Looping the Loire

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Some of us enjoy cider, which is a good thing in Brittany where it is endemic, but we all enjoy wine so a visit to the nearest wine region in the Loire valley was bound to be on our itinerary. Today was the day.

We had talked about it last night and formed a rough plan. Our first thought was to head for Nantes but our Lonely Planet guide on Majella’s iPad advised it had a population of 500000+ and we preferred to avoid a large city. Instead we opted to head for Angers, closer to 150000, and then follow the Loire River downstream toward Nantes. The guide indicated that Angers had the Maison des Vins D’Anjou where we thought we might get as much information about wine as we might need. There were also museums listed, including one with the Apocalypse tapestry that we thought might interest Majella and Pauline. Beyond that we planned to cross to the south side of the Loire where the wineries are and try our luck.

Trébry to Angers is just more than 200 km so we needed another early start for the 2.5 hour drive. We were all up early, breakfasted and on the road just before 7:30 am, heading out on our familiar route via Saint Glen and Penguily to the N12 and then south toward Rennes with Majella at the wheel so I could navigate. We skirted Rennes on the ring road and continued south toward Angers on a mix of new highway and older road that is being progressively replaced.

DSC_4532About 25 km beyond Rennes we saw a sign to La Roche aux Fées, a megalithic site. We had not been aware of it, but as John is an avid fan of megaliths and rocks of all sorts and Pauline is a devotee of fairies, we decided to take a chance on it being well enough signed to find and worth a visit. With help from the signs and maps.me, which had it marked, we found the site. We were too early for the information centre which opens at 11:00 am and initially the site looked unpromising. We found a circle with English audio describing seasonal positions of the sun which Majella put to good use, but we had to walk up a track behind some trees without benefit of signs to find the real deal. It was the best megalithic site any of us had seen. It is more intact and accessible than Stonehenge and demonstrates the capability of ancient humanity to quarry, move, and place large stones. That short stop already made the trip worthwhile. It was only later that we did the research and discovered it is the best preserved dolmen in Europe.

As we approached Angers I updated our destination to the Maison des Vins d’Anjou. It is close to the centre of the city and to the tourism office. We were lucky to find a parking space nearby but finding the machine to buy the necessary ticket took a few minutes because it was across the street. We took a moment to admire the stone wall of the citadel before visiting the tourism office where we discovered that the tapestry museum was in the citadel or castle. That suddenly became our focus and the Maison des Vins warranted just a few minutes visit on the way.

Much as we would have liked coffee the only likely place on our path was not yet open so we pressed on. At the museum we discovered that for no extra cost there was a guided tour in English starting in 10 minutes 11:00 am. Our parking would run out sooner than that so I sprinted back to the car and extended it. The tour was excellent. Our young woman guide was in her second week at the job but knew her subject well, exuded enthusiasm for the museum, and spoke good English.

DSC_4554The history and architecture of the site was interesting but the star attraction was the apocalypse tapestry, which is displayed in a specially designed space maintained with low light and temperature to preserve the tapestry. The tapestry is awe-inspiring at over 100 m long and 4.5 m wide. The tapestries contain the story of the Apocalyspe telling of the struggle between good and evil. It is beautifully crafted. It was woven in the 14th century in six pieces and took seven years to make, which is a very short time for a work of that size. Incredibly, it was later cut up and used for menial purposes including covering hay, lost, and then rediscovered and partially restored for display. We were in awe of another example of what has been accomplished in the past.

Lunch in the museum cafe was quiche with salad for Majella and me, turkey with vegetables served in pots for John and Pauline. Drinks were hot chocolate, espresso, red wine, and cider respectively.

DSC_4564After lunch we climbed the stairs to the ramparts above the cafe to look at the roof garden and enjoy the views of the city. Part of the moat, which we had learned was never filled with water but used to house wild animals including lions and leopards, has been given over to an impressive garden with hedges making complex shapes around the beds. Looking down from the ramparts is probably the best view.

From there we walked through streets of 16th century buildings to visit the Cathedral of Saint Maurice. It is another impressive building from the times when the size and extravagance of churches and other major buildings symbolised the status of the relevant ruler.

Our other target in Angers was the Cointreau distillery. Pauline had already bought a small bottle at the tourism centre for use with some crêpes she plans to make and we knew that tours at the plant required reservations but we decided to visit anyway. John found the address and we set the GPS for that location. We found it and were able to buy some goodies in the store before heading south across the Loire to see some wineries.

DSC_4582All our information suggested that there were plenty of wineries to be seen but finding one that welcomed guests was a minor challenge. We saw a sign up pointing a side road and took that but backed away when we saw the ‘Propriété privée’ sign. Eventually we found Domaine des Roseraies Crasnier Bernard just off the road we were following. It was an unimposing set of farm builidngs but there were notices advertising the availability of wines. As we drove up and parked a woman came out to greet us. Majella asked about wine tasting and she ushered us down a stairway into a subterranean cellar where we tasted a variety of wine – red, white, rosé, and sparkling. We left with a half dozen bottles of varied styles to enjoy over the coming week.

We stopped once more at Saint Florent le Vieil for a panoramic view over the Loire River and the countryside. By then it was after 4:00 pm and we realised that we had more than 2 hours of driving back to Trébry. I set the GPS to take us home and we were on our way. Fortunately there were no significant delays and we were home a bit before 7:00 pm. After nibbles of cheese and olives we enjoyed bruschetta made by Pauline followed by chocolate. We seem to be adapting well to life in the countryside.