, Saumur, La Roche-sur-Yon and the beaches of La Baule, Saint-Nazaire and Pornic.
Finally, Anjou is the third most important wine region, so once in Angers make sure to taste the local wines or participate in a wine tasting. Also once there do not neglect to play “boule de fort” a traditional game of the Anjou region, catch a hockey game in the Patinoire d’Angers and see one or two French films in one of the city’s cinemas. The 400 coups offers movies in their original language with French subtitles.
There are approximately thirty hotels in Angers, with rooms ranging between 30-150€ per night. One of the cheapest choices in the city center is the Hotel des Lices (25, Rue des Lices) costing 40€ per night and one of the more expensive ones if you’re looking for a luxurious stay in a castle, is the B&B Chateau des Forges (Chemin du Port de l’Ile Saint-Aubin). Angers also has one camping site in the area of Lac de Maine, if you don’t need the luxury of a feather bed.
It goes without saying that you have to eat in a French ‘creperie’. The Creperie du Chateau and the Creperie Saint Laud are two very good options. For a good meal you can visit Le Pub in the Raillement square, the Tapas 100 Balles in the Rue de la Roe or the Hippopotamus in the Passage des Halles. Some low cost restaurants are the Bonrepaire in Place de la Laiterie, Mezzo di Pasta in the square of Mondain Chanlouineau and the Planet Sushi in the Boulevard du Maréchal Foch.
Angers’ universities attract students from all around the world and majority of its population is made up of teens or people in their late 20s or early 30s, leading to a vibrant nightlife. The French are known for their ‘soirées’. These, depending on the age of the group are either house gatherings or house parties, although to get invited to a soirée, you will need to meet the locals. Otherwise a night walk in the busy streets of the city – boulevard Foch and the streets aroundg Place du Ralliement, will reveal plenty of choice venues. Irish pubts James Joyce in Boulevard Carnot, Le Dublin’s in rue Saint-Georges and Matt Murphy’s in the boulevard Foch are all popular meeting points, whilst the streets surrounding the Place du Ralliement as well as the Rue Bressigny have plenty of bars. Some of my personal favorites are the Soft Bar in the Rue Bressigny, Le Chic in rue des Houlieres, the Bar du Centre in Rue Saint Laud, La Cave de la Trinquette in Boulevard Carnot and K9 in Rue Cordelle. If not all, then most of the bars in the city close around 2 am which means that if you don’t want your night to end you’re left with either the choice of a soirée or a club. The best clubs are the Bolero in Rue Saint-Laud, Le Carré in Rue de la Roë, Studio 49 in Place Victor Vigan and the boat club on the Maine river called Le Peniche in Quai des Carmes.
The region of Pays de la Loire as well as the rest of France has an amazing high speed train network and a couple of big airports. The city of Angers has its own airport but it only holds flights to London, Nice and Tunisia. The airports of Rennes (Rennes–Saint-Jacques Airport), of Nantes (Nantes Atlantique Airport) and Tours (Tours Val de Loire Airport) are the biggest and closest to Angers. Of course there are also the airports of Paris as well. Angers is located 300km from Paris, 90km from Nantes and 110km from Tours and is connected to any one of these cities by autoroutes and train (TGV). The exact prices and train schedules can be found in the official TGV website.
Angers has its own website with both a French and an English version. Another good city guide can be found in the website France-Travel. In addition Lonely Planet, Virtual Tourist and the Telegraph have good city guides as well.
The best hard copy city guides for the capital of Anjou are the Lonely Planet ‘Discover France’ one, the ‘Loire’ of Rough Guides and the Michelin one for a complete and detailed map of the city roads.
Whilst Angers is not the backdrop of any great films I could find, the city does have it’s own film festival.