A collection of handmade tools from the 17th and 18th centuries will soon be displayed in Parçay Les Pins. The aim of the association Outil Poésie Ouvrière is to exhibit a collection put together over thirty years by Raymond Huard and his son Pierre (a sculptor and blacksmith, who works with iron and anvils).
The Musée Populaire des Artisans and Métiers at Noyant has 13,000 tools and objects from more than 55 trades which have either disappeared or soon will. A collection built up carefully over 30 years.
The Musée Aux Anciens Commerces in Doué-la-Fontaine brings back to life a wealth of old-style shops ranging from 1850 to 1950. A café, barber’s shop and grocery store are just few of the shops reconstructed there.
A privately run museum in the stables of the 18th century chateau of Baron Foullon. Conveniently situated close to the Foullon Rose Gardens. The latter is free to visit and has over 400 varieties of roses.
Just a short distance from the Chateau de Baugé can be found one of the finest 17th century apothecaries in France, adjacent to the Hôtel Dieu, an early hospital, dating from the same period. The pharmacy, established in 1675 and active until the 1940s, is a chance to take a tour through French medical history and hospital life. The attractive town of Baugé is also worth exploring.
The village of Turquant is worth a visit, not only for an excellent restaurant but to see the boutiques which have been created in the troglodyte dwellings. There’s a glassblower, stone carver, gilding workshop, plus a jeweller and a boutique selling beautiful hand-made leather goods.
Close by, at Fontevraud there’s a custom jewellery boutique, the workshop of illuminated manuscripts, and an artisan biscuit maker and cafe.
Angers is internationally known for pewter-ware with a workshop still producing fine goods since being founded in 1710. At Durtal they have been making stoneware potter since 1946 in the workshops of Guy Roy, some of the early pieces are now collectibles.
Windmills and watermills once proliferated across Anjou. Saumur had as many as thirty mills and was long regarded as the French capital of windmill. There was often a group of windmills to take advantage of the changing wind direction. The bases of these mills can still be seen along the coteaux of Saumur. The Moulin de l’Epinay and the Moulin de Sarré still turn and produce flour. The Moulin Bleu near Bourgueil now houses a restaurant.
Water mills were used too. Of particular interest is the water mill at Longue designed by Alphonse Sagebien which had been fully restored and has good interactive displays. It houses a rare Sagebien wheel.
The village of Le Coudray-Macouard has a workshop making the most intricate of weather-vanes to order.
Terracotta deserves a special mention. The village of Les Rairies has specialised in terracotta tiles for the châteaux of the Loire since the 14th century and is renowned all over France. In the 19th century, there were in the region of 50 working kilns and as many drying barns. There are still a number of kilns in existence, but the sole artisan company is the family business of Yvon Cailleau. Guided tours are available all year round and fascinating. We commissioned them to make tiles for renovation of the fireback in The Grange.
A history of rich patronage has given the Loire Valley a wonderful heritage, mighty churches and religious institutions, châteaux and some major Gothic churches in Angers, Saumur and Le Puy-Notre-Dame, plus a few the curious twisted village spires. Musical evenings are held in the abbeys at Cunault and Fontevraud as well as at Angers and Tours.
Fontevraud deserves a special mention. The Abbey was founded in 1101 and is the largest surviving complex of monastic buildings in Europe, with grand medieval kitchens. It is steeped in history of the Plantagenet Kings and symbolises the Royal connections with the area and long association with England. Henri Plantagenêt stayed at the abbey before heading to England to be crowned King Henry II, while Eleanor of Aquitaine ended her days here.
The abbey attracted controversy as its founder, Robert d’Arbrissel attracted large numbers of women to the Abbey. He created a mixed order where the abbesses held the reigns of power, an exceptional situation in the medieval world which continued into the 17th and 18th centuries.
Today the Abbey is a favourite place to visit, with both permanent and temporary exhibitions. There are good catering facilities, a calendar of special events and iPad games for the children.
A curiosity in old Saumur is the Protestant Temple and quarter. Much was done to counteract Protestantism in Anjou and even the architecture was made to seduce people back to the Catholic church, such as the sensational dome of the Notre-Dame-des-Ardilliers pilgrimage church in Saumur. Two striking contrasts in one beautiful town.
The area around Baugé is noted for its clochers tors, twisted spires. Le Vieil-Baugé, Pontigné, Fontaine-Guérin and Mouliherne are well known, but you will find others as you travel around. It is thought that they were purposely built this way to keep the devil out. A similar spire is found in England at Chesterfield, but here the twist in the spire is attributed to unseasoned wood being used.
Visit the Abbey de Solesmes and you will hear the Gregorian chant.