Close to the Loire, where crowned heads have stayed for centuries, where the climate is mild, where the heritage is rich, beautiful golf courses have found their place. It’s time to make the most of the region between Anjou and the Loire Valley, to play quietly, open your eyes and discover the local produce on your plates and in your glasses… Let’s make a toast !
In 1964, the Angers Golf Club was created just a quarter of an hour from the Château des Ducs d’Anjou, a fortress dating back to the Middle Ages. On the left bank of the Loire, in the heart of the Anjou-Saumur vineyards, at Saint-Jean-de-Mauvrets, Jean Bourret took advantage of a fifty-hectare site between a clearing and a forest, flat then undulating, bordered by small ponds to create 9 holes, a pioneering course in the region. It was not until 1986 that the full version was laid out in the forest. The Pistrait mill-cavier, a 15th century building, houses the clubhouse and restaurant, overlooking the course where doglegs, foliage and ponds create the hazards of a walk that, at first glance, seems tranquil. The fairway on the 9th is lined with a dolmen from another era, the remains of a Celtic tribe from before Jesus Christ… Drainage and irrigation works undertaken in 2016 have given the course a facelift, while preserving its calm, restful setting, dedicated to silence… A real luxury !
The youngest of Anjou’s golf courses, the Anjou Golf & Country Club is nevertheless approaching its 35th birthday. It’s time for the trees lining these fairways, the brainchild of Roland Paulze d’Ivoy de La Poype, an extraordinary man, to have grown a little. This former fighter pilot, industrialist, inventor and enthusiast wanted to create a golf course on his farmland. In 1989, he called on Fred Hawtree to design the course. The British architect preserved most of the estate’s trees – a pictorial delight in autumn – and designed the course around the ponds. Between the tightly-packed trees and the ponds, like those on 13, it’s easy to stay focused in this magnificent setting, a plus for a course that, like its designer, has always been able to defend itself.
Born of the enthusiasm of the 80s, the Golf de Baugé had a tumultuous youth. With its Japanese investors gone, Alain Prat’s design was reduced from 27 to 18 holes, plus three school holes. Until 2017, the projects suffered setbacks… It was time for Denis Millerand and Geoffrey Gabiller to enter the fray and save the club. Breaking open their piggy banks, the two forty-somethings saved jobs and restored the club’s reputation, just a drive away from the Château de Baugé, the medieval stronghold of King René, Duke of Anjou. The architect’s excellent initial work saved the course despite all the pitfalls. The arms of the Couasnon bring coolness to the holes below, while those in the valleys seek shade under the foliage. Housed in former stables, the clubhouse unfolds its charm in a vast farmhouse combining brick and millstone under a slate roof. The menu is as affordable as it is pleasant. Even if you still can’t sleep on site, this magnificent course in Anjou has finally found its stride.
On the borders of the Vienne, Maine-et-Loire and Indre-et-Loire departments, the Domaine de Roiffé has been enjoying a new lease of life since 2014. Created in 1985, this golf course designed by Hubert Chesneau was only saved by the vision of Pierre-Antoine Barbot. On the hundred or so hectares of this former reformatory – closed in 1968! -Between the wooded areas and vast clearings, the game unfolds calmly on the outward journey, before picking up pace on the return. But it was the land that seduced the current owner at a time when the club was slumbering. Between Touraine and Anjou, between the banks of the Loire and Fontevraud Abbey, the potential for tourism was immense with these tufa-tiled buildings, neatly laid out behind tree-lined avenues. A few holes were shortened and the large pond came into play. The tees were levelled and the greens sanded. The buildings have been converted into rooms and tourist residences, and a gîte has been created in a dormitory. Behind thick walls, the clubhouse has retained traces of its former bunker. The Club House is now home to l’Alcôve, the Domaine’s seasonal bistro restaurant, and the Garden brasserie, open every day for lunch and dinner. Two beautifully decorated restaurants with a breathtaking view of the green on 9!
