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How to spend a weekend in Angers in the Loire Valley

Warm days on the edge of France’s Loire Valley are for getting outside — explore the city’s mighty chateau, cycle along the waterfronts and experience live music at its distinctive riverside bars.

By Carolyn Boyd
Published 8 Jun 2020, 08:00 BST
Bikers on the picturesque Loire à Vélo cycle route

Bikers on the picturesque Loire à Vélo cycle route, which winds its way along the course of the Loire, France's longest river.

Photograph by Alamy

The city of Angers, in the heart of the Pays de la Loire in Western France, is home to a vibrant bar culture and medieval monuments. Most imposing of them all is its chateau: an unmissable local landmark that’s home to the awe-inspiring Apocalypse Tapestry, as well as glorious views of the surrounding rivers and countryside. If your ideal city break involves shopping, restaurants and a slice of culture, that’s all here, but prepare to spend some time outdoors too. Angers’ setting on the Maine river (and being very close to the rivers Loire, Mayenne and Sarthe) means you can get out along the riverside cycle paths, potter upstream in a self-drive electric boat or simply sink a glass of the local Anjou rosé wine in one of the many riverside bars. When dining out, try the local cuisine: specialities include river fish served in the Loire’s famous beurre blanc sauce (made with butter and white wine) and unusual desserts such as the light-as-a-feather cremet d’Anjou

Better known are its alcoholic exports: Angers is the home of two distilleries, Cointreau and Giffard, which offer visitors a chance to enjoy local cocktails with a snifter of history thrown in.

Day one: ramparts & riverside bars

The great walls of Angers’ castle dominate the city. Once through the gates, climb the ramparts for stupendous views of the city and river below. The chateau was once the home of the dukes of Anjou, who were serious patrons of the arts. They held court here in the 14th and 15th centuries and the internal rooms tell their story. Also within the walls is the Tapestry of the Apocalypse, 328ft of exquisite embroidery produced over seven years in the late 14th century, telling the story of the Book of Revelations. Stop for lunch at the chateau’s restaurant, serving hearty mains from €10 (£8.45).

An easy way to check out the city’s other attractions is to follow the blue line painted on the pavement — it guides visitors around the best sights for more than a mile. From the chateau, it goes to the medieval Cathédrale Saint-Maurice. Just behind the cathedral is La Maison d’Adam, also known as the House of Artisans, a six-storey building dating from 1491; its half-timbered facade features carvings of bawdy figures. For more elegant historical decor, nip into the Galeries Lafayette, where the glass roof is an shining example of Angers’ art deco architecture. 

The warmer evenings in Angers tempt visitors outside: cycle or walk along the river to one of the many guinguettes bars for great food and live music. The entertainment isn’t limited to the bars: you can also check out one of the many festivals happening over the summer. Trelazé Music Festival is a series of free concerts in July and August, while riverside villages such as Écouflant, Loire-Authion and Savennières host numerous events. There’s also a new cycling festival — Nature is Bike — with road routes, off-road trails and night-time rides on offer, rescheduled for late June 2021.

The medieval La Maison d’Adam, also known as the House of Artisans, which features elaborate carvings on its exterior.

Photograph by Getty Images

Day two: bike rides & sundowners

The city’s position gives you easy access to the excellent Loire à Vélo, a quiet, car-free cycling track that follows the Loire. Once you’ve collected your wheels from one of the many bike rentals in the city, pedal out to the village of Sainte-Gemmes-sur-Loire about 20-minutes’ ride from the centre. The cycle track passes through bucolic parkland, then onto a small Mediterranean garden at Port-Thibault. Admire the views of the gently gliding Loire — the low tide reveals a number of sandbanks and islands. Stop for lunch at Le Guinguette de Port-Thibault, a bar and restaurant that offers activities such as boules and dance lessons.

Angers is the home of Cointreau, the liqueur that’s maintained its glamorous image since it was invented in 1849. The Cointreau Distillery offers guided tours around the impressive copper stills and tells the history of how it was first concocted by brothers Edouard-Jean and Adolphe Cointreau. Explore the exhibition of the brand’s striking advertising campaigns, which started with the clown Pierrot de Cointreau and moved on to modern stars such as burlesque legend Dita Von Teese. The highlight is the tasting room at the end of the tour where you can try classic cocktails such as the Cosmopolitan and the Sidecar. Reservations are essential. 

Easing gently through the landscape, a sunset cruise along the Loire offers the chance to admire the reflection of the sky striped with shades of orange, yellow and purple. Loire Odyssée offers a variety of different cruises to choose from depending on what kind of cruise takes your fancy; the sunset cruise takes in the remarkable flora and fauna along the river, while the aperitif cruise provides an idyllic setting for a sundowner. You can also learn about the region’s excellent wines as you snack on canapes as day turns to dusk. Alternatively, board a dinner cruise, with the accompanying soundtrack provided by a live band.

