refers to the volatility of weather in the month of March.
Kicked off by historically cold, blustery temperatures, March
typically ends with mild and pleasant conditions marking the start of Spring.
Angers -- pronounced with a soft g -- ahn-zhay -- is a lovely Loire
crossroads that offers contrasts as sharp as the winds of March.
At first sight, the city seems brawny, aggressively masculine
as you focus on its top draw, the Chateau d'Angers.
Often called Black Angers, the city reveals its dark side.
The castle's dark gray towers (made of black schist)
are imposing in size and strength.
Famous for its Apocalypse Tapestries, the venue reminds us
of the dark days of the Black Plague and angels vs. demons.
Militant rulers ranging from Foulques Nerra (Black Falcon -- got
to be the best bad-ass name ever) -- to Richard the Lionheart
and King Henry II of England are all associated with the dark chateau.
Anger's softer layers are revealed in a cultural soup
of art, opera, dance, theater and wine.
I call it The Little City that Roars.
Deep in the heart of historic Anjou, Angers is a progressive city
boasting several universities, a state-of-the-art tram system and a
surplus of sports including football, basketball, ice hockey and rowing.
Great shopping, food, wine and a wealth of parks and museums
make this a city that should be included on your next trip to Loire country.
Surprisingly, many guidebooks don't offer a lot of space to Angers,
preferring to focus on the fairytale chateau of the region.
Only a ninety-minute train ride from Gare Montparnasse in Paris,
Angers can potentially be the birthplace of your Loire adventures.
For my money, it's that engaging mix of opposites that make Angers a must-see.
A paradox is more interesting than a carbon copy.
Anger's jumble of light and dark are a perfect recipe
for several days of March-like-Madness.
After all, heaven wouldn't be half as interesting if you didn't know about hell.
towers are imposing, built to keep mischief outside its doors.
Nearly eight centuries old, this stronghold has never once been "taken" by invaders.
Originally surrounded by a moat, the chateau now offers
welcoming Renaissance-style formal gardens.
Although fortress-like on the outside, the chateau is actually quite beautiful once you enter the gates and you'll likely find a surprise around every corner.
They offer the complete chateau experience -- chapel,
ramparts, drawbridges, turrets and -- yikes -- torture & death.
The biggest draw is The Apocalypse Tapestry,
the most extensive assembly of medieval tapestries in the world.
This startling display of religion, war, death and suffering
reflects those harrowing times.
Medieval life was awful, the times well suited to tell the story of the Revelation.
All 90 panels were created in just seven years and it may seem to
take that long to fully take in the whole story, inch by woven inch.
The Black Plague had created a virtual hell on earth so it was natural
that the arts of the day affirmed that the sky was indeed falling.
Although we all know that in the end (The Book of Revelation),
Good won out over Evil,
you'll pay far more attention to the bad parts, the suffering and the demons.
Hollywood scribes can't light a candle to this horror story.
The priceless tapestry was plundered during the French Revolution and cut up
into many pieces for assorted and unglamorous uses such as floor covering.
The French, understanding the importance of preserving such fine art,
have carefully pieced most of it back together.
I guarantee, unless you're looking for a Disney-esque experience,
you will love and remember this frightening masterpiece of history.
I personally love the light-filled space and content of the Galerie David d'Angers. After seeing the darkness of The Apocalypse Tapestries, it's refreshing to see
David d'Angers' inspirational work in the renovated Toussaint Abbey.
The abbey's ruined roof was replaced by iron and glass which enhances
the artistic works of marble, bronze and plaster.
A local boy (his real name was Pierre-Jean David), David d'Angers is
best known as the creator of the Pantheon pediment in Paris.
His sculptures pay tribute to many historical and heroic world figures.
I was overwhelmed to see a large relief commemorating independence
from tyranny in the New World that included all the
greats such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson,
the marquis de Lafayette, Benjamin Franklin, Simon Bolivar
as well as some pretty anguished looking Native Americans.
The statue of Philopoemen is particularly moving
and the entire museum is a breath of fresh air.
Just around the bend you'll come upon the Musée des Beaux-Arts,
another graceful nod to this cultured city.
Housed in the Logis Barrault just steps away from the David d'Angers gallery,
you'll discover a wealth of painting and sculpture by many well-known artists. Fragonard, Watteau, Boucher, Ingrès, Sisley and Monet are exhibited in
the permanent collection as well as some locally inspired talent.
Get your art fix in two easy steps.
La Doutre, the ancient neighborhood on the opposite side of the river Maine
has bragging rights to another apocalypse-inducing treasury.
France's oldest existing non-military hospital, The Hôpital Saint-Jean,
built by Henry II Plantagenet in 1174, has been transformed into an amazing gallery.
The Musée Jean Lurcat is the perfect counter-point
to the chateau's medieval tapestry collection.
Clearly inspired by his home town's Apocalypse Tapestry,
the artist tells a more contemporary story of near apocalyptic events.
His spirited Le Chant du Monde tapestries (created between 1957 and 1966)
are simultaneously uplifting and troubling.
Using new methods to weave his art, the colors are bold and ultra-modern.
This masterpiece of contemporary weaving reminds us
that life on earth is filled with both joy and agony.
The bombing of Hiroshima is surely the most horrifying (and controversial) panel but Lurcat doesn't waste any time to remind us of the joys of life on earth as well.
From space exploration to the simple joy of drinking wine and enjoying
flowers provide the balance between the pleasures and sorrows
of real life in the modern world.
The museum's adjoining exhibits demonstrate the art
of tapestry making with newer displays.
We were charmed by a group of very young children
weaving their own masterpieces in the workshop.
Just outside is a gorgeous Romanesque cloister and garden.
Don't miss this one.
on Place Ste-Croix will stop you in your tracks.
The half-timbered house, built during the Middle Ages,
offers a bit of a giggle if you look closely.
Its facade is decorated with fantastic wooden sculptures, notably musicians, centaurs, angels and - ahem - a man sporting three large testicles.
Too much testosterone for my taste.... as I always say,
you learn something new every day in France.
The surrounding flower-filled square is a delightful stop for an aperitif (or two).
Nearby, the Cathedrale de Saint-Maurice is an impressive 12th century wonder.
The style is a mix of Roman and Gothic in a style dubbed Angevin-Gothic.
Worth a double-take, the massive 66-pipe organ seems to hang by God's will
and the rose window is hardly standard issue.
Surprisingly, it includes all twelve signs of the zodiac.
Yes, Angers is the right city to soothe your soul post-Apocalypse.
There are many styles of wine, including several reds, whites and rosés.
Of course, many of them deserve high praise but let's focus on
just a few to tease our Loire wine appetite.
Different from wines I've experienced elsewhere, the prestigious
Quarts de Chaume and nearby Coteaux du Layon
are local gems, sweet but not cloying.
They taste like Spring, perfect sips to accompany dessert
or for a late afternoon aperitif.
Angers is headquarters for the famous Cointreau brand.
Please-please-please, don't equate this with the cheap
triple sec industrial tasting waste you sometimes put in your margarita.
Based just outside the city limits, the company offers tours and tastings.
Just smelling the orange-filled air of the distillery is almost a taste in itself.
It's a beautiful world.
As Benjamin Franklin once said,
"Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy."
Certainly, the opportunity to enjoy France is one happy blessing, too.
I hope that you will veer off the beaten path for the chance to experience
The Little French City that Roars.
In like a lion, out like a lamb, the Angers experience boils over with emotion.