As owners of Roiffé, the Barbot family bought the Golf de Saumur, a 9-hole course designed by Stephen Quenouille and Tom Macaulay, which opened in 1993 in the rolling hills of the Saumur region, ideal for horse breeding. This acquisition has made it possible to create a 27-hole season ticket for two sites, two departments and two regions, promoting a sense of leisure and the pleasure of the game. By pooling investments, optimising the use of machines and creating a sense of competition between the sites, the dynamic soon took hold on a course that alternates climbs, slopes, doglegs and red stakes, such as the approach to 7, a par 5 plunging down to a stretch of water protecting the green. The refurbishment of the clubhouse facing the putting green and the forest has also made people want to stop off again. Time to water the birdies…
Where to stay ?
At the Domaine de Roiffé, on the edge of a shady driveway, the neatly drawn pavilions house 62 rooms on the ground floor or first floor. These cottages, formerly housing prison staff, are brimming with charm behind their tufa stone walls, in absolute silence. Some rooms can accommodate up to four people. The various gîtes, renovated in 2015, can be combined for larger families. On site, you’ll find a host of activities for everyone: a spa, an equestrian centre, beer-brewing and wine-tasting workshops, a flea market, tennis courts, a swimming pool (in season), mini-golf, multi-sports pitches, etc.
Gastronomy is also well catered for, with two restaurants at the heart of the estate (l’Alcôve, a bistronomic restaurant open in season, and le Garden, a brasserie open all year round for lunch and dinner), both of which offer home-cooked meals featuring local produce, some of which is even produced on site (beer, honey, herbs, etc.).
At Anjou Golf & Country Club, those who want to bounce from bed to tee are in heaven! The club has 18 rooms in charming cottages and two flats, each sleeping six people. Not forgetting the Blue House, which is ideal for a tribe of up to 12 people. There’s plenty for the whole family to do on the golf course, while enjoying the mild climate of Anjou, sublimated by Joachim du Bellay in his collection of poetry Les Regrets. The golf table, orchestrated by Frédéric, is unanimously appreciated at mealtimes, both indoors and on the terrace, as soon as the sky warms up.
While the French crown came to appreciate the charms of the Loire Valley in the 17th century, many of the Loire Valley’s châteaux have been enjoyed by the aristocracy since the Middle Ages.
Starting with the Château d’Angers overlooking the Maine, the wish of Queen Blanche of Castille in the 13th century. With its kilometre of ramparts combining schist and limestone in recognisable strata, and its pudgy, impregnable towers, it was home to the Plantagenets before King René, Duke of Anjou, made it his home in a flamboyant Gothic style and a thriving courtly life. Six centuries later, this imposing edifice has not aged a day. Its treasure is within its walls: the Tapestry of the Apocalypse, a medieval tapestry commissioned by Louis 1st of Anjou around 1375, a monumental masterpiece listed in UNESCO’s “Memory of the World” register. One hundred metres long and 4.5 metres high in 14 dreamlike tableaux, teeming with details of life in the 14th century, it’s a marvel! The château’s gardens conceal vines, Mediterranean species and fruit trees imported to the banks of the Loire by René d’Anjou, who wanted to make the region the “garden of France”.
In Anjou, other remarkable châteaux, witnesses to history, open their doors to the public. Start with the Château de Brissac, the highest château in France with seven storeys and over 200 richly furnished rooms, where the Dukes of Brissac have lived for over 500 years. As a wine-producing region, the estate’s wines can be enjoyed in the cellars.
As early as the 11th century, the galleries and moats of Château de Brézé were dug for more than a kilometre into the heart of the Loire tufa rock. The castle above and the fortress below welcome visitors on an extraordinary tour of this troglodyte site.
Buildings flourished on the banks of the Loire in the 15th century. Like the Château de Plessis-Bourré, whose frescoed coffered ceilings are a delight for lovers of the esoteric. At the château de Montsoreau, which inspired Alexandre Dumas to write his novel “La Dame de Monsoreau”, boats could sail directly from the royal river to the château’s cellars, so you could quench your thirst in total peace and quiet… Other châteaux include Plessis-Macé, Serrant, Montreuil-Bellay and Montgeoffroy, where the kitchens glitter with a gleaming collection of nearly 300 moulds and copperware used to feed guests over the centuries.