Three to try: sweet treats

Cremets d’Anjou
This blend of egg whites, fromage blanc (similar to ricotta) and cream is said to be like eating a cloud and was invented by a local cook in 1890. Local restaurants often give it an extra zing with soft fruits for which the Loire is also known, or Cointreau, the city’s famous orange liqueur.

These diamond-shaped, donut-style pastries are traditionally served at
Mardi Gras and can be sweet or salty, though for something really indulgent, look for the ones stuffed with cream or chocolate. They might also go by the name tourtisseaux, foutimassons, bugnes, crouchepettes, merveille, rondiaux or even croquignoles when you’re buying them in bakeries.

Le Pâté aux Prunes
This plum pie dessert is traditionally made with greengages, which have long been grown in the Loire Valley. Be careful when you bite into it — the greengages are often cooked whole with their stones left in. Look out for this delicious treat in the local boulangeries

A busy evening at the popular Guinguette de Port-Thibault. Popular in the 17th-19th centuries, Angers' lively guingettes (riverside bars) have made a comeback in recent years.

Photograph by Port-Thibault

Don't miss: Guinguettes

Guinguettes — the riverside bars that had their heyday in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries — have made a comeback across France in recent years and, as Angers sits astride or near to four rivers, the city has more than its fair share of the fun. In the past, these outdoor hubs were scenes of revelry and cabaret, but their 21st-century incarnations offer this and much more. Many indulge a new-found love of street food (the French interpretation means ‘good food’, served fast and conveniently), while others are proper restaurants. All Angers’ guinguettes feature shows and activities — from Bollywood dancing to country music — throughout summer. To find out what’s on offer, check the individual guinguette’s website or Facebook page for activities.

Le Heron Carré
Being close to the city centre, Le Heron Carre enjoys a superb view of the chateau from the opposite riverbank. By day, it’s popular with families enjoying the surrounding park, and in the evenings the varied entertainment includes bongo drum troupes and salsa dancing lessons. 

La Cabane du Chat qui Pêche 
This photogenic ‘hut of the fishing cat that’ is set on the banks of the Mayenne river and is a good place to head for if you’re cycling upstream from Angers. After a lunch of typical Loire dishes — perch with beurre blanc sauce or Cointreau creme brulee — kick back in the orange deckchairs and enjoy the sunshine. Sunday afternoons see DJs playing chill out tracks. 

Au Fil de l’Eau  
The sleepy village of Écouflant used to be a much livelier place in the 19th century — back then it was home to several guinguettes that welcomed revellers who’d come from Angers along the Sarthe river by boat. Follow the same course, cycling the towpath or on a cruise, then take a table outside the rustic hut that looks across the grassy banks towards the river. If you’re feeling peckish, there are charcuterie platters and tapas, plus live music at weekends.

Guinguette de Port-Thibault
Of all the guinguettes that are dotted in and around the city, the idyllic location of Guinguette de Port-Thibault is hard to beat. Near the village of Saint-Gemmes-sur-Loire, it opened in July 2019 and overlooks the Loire. The menu is particularly good, with various dishes such as pâté and mushroom risotto as highlights. Summer nights see different bands take the stage, as well as activities like samba lessons. 

The five best city escapes

Île Béhuard
Wander around this secluded island in the middle of the Loire about 30 minutes south of Angers to discover winding streets of rustic stone cottages, hollyhocks and hydrangeas, La Croisette riverside restaurant, and a tiny chapel built atop a rock in 1453 by King Louis XI after his boat capsized in the river.  

Located at the confluence of the Maine and the Loire, the village of Bouchemaine’s peaceful riverside paths are excellent for watching boats as they sail up and down the river. In early evening, pop into La Noé bar-restaurant for an aperitif. 

Château du Plessis-Bourré
With its quintessential moat and turreted fort, the 15th-century Château du Plessis-Bourré is the castle of fairytales. Take a tour to admire its exquisite painted ceiling, commissioned by the chateau’s first owner Jean Bourré — a friend of Louis XI — and whose heart is buried in the castle chapel.

Terra Botanica 
This family-friendly theme park celebrates the world of botany. Expect gentle rides, gardens abundant with tropical and exotic plants, a butterfly house and a tethered hot air balloon ride for views of the park and the surrounding countryside. 

Giffard Distillery
Giffard’s many fruit liqueurs are a staple of cocktail bars worldwide. Its distillery, in the suburb of Avrillé, has a small museum that explains how it began with local pharmacist Émile Giffard who invented Menthe-Pastille, a mint liqueur, during the 1885 heatwave. You can see the factory, learn how the liqueurs are produced and taste the various drinks the company produces.

More info:

How to do it
Fly to Nantes with EasyJet or Tours with Ryanair, then take the train to the city’s main station Angers Saint-Laud. Hotel 21 Foch offers doubles from €89 (£75), room only. For budget stays, the Angers City Kamp has self-catering cabins from €69 (£58) a night.

Published in the April 2020 issue of National Geographic Traveller 

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