Close to where the Maine River enters the Loire, Angers is an impossibly beautiful city awash with renaissance architecture.
This opulence was the perk of being the capital of Anjou, a historical province ruled by dukes and counts who wielded serious power in medieval times.
The might of these dynasties will be evident when you see Angers Castle, the seat of the counts and a formidable stronghold from the 1300s that looks like it could withstand anything thrown its way.
You’ll fall in love with the splendid art that the rich nobility commissioned, and can delve into renaissance houses, twee old neighbourhoods and the majestic but less frequented châteaux of the lower Loire Valley.
Lets explore the best things to do in Angers:
1. Angers Castle
The ultimate symbol of the might of the medieval Counts of Anjou, Angers Castle as we see it was built in 1231. The outer wall rules over the southern part of the city centre, with a curtain that goes on for 660 metres and is strengthened with 17 bulk towers, each 18 metres in height.
It’s a truly impressive show of force that belies the daintiness of the residence within the courtyard.
The Grand Salle is from the 9th century, when the castle was first built, and there are chapels, lodgings and parterre gardens to discover.
You could also “man the battlements” for views of the city or take stroll in the sweet formal gardens at the base of the walls in the castle’s former ditches.
2. Apocalypse Tapestry
In the 1370s, Louis I, the Duke of Anjou commissioned artist Jean Bondol to make the preliminary sketches for what would become the immense tapestry that is presented inside the castle.
The Apocalypse Tapestry was finished in 1382 and would have required as much as 85 accumulative years of labour from its weavers at their workshop in Paris.
When it was done it had six sections, each one just over six metres high and 24 metres wide, and is seen by critics as one of the greatest artistic representations of the Book of Revelations and a medieval wonder.
3. Musée Jean-Lurçat
The 12th-century Hôpital Saint-Jean is a phenomenal piece of Angevin gothic design, and its impressive how much of it is still here.
La Grande Salle des Malades (Hall of the Sick), measures 60 by 22.5 metres and has beautiful vaulting, while the granary, 17th-century apothecary and cloister have been almost completely preserved.
In the Grand Salle des Malades is the Chant du Monde (Song of the World), a sequence of ten modern tapestries by the artist Jean Lurçat, which are a kind of synopsis of all the good and bad in the world, inspired by the Apocalypse Tapestry on show at the castle.
4. Musée des Beaux-Arts
Those in the know rate Angers’ fine arts museum, situated in the renaissance Logis Barrault, as one of the top regional museums in France.
And as is usually the way with such attractions there are galleries of European painting paired with exhibitions of archaeology relevant to Angers and its region.
The “Parcours Histoire d’Angers” is a trail that ushers you through the collections from Angers’ former museum of antiquities, with portraits of the historical personalities and landscapes of Angers through the ages to convey the development of the city.
Then the “Parcours Beaux Arts” shows the Flemish, Italian and French school paintings that once enriched the homes of the city’s elite.
5. Angers Cathedral
Constructed in the 13th century but frequently altered down the years, the cathedral is a bit of a mish-mash of styles, but it can be satisfying to work out which part of the church was built when.
For instance, the 77-metre-high towers are from the 16th century and in the renaissance style, while the carvings of Christ and the symbols of the Evengelists in the western portal below are gothic, and date to the church’s earliest years.
There was a big fire in the 1400s, which took out many of the stained glass windows, but that only gave master glassmaker André Robin the opportunity to craft the current fabulous red and blue windows in 1453.
6. Maison d’Adam
Just behind the cathedral on Place Sainte-Croix is a renaissance timber building from the late-15th century, which is unmissable in every sense.
It stands at six storeys tall and its beams have an ornate diamond pattern.
As is the case with most houses from this era, the upper levels are larger than the ones below, and are propped up by the most intricately carved corbels.
One of these is of an apple tree, around which would have been caricatures of Adam and Eve, which explains the name.
7. Jardin des Plantes
Although the current Jardin des Plantes was plotted in the English style at the start of the 20th century, there had been a botanical garden here, just outside the old walls, since botany became fashionable in the 1700s.
The park is four peaceful hectares of lawns, woodland, bushes, flowerbeds, a lake, stream and waterfalls, all embellished with sculptures.
If you know your horticulture you might be able to point out the more exotic specimens, like a paulownia tree, which is native to China and Korea, a Siberian elm and quercus afares, a species of oak that grows in Algeria and Tunisia.
Bring the little guys to make friends with the goats, while there are also deer and aviaries for parrots.
8. La Doutre
Cross the Maine for a wander in the district once encircled by Angers’ walls.
