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Angers: A cultural guide

Paul Wade offers a cultural guide to Angers, Anjou’s historic capital, and a city at the heart of wine and Cointreau country.

'That man is pooping!” My son is pointing to a carved wooden figure on the half-timbered house. Sure enough, among the images of musicians, lovers and the Angel of the Annunciation is a peasant, who has dropped his trousers.

“Actually, that is a tricouillard, a man with three testicles,” our guide informs us. “And the building, the Maison d’Adam, is nearly 500 years old!”

That was my first view of one of the most popular sights in Angers. Since then, I have returned many times to this city in western France. Surrounded by vineyards, the former capital of Anjou offers a balanced mix of culture, urban chic and a relaxed pace of life.

The main attraction, the château, is unmissable. On a bluff above the River Maine, this forbidding 13th-century fortress, with its dark stripes of slate, stands like a mammoth “keep out” sign, punctuated by 17 turrets atop the 110ft walls.

Once across the drawbridge, the focus is not on military might, but on a special work of art. About 100 yards long and nearly 18ft tall, the Apocalypse Tapestry portrays the eternal struggle between good and evil. Stitched more than 600 years ago, the detail on the world’s longest tapestry is extraordinary, from a seven-headed lion to lilies and ripe purple grapes: I spot something new on every visit.

Nearby is the Galerie David d’Angers, a fine example of the way that French architects recycle ancient buildings. A glass roof has transformed a ruined abbey into a glorious space for Pierre-Jean David’s sculptures of 19th-century heroes, such as Victor Hugo. At the nearby Musée des Beaux-Arts, I get acquainted with a more recent Angers artist, Daniel Tremblay, who trained at London’s Royal College of Art in the Seventies. Often using ordinary materials such as slate and rubber, his designs are deceptively simple.

The cobbled, medieval streets of old Angers are compact and walkable. Locals take the history for granted, but I take time to admire the St Aubin bell tower and the stained glass windows in St Maurice Cathedral.

Then, for the best photos of the towers and château, I cross the bridge to La Doutre. On the far side of the river, this is a student haunt, with pubs and yet another recycled ancient building. The cavernous 12th-century Hôpital St-Jean, France’s oldest hospital is now a museum celebrating the art of contemporary tapestry. The highlight is Le Chant du Monde, The Song of the World – another huge work, woven 50 years ago by the modern master Jean Lurçat.

There’s plenty to visit close to the city. In the grand 16th-century Château de Serrant, with its Jacobite connections, the guides are in costume, adding joie de vivre to the often dour Loire chateau tours. And the suburb of Saint-Barthélemy-d’Anjou, where Cointreau has been distilled since 1875, provides one of my lasting memories of Angers: the heady perfume of bitter oranges.

Click here for a rapid tour of the castle.

Click here for images of the "Tapisserie Apocalypse"


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