It was a grey, winter afternoon and my teaching day in Angers was an unusually short one and since I had some time to kill, I swung off of the D748 at Brissac.
Time and again, I’d driven by and seen the large highway sign highlighting the tallest castle in France – with its seven stories no less – but not had the time to stop. Today was different.
Set among vineyards…
Brissac is located in the Maine-et-Loire department – historically known as the Anjou province – one of many regions known for its vineyards.
The drive along the D748 and D761 take you past vineyard, after vineyard and if you drive by at the right time of the year you’re in for a treat. You’ll see small well-used trucks and cars lining the narrow dirt roadways that parallel the main road. Their owners and passengers, a myriad of young and old alike, in earth-tone clothing, working their way up the alleyways…. either harvesting or pruning, depending on the time of year.
At this time of year the vineyards are largely quiet. Last year’s brown woody growth is still visible while a carpet of fresh, tender green grass is already present, heralding a new season just around the corner.
The green frames the brown in a lovely balance of new and old, past and present.
The Château de Brissac
At the southern tip of the upper city sits the Château de Brissac, a privately owned castle that is still inhabited today by the Cossé Brissac family since its acquisition by their forefathers in 1502.
Its construction spans the 15th and 17th centuries, beginning as a military structure but later being re-purposed as a family dwelling.
Due to its colossal size it is referred to as the “Giant of the Loire Valley” according to the walking tour brochure provided by the local tourism office.
Because I was there off-season and the castle was closed, I only have pictures of the northern and western façades… where the eastern and southern sides are the more ornate.
Surrounded by nature
Brissac Castle sits in the middle of a nearly 70 acre park that is bisected by the Aubance River.
The Aubance is a 35km long tributary of the famous Loire River, backdrop to dozens of royal and noble houses. All you have to do is google Chateaux de la Loire for a list that would take you several weeks to exhaust if you wanted to visit each one.
Century-old trees abound on the property, providing a well-established backdrop to seasonal gardens and contributing to the already grand scale of Brissac.
Perhaps the fact that the castle was closed was a blessing in disguise for had it been open, I most likely would have passed up the chance to walk through the village.
A printed walking guide of the city took me through narrow streets and open squares, some buildings worn around the edges and others freshly revisited.
As is common, one of the nicest buildings in town was the local Mairie (or city hall). At the time of it’s construction, the smaller building to the left, while still attached, was the local girls’ school. The boys’ school, also attached, was located to the right (out of camera view).
This separation of boys’ and girls’ schools was very common in France at the time an similar layouts are seen in towns across the country. Both wings are now, of course, dedicated to municipal government and the schools located in separate buildings.
Like many of the older town centers, you can see modern stone storefronts alongside timbered buildings that speak clearly of years gone by.
The mix of old and new was also clearly on display as the local fountain, built in the middle of Place Général de Gaulle in 1869, was having its strings of lights removed. It had obviously spent several weeks doubling as one of the municipal Christmas trees.
This little country church has nothing of the grand and ornate structures of the larger centers. It is simple in structure and equally simple in ornamentation.
Built in 1532 by René de Cossé, Lord of Brissac, the coat of arms of the local benefactor can be seen in the keystone of the arched, vaulted ceiling.
The most ornate feature of the church is the series of stained glass windows, added much later, toward the end of the 18th century.
The church is named after Saint-Vincent, whom catholics consider to be the patron saint of wine-growers, or vintners, and the city’s protector.
From Hilltop to Valley…
Across the street from the church and just slightly to the right, my walking guide would direct me to rue de Rollée a delightful little alleyway that would take me from the upper city back down to the lower neighbourhood adjacent to the Aubance.
How beautiful, in January, to look past the suspended streetlamp to see the rich green meadow below. It’s definitely different from the Canadian winters of my youth and young adulthood!
I walked past casually kept backyards, a stone stairways that once served as a back entrance but which now only ended at the foot of a wall, and even saw a humble wooden bench, offering respite to weary stair-climbers.
Still though, even in the humble setting of the rue de Rollée, with its tight spaces and winding curves, the presence of the grand castle is felt as it dominates the roof lines of more modest homes.
A Friendly Little Town
One of the things I like about France is this; For all of the many complexities that arise in culture, administration and language there are aspects of beautiful simplicity as well.
As a foil to the extravagant and intricate French gardens residents still adorn their window ledges with individual flowerpots…
- one for the flowering kale
- one for a cyclamen
- one for a single heather plant, and
- one for a pansy.
Not complicated…. but still warm and welcoming. They take pride even in the small things that can be done to add that certain “je ne sais quoi.”
This is one of the reasons I love France. The grand and the humble exist side by side… and both have something to offer.
2 Reasons to Return
Time was running out and I only got to do half of the suggested walking tour. The winter light was fading fast and I still had and hour and a half of driving before me. Time to stuff the guide in my pocket and hit the road.
I now have two reasons for a return visit.
- to see the castle up close
- to finish my walking tour
I’ll be back Brissac. Thank you for a lovely first visit!
With thanks to the Office du Tourisme de Brissac-Loire Aubance.
8 Place de la République, Brissac-Quincé
What do you love about France? I’d love to hear in the comments below.
Want a closer look at Brissac Castle?
There are a couple of ways to get a closer look at this Loire Valley Giant.
- You can much of the inside of the castle by clicking here to access a virtual tour on the castle’s website.
- You can see photos of the grounds by clicking here.
- Money not an issue? It’s possible to get a really good look if you take advantage of the castle’s Bed & Breakfast option, available between May and September. Prices begin at 390€ per night and include breakfast as well as a tour of the castle.