Maine-et-Loire: tourism and sightseeing
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While it is the famous towns and castles at Angers and Saumur that get most of the attention in Anjou (the historical name for Maine-et-Loire) don't forget to explore the quiet countryside and the small villages elsewhere in the department to get a real flavour of this picturesque region of France.
Anjou - Maine-et-Loire travel guide
Anjou is the important historical region of France that corresponds broadly to the modern department of Maine-et-Loire and had Angers as its capital. This historical region also includes the southern part of the Mayenne department, and small parts of the other surrounding departments.
It is perhaps easiest when planning your visit to consider the department as falling in three distinct regions: Angers and the north; Saumur and the south-east; and Cholet and the south-west:
Angers and the north
Of course, a visit to Angers itself, in an attractive riverside location, and to see the sturdy medieval Chateau d'Angers in the centre of the town and overlooking the Maine river will be a highlight of your visit here.
We also highly recommend you visit Plessis-Bourré chateau to the north and the Chateau de Brissac to the south of Angers. By way of contrast the Chateau du Plessis-Macé is a much less imposing castle than many in the region and provides an interesting contrast.
There are also several picturesque villages towards the north of the department such as Grez Neuvill on the banks of the Mayenne river; Pouancé with its medieval castle; and the small historic centre of Chenillé-Changé. You will discover many others as you explore, typically small but with great charm.
Saumur and the south-east
A short distance south-east of Saumur you should also visit the very pretty village of Montsoreau, classified as one of the 'most beautiful villages in France' (and also with a castle), and the roman style Abbey at Fontevraud, one of the most extensive (and most visited) abbey complexes in France.
Close by you will also enjoy seeing the Chateau de Montreuil-Bellay which, although converted to the renaissance style like many in the department, has retained rather more of its medieval origins than most of the Loire chateaux.
A short distance north-west of Saumur enthusiasts of roman style architecture will enjoy a visit to the magnificent vaulted church at Cunault, which also contains some important medieval frescoes.
In the region around Saumur there are hundreds of kilometres of subterranean passages carved into the soft rock, partly due to excavations to find stone to use as building material for the chateaux in the region. These tunnels can be visited, and have sometimes been creatively converted into wine cellars and restaurants, and the occasional art gallery.
West of Saumur you can visit the zoo and troglodyte dwellings at Doue-la-Fontaine. The troglodyte village at Rochemenier (between Saumur and Angers) is the largest in the Loire Valley, with a couple of 'cave farms' and an underground chapel - more than 20 rooms in total.
Cholet and the south-west
The south-west is the least visited region of Maine-et-Loire, and centred around the town of Cholet, lacking major monuments but still a pleasant town to explore and with a famous Textile Museum.
You can also visit Saint-Florent-le-Vieil, a small town to the west of Maine-et-Loire known for its views across the Loire and for its 14th century Abbey Church, dating from the 14th century and in romanesque style.
The landscape is dotted with small scale agriculture, ancient woodlands and hedgerows, and of course the highly reputed vineyards - explore along the valley of the River Layon south of Angers and the Loire river west of Angers to see some of the best vineyards.
The region also has a long tradition with horses, and exploring Anjou on horseback on the numerous bridleways that criss-cross the region is perhaps one of the best ways to appreciate this natural environment.
Within Anjou the countryside offers varied characteristic, from the forests and woodlands around Baugé to the flat market-garden flower fields along the Authion Valley.
Towards the north the countryside is more like that you might associate with Brittany, while the south-east has a definite 'southern France' feel to it. Each region has its own special appeal and attractions.
The region is very popular with visitors because of this natural environment, in particular the birdlife that is attracted to the rivers.
Activity in the region revolves around the Loire river which passes east to west through Anjou, and has historically brought prosperity and fertility to the region - and still does to a certain extent. The river is now an important tourist destination in itself - slow moving, tranquil and attractive, and best enjoyed by taking a boat trip on the river itself.
There are also several smaller rivers that meet the Loire in Maine-et-Loire and offer their own attractions - notably the Mayenne, Sarthe, Maine and Loir from the north; the Authion from the east; and the Layon from the south.
Anjou architecture: monuments, architecture and villages of charm
Architecture from the Middle Ages onwards plays an important role in Anjou, with impressive examples of medieval, roman style and renaissance style architecture.
Equally interesting is the attraction of the more 'everyday' manor houses and modest dwellings spread throughout the countryside that you will see as you travel around Anjou, and the detail of the small houses in the villages.
Unusually, the Maine-et-Loire region has all the materials necessary for building construction close to hand, with white limestone, black slate, and clay deposits (for tiles etc) all found in abundance here - you can see these locally sourced products in buildings throughout the region, giving them their characteristic appearance.
Villages of Charm
As you explore Anjou you will discover numerous small attractive villages, typically around a castle or on the riverside. Many of these have been classified as 'villages of charm' and are worth exploring when you are near.
These include Chenillé Changé, Grez Neuville, Champteussé sur Baconne, Aubigne-sur-Layon, Turquant, Montsoreau, Chenehutte Treves Cunault, Thorigné d'Anjou, Blaison Gohier, Aubigné sue Layon and Le Coudray Macouard. Be sure to ask at the local tourist office when you visit for details of any nearby.
Map of places to visit near Maine-et-Loire
See more places, tourist attractions and local markets at visiting Maine-et-Loire
See a list of all Maine-et-Loire communes
Note: Angers airport is located in Maine-et-Loire
The western part of the Natural Regional Park of Loire-Anjou-Touraine also falls within the Maine-et-Loire department, and is an attractive region of architectural beauty and unspoiled countryside, containing several of the highlights mentioned above.
French version: Maine-et-Loire (Francais)