Maine et Loire
Anjou or Maine et Loire…regardless of what name you call this Department it’s hard to know where to begin since there are so many things I love in this department with two names. Anjou is the historical name for the Maine et Loire department of Pays-de-la-Loire Region of France. Today’s name comes from the two rivers, Maine and Loire, that are located in this department. There are three arrondissements in the department, each with a major city by the same name: Angers , Saumur, Cholet.
The area has been called Black Anjou because of the black slate, ardoise, that is mined here. This slate is the black feature that unifies all the buildings in the region. It is even used as dishes and you will often find restaurants serving the cheese course on a slate plate.
Tufa, a white limestone, is also mined in this area. This is the stone that the churches, chateaux and other historical buildings are constructed from and its mining is what created the troglodyte caves. During the time of the Carolingians this stone was also mined for sarcophagi.
The “troglos d’Anjou” which lies between Doué la Fontaine, Saumur and Angers is the largest network of underground caves in France. In fact, the BioParc (formerly called the Zoo) in Doué-la-Fontaine is actually built in one of these troglodyte cave settings. These caves are also home to wine cellars, art galleries, restaurants, clubs and mushroom farms.
We traveled only 35km from Angers to visit Rochemenier to tour the troglodyte homes and it was a fascinating experience.
The area around Doué la Fontaine has been cultivating roses since the 18th century. Over 45% of the national production of roses is found in this area, leading Doué la Fontaine to be called the rose capitol of France.
The Maine et Loire is also the largest wine producer in the Loire Valley. There are 20 appellations over 20,000 hectaires of vineyards producting 1,000,000 hectolitres of wine. I particularly like the rosés. In Saint Barthélemy, a suburb of Angers, you can tour the Cointreau Distillery. My favorite use of Contreau is for crêpes flambé – just pour a little bit over the crêpe before presentation and light. The alcohol burns off leaving the delightful orange flavor of the Cointreau.
Crêpes are definitely one of my favorite French dishes and so easy to make at home. From my house to the tram stop in Angers is this crêpery and rustic though it is it is one of my favorite memories of my time in Angers.
The Maine et Loire Department is packed full of things to do and see. My top choices always fall between cycling and chateaux. There are 52 chateaux with the most well-known being the Anger Château and Saumur.
There are 21 troglodyte sites, a multitude of beautiful parks and gardens and beautiful romanesque and gothic churches. Finally, if you have a love of horses you should be sure to visit L’Ecole d’Equitation just outside of Saumur. There was even a musical in September of 2011 about the Cadre Noir which trains here.