Cathy Henton studied wine at Plumpton College in the UK. She went on to earn a WSET Diploma and a Higher National Diploma in Wine Studies. Since 2006 she has been in France’s Loire Valley where she established a wine tourism business, Le Tasting Room.
Hop on the TGV from Paris and in an hour and half you can be standing on top of one of the 17 towers of Anger’s ancient castle admiring the splendid views over the Maine river and the city below. This is the heart of‘black Anjou’, where the nearby slate quarries gave prosperity to the city in past times and home to perhaps the world’s most famous orange liqueur, Cointreau.
Angers is the historic capital of Anjou and its inhabitants Angevins or Angevines. This is where the Plantagenet dynasty was born – the dynasty that ruled England from 1154 until 1485 and the birthplace of ‘good King Rene’ who was an avid supporter of the arts in the mid 15th century.
Wines from Anjou have been famous since the 12th century when English King Henry II served them to his courtiers, and today you’ll find a whole range of wine styles in this one region. From the Chenin Blanc grape, you’ll find steely, elegant whites and luscious sweet whites as well as delightfully refreshing sparkling wines made in the traditional method. The Cabernet Franc produces some delicious reds (particularly those vines planted on the limestone soils) and the local grape variety Grolleau is responsible for the off-dry rosé wines that are great partners to spicy food. You’ll also find little pockets of Gamay and some Cabernet Sauvignon planted around the lovely market town of Brissac-Quincé, dominated by the highest chateau in France and certainly worth a visit, particularly on a Thursday (market day). The price of land in Anjou is affordable compared with many other French wine regions and so attracts a lot of young up and coming growers who are attracted by the possibility of making their mark. Anjou is ‘the’ place to be if you’re into natural, organic or biodynamic wines and you’ll also find families that have been making wine here for centuries.
But before you head off into the beautiful countryside of Anjou in search of wine, take a day to explore this lovely dynamic city. It’s small enough to get around by foot and has much to offer. The Chateau of Angers dominates the river Maine and the old town. A French chateau in the real sense of the word – it’s a strong, fortified castle founded in the 9th century and expanded in the 13th with alternating layers of slate and limestone (here called tuffeau), the other main building materiel in the region. Take the time to climb up and walk around the towers and to visit its greatest treasure, the Apocolypse Tapestry , the largest of its kind in Europe and woven in the late 14th century. Take a stroll from the chateau through the cobbled streets to the pedestrianized centre and don’t forget to check out the Maison d’Adam (Adam’s house), a typical half-timbered house from the Middle Ages. Discover the many bars and restaurants in the side streets and stop for a coffee in the Place du Ralliement and admire the beautiful old theatre before popping into Galerie Lafayette for a bit of shopping.
Cointreau’s super contemporary production site is based just outside the center and while it isn’t located in the most beautiful part of Angers, is well worth a visit. Guided tours in English are available and include a look around the distillery, a walk through the history of this famous orange liqueur and then a tutored cocktail tasting afterwards in the bar.
Favorite spots for a bite to eat in the center are Chez Remi on rue des Deux Haies (traditional French cuisine with a modern twist) and the Creperie du Chateau which is a really great pancake restaurant (both sweet and savoury) just a stone’s throw from the chateau. Both are cosy and authentic and everything is home made. Chez Remi even has its own ‘potager’ just outside Angers that supplies the fruit and vegetables used in the restaurant. The décor is cozy and in the winter months you’ll find a fire in the grate at the creperie. The little Italian restaurant opposite Chez Remi is also great for a simple but reliable lunch. Owned by a Sicilian married to a French lady, it’s always full of life and laughter.
There are plenty of different options for accommodation depending upon your taste and budget. For smart and contemporary consider Hotel 21 Foch on the main Boulevard or if an apartment is more your thing then have a look at Suit’home Angers which offers a number of tastefully decorated apartments right in the centre of town but located on quiet side streets. An in-between option would be the charming Maison Bossereil located on rue David d’Angers that offers several rooms on a bed and breakfast basis. There is also the more traditional (and very French) Hotel du Mail which comes complete with rickety wooden staircase, the Best Western Hotel on Boulevard Foch or for those seeking something a little more familiar, there is a Mercure on the main boulevard and an Ibis close by. A 10 minute walk from the center close to La Gare (the station) you can also find a range of hotels for every price point.. This area is close to Place de la Visitation – a little foodie triangle that has our favorite cheese supplier Beillevaire, the wonderful Maison du Pain for the best bread in the area, wonderful oils from L’Olivier, a fabulous fresh fish shop, wonderful butcher and charcutier.
If you love a traditional French market then make a note to be there on a Wednesday or Saturday. The Wednesday market is at Place Lafayette (A 5 minute walk from the station) and on a Saturday there is one here and also a large market that dominates the center next to the pretty Jardin du Mail.
And why not make a weekend of it and take in some wine tasting as well while you’re in the heart of Anjou. Hire a car and head off into the pretty village of Savennieres or take a wine tour with English speaking Le Tasting Room that can pick you up from Angers for a day of Loire Wine Discovery.
THINGS TO DO:
2 Boulevard des Bretonnières, 49124 St Barthelemy d’Anjou
02 41 31 50 50
ACCOMMODATION IN ANGERS:
21 Foch (Also has 1 Michelin starred restaurant Le Favre d’Anne loft culinaire)
21 Boulevard du Maréchal Foch, 49100 Angers
Phone 02 30 31 41 00
Smart appartments in the centre
32 RueDavid d’Angers, 49100 Angers
1 Boulevard du Marechal Foch, 49100 Angers
Where to Eat:
Chez Remi (Menus at 21€ and 30€ Closed Monday lunchtime and Saturday)
5 Rue des 2 Haies, 49100 Angers
Phone 02 41 24 95 44
La Créperie du Chateau (Closed Monday, Thursday and Sunday evening)
21 rue Saint-Aignan, 49100 Angers
Phone 02 41 88 53 87
Pasta Al Dente (No cards accepted so take cash)
8 Rue des 2 Haies, 49100 Angers
Phone 02 41 43 04 06
A SHORT HOP FROM ANGERS ON THE WINE TRAIL:
Enjoy a walk around the estate and finish with a tasting
Beautiful riverside village 15 minutes from Angers. Hire a bike and cycle there, take a picnic or eat at one of local restaurants.
The tallest chateau in France in beautiful gardens just 20 minutes from Angers.