La Vie En Rose! the Finest Dining, Devilish Medieval Art -- Anjou Is Vintage France
Byline: NIGEL COLBORN
SEVEN heads, ten horns and a sneering attitude -- this was an apocalyptic beast. Admittedly, he was woven in wool and part of an enormous 600-year-old tapestry on display in Angers' medieval castle. But chilling nonetheless.
And one of the first in a string of surprises in this delightful French town.
In the heart of Anjou, astride the river Maine, the city is filled with ancient buildings, superb gardens, restaurants and fine local wines. Within minutes of arriving, I felt myself being gently woven into a moving tapestry of French life.
The Plantagenets are from here. England's Henry II, who had Thomas Becket murdered, was son of Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou. By marriage, political cunning and military strength, the family ruled a sizeable chunk of Europe until the Hundred Years War.
Evidence of Angevin strength is seen in the Chateau d'Angers, one of France's largest castles. The turrets, banded in dark slate resemble giant Liquorice Allsorts. Out of town, fertile soils, particularly along the Loire Valley, have made this region famous for wine, produce and flowers. Garden hydrangeas were first developed here from wild Chinese species.
Anjou's rich horticultural heritage has encouraged the Maine-et-Loire government to create a green theme park, Terra Botanica, costing [pounds sterling]82 million, and built on a 17-hectare site. Four themed areas radiate from a central point, covering historic plant hunters, crops, botany and Anjou's local heritage.
The most arresting exhibits were high tech. In one, film projects onto a curtain of falling water, showing Alexander von Humboldt and his companion, botanist Aime Bonpland, escaping from pirates on their 1804 voyage to South America -- with ghostly ships, swirling waters and full surround sound.
The 4D journey of a raindrop was even more cinema verite.
Families were enjoying their day out and a contented Gallic buzz emanated from the restaurant. An eco-conscious menu has been devised for Terra Botanica by Angers chef Pascal Favre d'Anne. …