It’s hard to imagine a region of France cherished by its kings without vines, without wine! The vineyards of Anjou-Saumur, France’s 3rd largest wine-growing region, stretch over more than 20,000 hectares between the Layon, Aubance and Loire rivers, offering a wide variety of wines.
With 27 appellations, grape varieties with a wealth of aromas and a diversity of soils ranging from schist to tuffeau, you’re spoilt for choice. Chenin, the king of Loire grapes, produces dry whites at the beginning of the harvest. Later in the season, it can be used to make sweet wines, and even liqueur-like wines such as chaume and coteaux du Layon. Often stored in troglodyte cellars, all these wines are a delight to connoisseurs and chefs alike, who are proud to offer them as starters and desserts… Poultry fricassees, Loire fish, Maine beef, cul-de-veau à l’angevine, crêmet d’Anjou – a mixture of Chantilly cream and egg whites beaten until stiff, enhanced with vanilla or red berries? -All these Anjou specialities find their balance in the Anjou-Saumur grape varieties. From the little girl to the Methuselah…
The largest monastic city in Europe, the Royal Abbey of Fontevraud was founded in 1101 by the monk Robert d’Arbrissel, whose intention was to grant governance to abbesses.
From Pétronille de Chemillé to Renée de Bourbon, Gabrielle de Rochechouart, Marie de Bretagne and Julie d’Antin, the last of whom was ousted during the French Revolution, there were 36 abbesses in almost 800 years to rule over monastic life, men and women alike, a unique situation in French religious history. From 1200 to 1204, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of France and then of England, spent the last years of her life at the abbey. Her recumbent tomb sits at the heart of the abbey church alongside those of Henry II Plantagenet, her second husband, and Richard the Lionheart, her favourite son. Napoleon may have turned it into a prison, but today the abbey is a cultural centre that welcomes artists, visitors and conference-goers in the ecumenical spirit of its founder. You can stay at the 4-star Fontevraud L’Hôtel, far from the hustle and bustle of the world, in 54 rooms designed to preserve the historic atmosphere of the place. Beyond spiritual nourishment, the table at Fontevraud Le Restaurant entrusted to Thibaut Ruggeri since 2014 boasts a Michelin star and a unique 4-course menu called “Lune”, renewed every month, in tune with the rhythm of nature. The 5,000 m2 organic vegetable garden in the heart of the abbey gardens provides most of the vegetables and berries for the kitchens, as does the honey that is an essential part of the monastic breakfast.
The history of the Cadre Noir de Saumur began at the end of the 1st Empire. The French cavalry had been decimated by Napoleon’s battles, and mounted troops had to be re-formed. During the 19th century, the Cadre Noir provided officers and horses for the elite of the French army. As the cavalry became mechanised during the conflicts of the 20th century, the Cadre Noir turned its attention to equestrian sports and dressage shows, even though in June 1940, the Cadets of Saumur’s lost charge on the Montsoreau bridge against Panzer tanks remains one of the regiment’s illustrious feats of arms! Since 1972, the École Nationale d’Equitation has relied on the expertise of the Cadre Noir’s equestrians to put on its shows. In 2010, it merged with the Haras nationaux to become the Institut français du cheval et de l’équitation.
Following in the footsteps of the Austrian and Portuguese schools, the French equestrian tradition is showcased throughout the year, both at the Saumur riding school and at galas around the world. Le Printemps des Écuyers, Au cœur du Grand Manège and Les Musicales du Cadre Noir are just some of the shows that pay tribute to the horse throughout the year, even if the riders, trainers, grooms, vets, men and women alike, are never far from their best friend. Details of shows, visits, programmes and prices can be found on the Cadre Noir website : https://www.ifce.fr.