I returned to Paris after a wonderful Christmas break in the US anxious to get started with my travel through the history of France. I decided to use one of my copious vacation days and took a Friday off to visit the city of Angers in the Loire Valley. Angers is famous for two things – it is the home of the Apocalypse Tapestry (I thought this to be the oldest tapestry in the world but it is actually the largest), and the home of my favorite liquor, Cointreau.

All week I anxiously watched the weather as it got colder and the forecast of snow went from 30% to 100%. Regardless, I got up early Friday morning to head to Gare Montparnasse to catch the TGV to Angers. I have not been on a TGV since I moved to France and forgot just how fast they can operate. The TGV has been clocked as fast as 350 mph and typically operates at an average speed of 200 mph. The trip from Paris to Angers by car takes three hours but on the TGV I was there in just under an hour and a half.

The snow was falling heavily when I arrived and I was glad to be so bundled up. I headed straight for the acceuil (welcome desk) to get a map and find out just how to get to the Angers Chateau and the cathedral. The very friendly man at the information desk gave me a map and directions and I was on my way. Now, before we get into my visit of the fortress and cathedral there is a very important point I first want to make. There are an endless number of wonderful things that make these trips I take special, one of them being they get me out of Paris. There is an evil rumor rampant around the world that the French are rude. I would like to clarify this – Parisians are rude. The French are lovely. It is important to get out of Paris so you do not forget this important point.

The history of the city of Angers can be traced back to 372 BC and has been inhabited by the Romans, Merovingian kings, the Vikings, the Carolingian’s and the Plantagenet’s. The site where the current chateau is located had long been used as a royal residence and fortress. There is no distinction that I know of in French to describe a palace vs. a castle vs. a fortress and therefore the word chateau is all encompassing. The Chateau Angers is very much a fortress. Built by Blanche of Castile in the 13th century to protect her young son and heir to the thrown, Louis IX, from the growing discontent amongst the nobles, particularly the Counts of Aquitaine and Brittany. The fortress is complete with the deepest moat of the time, 9 foot thick stone walls, garrisons to hold food and water if under siege and slit windows for the archers to easily hit their target without being seen.

The original fortress at Angers was built by the Romans, the fortress seen today was built in 1234. In 1373 the Apocalypse Tapestries were commissioned by Louis I, Duke of Anjou. The tapestry depicts the Apocalypse from the Book of Revelation. The tapestry is 27 panels each depicting a very detailed and elaborate scene. Walking into the room where the tapestries are housed requires a moment or two for your eyes to adjust to the light. Once they do adjust though – Wow. Pictures are not allowed for obvious reasons but I encourage you to Google the Apocalypse Tapestries as they are really something to see. The detail is magnificent and the color still intact despite being almost 700 years old.

After touring the Chateau d’Angers I made my way down the crooked, cobblestone streets covered in snow towards the cathedral. While not a cathedral of the size or magnitude of Chartres or Notre Dame de Paris it is impressive in it’s own right. I think what will make this particular cathedral so special to me for the rest of my life is that for the 45 minutes I was there not another person came in. It is pretty rare and special to have a cathedral all to yourself. To be honest at first it was a little spooky but as I wandered up the nave and sat down I realized just how peaceful it was. Being agnostic I always feel a bit of a poser in church. I want to start each prayer with “are you there God? It is me, Margaret.”. (For my non-American friends reading this that is a famous book every teenage girl in the US has read at least ten times.) I left the cathedral a little more at peace and in awe of the people whose faith is so strong and ingrained that they dedicated their lives to building these beautiful monuments to God.

To this point I have to say Angers is my favorite stop. I do not know if it was the snow, the cobblestoned streets of the old quarter, the 164 foot high towers of the castle, viewing the amazing Apocalypse Tapestry or my peaceful visit to the cathedral but Angers is magical and I hope to visit again very soon.

Next stop – Sainte-Chapelle