Garden and Structure of Château d'Angers, a castle in the city of Angers in the Loire Valley, France and founded in the 9th century by the Counts of Anjou

Chateau D’Angers

  In the Maine-et-Loire area of the western Loire stands a castle on a rocky ledge above the Maine river. It is a site that has been occupied since prehistoric times, carrying the much-coveted badge of being a French National Monument, and it’s not hard to see why. The turrets are thick and tall, like great big tankards, and in direct contrast to the otherwise green landscape surrounding it. They sit between vineyards and forestry, bold and iconic, and are surely the first thought that springs to mind whenever anybody mentions the Chateau d’Angers. Built-in sturdy white limestone, they are as striking as a bolt of lightning.

    Contrary to the stunning exterior, however, the inside of Chateau D’Angers is far from the beautifully curated and furnished rooms you’d imagine; it is bold and rugged, all rough stone and rougher edges, a derelict wasteland battered and beaten by the knuckles of time. As you explore the grounds and gardens and the castle proper, you’ll notice that contrast is a theme across Chateau d’Angers. Take the surrounding Loire valley to the east, for example, where the castles there look like lego blocks in comparison to the Chateau’s sturdy walls. The walls themselves are massive, 500 meters long, and boast 17 corpulent towers, imposing to any who stumble upon them, and though from afar may look like great white monoliths dropped down by a clumsy God, upon closer inspection reveal intricate line work in black slate on the limestone, daring and delicate, and emboldened further by the moat below that bursts with the efflorescence of thriving foliage. There is beauty here; you just have to look harder to find it, which is not surprising considering the complex history of the place.

    The origins of the castle reach back as far as the 9th century, and the strong and sturdy build is due to the need of the Anjou’s to defend themselves against the coming Norman invasion. The strategic location of the fortification (it being beside the Maine River) was intentional and was actually a plot previously occupied by the ever-resourceful Romans for the very same reason.

    Due to the close proximity to the water, restoration and reconstruction have been needed to sustain the building, and with pretty much every century came a new owner at the helm, which benefited it greatly.

    In the 12th century the Plantagenets were in charge of upkeep; in the 13th century the Blanche de Castile; after them, Saint-Louis came along and that is where much of the current Chateau D’Angers originates from— circa 1230 to 1240– after his grandfather, Philip II overthrew the English and took the region for his own, with Angevin Kings using it as their base.

    Then came the 14th century, and the castle became home to the dukes of the region, which is how it got the name: ‘Castle of the Anjou Dukes’. During this time there was a fair amount of construction, chiefly the chapel which is a bold and glorious little thing, built to hold a fragment of the ‘True Cross’ or ‘Cross of Lorraine’ (essentially a giant, storied cross with a deep, mysterious backstory). Throughout this Epoque, in both the 14th and 15th centuries, local lords and royal visitors were a regular fixture at Chateau d’Angers, making it something of a hub for the upper echelons of society.   

    However, this did not last, and after the Wars of Religion (1562-98)— a fiery clash of protestants and Roman Catholics—the castle was ordered to be destroyed. Thankfully, only the upper parts of the tower saw minor destruction, and much of the original castle remained intact. This was particularly important in the following years, mainly the very late 16th and early 17th century, where it was a focal military stronghold due to its big thick walls, walls perfect for defense, and even went on to be used as a base for military training. A notable alumnus of such training was the Duke of Wellington himself, who, as you’ll know, defeated Napoleon Bonaparte in the Battle of Waterloo years later.

    But the military history doesn’t stop there.

    In the mid-20th century, it was used by the Nazi Party to stash arms, though these eventually exploded and caused more harm than good to the fortifications themselves, though once again the castle survived.

Visiting Angers is unlike visiting any other castle. You enter on the east side across a bridge, then a drawbridge, strolling through the kaleidoscopic gardens before reaching a fortified gateway that leads into the courtyard that is home to some of the most important 15th features, most notably the aforementioned chapel and royal residences. In keeping with the tradition of preservation, you’ll find a courtyard below with some of the walls from the original 10th-century fortress, restored to take their place as a part of the modern marvel.

    Then it is advised to bask in the beauty of a walk around the rampart, visiting the multifarious gardens and points of interest, not least the Apocalypse Tapestry, a large set of medieval tapestries woven in Paris between 1377 and 1382 and commissioned by the Duke of Anjour, which is to say Louis I himself. Stretching 100 meters in length, it is a visceral depiction of the Apocalypse described in the Book of Revelation, and sure to be a highlight of your visit.

    Next, you head towards the north corner, the Mill Tower, the only tower to have retained its original height, and famously once home to a fully functioning windmill. It is advised to pause here, to soak in the sheer enormity of the place, to think upon its history and all its been through, before casting your gaze to the southern side, towards the restaurant where you’ll notice the defensive systems and portcullis of the original entrance to the castle.

    The view is breathtaking. The roofs of Angers affording a luxurious, unobstructed view across the rooftops of Angers, the gardens on the ramparts, the flowers in the moat, and even, more famously, the herb garden and vineyard of Angers Chateau. Here the grape varietals Chenin and Cabernet Franc thrive in the bountiful soils of schist and tufa limestone. Be sure to try the wine, because it is widely considered to be some of the best in the world.

    You can do this after, now, in fact, as here I implore you to explore the area, to view the castle through the lens of the surrounding area. It will force you to reflect on your visit, and, if you are somebody who appreciates the finer details, you’ll revel in all you’ve just experienced.

    The search for salience is so often overshadowed by who can shout the loudest, the subtleties of history and architecture lost to what is decadent and grandiose. Yet those who seek to be bowled over by the grand opulence of intemperate furnishings and regal interiors often miss the subtleties of rugged beauty, the torturous craft of the haiku.

    Chateau D’Angers is a study in serenity; a swansong to resilience and defiance that offers up a castle experience like few others across the globe. I for one love it here. There’s something about the beefy turrets and intricate patterns woven into the limestone like spun silk that captures my imagination like nothing else. A visit here is one for the thinkers, for those who find intrigue in uncommon spaces, who find beauty in the underworld of a discarded stone.

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