La Doutre is a clutter of streets and alleys, many with covered passageways and lined with timber-framed houses.
All you have to do is take Rue Beaurepaire from the bridge and let yourself be drawn down the side streets.
Place de la Laiterie has a real village-like feel in what is still the centre of the city, while Place du Tertre Saint-Laurent is where the 19th-century bourgeoisie settled, and all the adjoining streets have refined stone mansions.
With its avenue of giant plane trees Quai Monge is as grand as it gets, and belongs to the Berges de Maine, a 300 hectare public space by the River.
9. Terra Botanica
Terra Botanica isn’t your usual amusement attraction.
When it opened in 2010 it became the first theme park based on plants and botany.
And if that sounds a bit dry for kids there’s a lot for them to get stuck into, like La Balade des Cimes, a sort of elevated pedal monorail that lifts you above the tree canopy, and exciting 4D CGI movies that show the water cycle from the perspective of a water droplet or take you on a journey into a dinosaur reserve.
As Terra Botanica is largely organic, with 300,000 plants from around the world, there are different colours and scents whether you come in May or at the end of the season in September.
10. Logis Pincé
This museum of classical and oriental art has been closed for refurbishments for the last couple of years.
If it is open when you come, there are Roman ceramics, Egyptian hieroglyphics and a wealth of art from Japan and China, including porcelain, glassware, bronzes and theatre masks.
But even of the museum is still being renovated, you’d be remiss not to stop on Rue Lenepvue for a photo of Logis Pincé’s fairytale renaissance architecture.
The building is from the 1500s and is like a miniature Loire Château in the heart of the city.
11. Galerie David d’Angers
David d’Angers was a leading sculptor in the 18th and 19th centuries, receiving commissions from all over Europe and even America.
As his name might tell you, he was a native of Angers, and this museum has accumulated many of the preparatory plasters he made before fashioning marble or bronze sculptures.
There are 985 statues, medallions and busts in all, including those for preeminent contemporary figures like Goethe, Victor Hugo Balzac and Chateaubriand.
The setting is also exquisite; the 13th-century Toussaint Abbey was in ruins before it was converted for this museum in 1984, with a new glass roof filling the galleries with natural light.
12. Carré Cointreau
Cointreau, the triple-sec liqueur, was born in Saint-Barthélemy-d’Anjou which is really just a suburb of Angers, four kilometres from the castle.
You can come to the factory, whose gigantic copper stills produce the entire world’s supply, to be talked through sourcing, maceration, distillation and bottling.
With ipads feeding you all the facts on this 90-minute tour, you’ll find out about the varieties of oranges that go into it, and get the brand’s full back-story.
Then sample different flavours of Cointreau at the tasting session, be it neat or in cocktails.
Connoisseurs will also be pleased to hear that the shop has a 10% discount on retail price.
13. Château de Brissac
A simple 15-minute drive from Angers, the Château de Brissac is absolutely spellbinding.
The renaissance and baroque design we see now is from the 16th century, and was ordered by Pierre de Brézé, a chief minister for King Charles VII. At seven storeys tall it’s the highest château in France, with 200 rooms and has been in the same family for 20 generations.
You’ll need an hour for the tour, perusing rooms enriched with gilt, damask and fine period furniture.
Beneath the grounds is a 250-metre canal designed for when the nearby river flooded, and a wine cellar for you to taste Rosé d’Anjou and take a bottle home as a souvenir.
14. Château du Plessis-Bourré
More than 500 years later, the King’s bagman Jean Bourré, probably wouldn’t notice anything different if he saw his home now.
Even the drawbridge remains in working order, so it’s no shock that a lot of movies have been shot here.
It’s also one of the few Loire Valley castles that you can see easily from a road, and the only thing marking the perimeter is a system of waterways that feed the lake-sized around the château.
Go in to be shown around the lavish interiors, with Flemish tapestries, a 15th-century portrait of Jean Bourré and the marvellous Salle des Gardes, which has a coffered ceiling with 24 painted panels in the theme of renaissance alchemy.
15. Loire Valley
It’s a reflection of how much there is to do in Angers that some essential Loire Valley excursions haven’t made the list so far.
First off, the 800 kilometres of the Loire à Vélo cycle network are cycling heaven, and surely the best way to see the villages, nature, vineyards and châteaux on your own terms.
Also, there are 32 wines produced in the vineyards of Anjou and Saumur.
Head to a winery or cave to get acquainted with whites made with chenin blanc, and reds from cabernet franc.
And eating out should be top of your plans, savouring pan-fried freshwater trout pike and perch straight from the Maine and the Loire.