Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Trip report: Angers

OK, so easy to read the above title like we are angry - but not so - it is in fact the name of a city at the end of the Loire valley and is pronounced An-jay.

We chose to head down to Angers on Friday night rather than catch an early train on Saturday morning. The train ride was only 1h30 and the first train leaves 07h30 on Saturday morning so it is easy to get to from Paris on Saturday morning for a weekend or just a Saturday if you prefer.

We arrived mid-evening and our sandwiches on the TGV hadn't quite hit the spot, so we decided to go out and look at the town and get something to drink since it was a nice night. We saw a number of buildings, which we knew none of, and found the castle and the cathedral. The castle is one of the key sites of Angers, but I will save that till later to discuss (its amazing by the way). Eventually we found a nice 'place' (French courtyard between streets) - The Place Sainte-Croix- which is just behind the cathedral and is surrounded by medieval buildings. It was a nice place to relax on a warm summers evening before heading back to our hotel.
Angers church at night
Angers castle at night
Angers cathedral
Our 'place'
Another church in Angers
One of the major problems in France is often finding somewhere that does breakfast. Every now and again you can find somewhere that does something reasonable for breakfast, but most of the time it is coffee (which is not too bad) and croissant (which is reasonably bad - or at least not what we wanted for breakfast). The time was no exception - we looked at a ton of places with no luck. Eventually we found an area with a lot of restaurants, which looked like they had some lunch food which would substitute for breakfast food. We ordered an omelette and also bruschetta. The omelette, besides the fact that it came with fries which I can't stomach for breakfast, was ok. When we ordered the bruschetta, we thought it would be nice fresh tomatoes and basil (the way the Italians do it, as bruschetta should be). Turns out it was a mass of cheese on bread with half a tomato cut up - very disappointing - be warned re: French bruschetta. So we needed to find a second breakfast -we found a little place that did orange juice and yogurt on the place Sainte-Croix and we felt better.

For the middle of the afternoon we decided that we would rent some bikes and explore a little further outside of Paris and so we rented bikes and headed towards the park on the far side of the river (Parc de Balzac). I would recommend booking bikes in advance in Angers as it is a popular destination to rent bikes from.

The view crossing the river
We biked down the river as far as Savennieres, which with the exception of one reasonable hill, was quite flat and ride-able. The town is quaint with a 10th Century church and a nice little Tabac/cafe/bar to refresh at. We were feeling pretty tired from the week and thankfully one of the three trains that stop at Savennieres (the station is Savennieres Behuard) was due in 40 minutes.

10th Century church in Savennieres
Before dinner we followed the "Circuit Angers Historique" on the east side of the river. The circuit is a walk of the historic sites of the city. We had seen many of the sites on the west side during the day and through our walk the previous evening, so we focused on the east side. It is not packed with sights on the east side, but it makes for a nice evening walk and has some great views of the castle from across the river.

The castle from across the river

For dinner, we first explored the main eating area - Place du Ralliement - but found the eating a little bland and uninteresting. There is a little side street called Rue des Deux (2) Haies which has some smaller and more interesting places to eat. We were tempted by a Cambodian restaurant. It was a really really good meal - like the great Indian meal we had in Switzerland, sometimes things surprise you.

Anyway, we were quite finished for the day, so we headed back to the hotel.

The next day we did not have very long to spend in Angers before we had to catch the train - basically just the morning. But it was time for the castle.

The castle is one of the big highlights of Angers. It has huge grey towering walls with uniquely rounded towers. The castle also has some great gardens in the dry moat.

Castle walls
Gardens in the moat
We took the only entrance into the castle (on the right side of the castle if you are standing outside the tourist office on Place du President Kennedy), which has a proper portcullis and everything. Then, inside the castle it gets less industrial and more, well honestly, "french". There is a formal garden area, a chapel and the formal living areas. Like a little mini castle inside a castle. Or probably better put, a chateau inside a castle.

Main entrance to the castle
We spent some time exploring the castle grounds, including the rampart walk - all of this is better shown in photos than explained in words......
Inside the castle - Gardens in front, chapel on the left, chateau on the right

Chateau inside the castle
Looking up to the chateau and the chapel
The chapel through the castle's vineyard
Photo of an aerial photo of the castle
The other major attraction at the castle is an immense tapestry called the Apocalypse Tapestry and it is the largest and the oldest French tapestries in existence. It dates from the 1300's and is a graphical representation of the whole of the book of Revelation. It is quite stunning. Divided into sections, each with their own header panel, the tapestry must be one of the best depictions of the book of Revelation I have seen. It was awesome.

One wall of the Apocalypse Tapestry
Part of the second wall
And after having had our fill of the castle, it was time to board the train to return to Paris.

A last look at the Angers castle
For details on travel to Angers and what to see and do see www.beyond-paris.com/angers.


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