Paris is lovely, it truly is. I adore Paris and try to visit as often as possible; I usually make it to France every other year. But France is so much more than just Paris and unfortunately, many tourists tend to overlook the so-called “provincial” areas, opting to stay in the city instead or maybe taking a trip down to the Riviera to soak in the sun and the sea. Well, I can tell you there’s a lot of awesome stuff happening in between Paris and the Riviera so the next time you’re in France, try to take a trip outside of the city and experience some of what makes this country so wonderful!
I spent a semester living in Angers and I have to say – I would move back in a heartbeat. It’s the perfect mix of city and provincial. The location in the heart of the lush Loire Valley is to die for. It’s close to Paris (90 minutes by train) yet far enough away to have its own identity and personality. It’s quaint yet lively, historic yet modern, and so very French.
So let’s explore Angers, shall we?
1. Le Château d’Angers
Angers is most easily identified by the enormous château fort that towers over the river Maine. It was originally built in the 9th century but underwent further construction during the 1200s. It was a residency, an armory and a prison, but today is a major tourist site in the city of Angers. In addition to being an amazing work of architecture, the chateau also houses the Tapestries of the Apocalypse, that date from the 14th century. There is a nominal entrance fee, but it’s worth every centime!
2. Le Musée des Beaux-Arts
Angers is also home to a lovely fine arts museum in the heart of their downtown area. They have works from the 14th-21st centuries and a special exhibit that focuses on the history of Angers. After you visit the Museum, you can enjoy a nice stroll downtown and grab a bite to eat at one of the numerous cafés/pâtisseries or take in some shopping!
3. La Cathédrale de Saint-Maurice
Simply known as just la Cathédrale to Angevins, the cathedral is only a few steps away from the Chateau and is one of the first examples of Anjou-style Gothic architecture. It was built in the 12th century and is still standing strong today. I had the privilege of singing with the Cathédrale’s choir and even was able to sing a Sunday mass in this gorgeous church. It’s definitely a must-see!
4. La Loire à Vélo
For those of you who are a little more adventurous, Angers is one of the stops on the Loire à Vélo bike tours! They have several different itineraries, including one that stops at some of the area’s vineyards. The Loire Valley is certainly well-renowned for its wines, so that’s one you definitely wouldn’t want to miss!
5. Saturday markets at the Jardin du Mail
One of my favorite, favorite things to do when I’m in France is to hit up the local weekend markets. There is really nothing better than the hustle and bustle of the open-air farmer’s markets – in France, it’s definitely a social experience. So get out there, banter and sample, then grab some fruits, cheese, and saucisson and head over to the Jardin des Plantes for an afternoon picnic. You won’t regret it, I promise.
6. Le Carré Cointreau
Of COURSE, no visit to Angers would be complete without a visit to the Cointreau distillery! It’s located just outside of Angers proper in Saint-Barthelemy-d’Anjou but is easily accessible by city bus. You have to be sure to make a reservation, but when you get to the Carré, you are treated to a comprehensive tour of the facility and the history of Cointreau. Be advised: the tour is in French. It’s really well done though, so even if your language skills aren’t quite up to snuff, I think it is definitely still worth the trip. The best part, of course, is the tasting at the end. The bartender first provides everyone with a sample of plain Cointreau, and then mixes up their current signatures cocktail, the Cointreau Fizz. They also provided several garnishes so we could customize our cocktail to our liking – I chose the strawberry/mint combination and it was delicious. You can also order additional beverages after the tasting, should you so desire.
7. Eat a crêpe
Angers is just close enough to the region of Brittany to benefit from mostly all of its culinary offerings. This includes crêpes – the much thinner, flatter, and tastier relative of the American pancake that usually comes stuffed with a variety of sweet treats like Nutella and your choice of fruit, caramel, or my favorite – butter, sugar, and a dash of lemon juice. Some places in France (Paris in particular) offer savory crêpes, which is usually just a normal crêpe stuffed with ham and cheese but to you, dear reader, I say non. The true savory crêpe, the one that all others wish they were, is the galette de sarrasin – a crêpe, yes, but made from buckwheat flour. It is thinner, crispier, and saltier than the regular crêpe and is traditionally served with ham, cheese, and topped with a fried egg.
There are so many more things that Angers has to offer, but these 7 are my absolute favorite. Next time you’re in France, take a day or two to get out of Paris – maybe you’ll wind up in Angers!