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I just spent a lovely weekend en famille in the Loire Valley. One of my sisters-in-law lives Angers with her family of four children, and my husband and I thought it would be nice to zip over there before the holidays to see their new house and experience a little of life in smaller town France.

Angers is a 1.5 hour train ride southwest of Paris. We left Friday night after work, and before we even realized it, we were pulling into Angers St Laud station. My sister-in-law later told me she has a number of friends who live in Angers (pronounced ‘Onjay’) but work in Paris and make the daily commute by rail. At first I thought this was a little extreme, but then I remembered my years in big-city North America and the traffic during rush hour pushing me to the upper limits of a two-hour drive to travel the 20 miles from my office downtown to my house in the outskirts. Sitting on a train for that time with a laptop or a book doesn’t seem to compare to the honking and road rage I remember in that past life.

We’ve been thinking about buying a place in province, which in France doesn’t just mean Provence, that exquisite southeastern part of France famous for its swaying lavender fields, but basically anywhere in France that isn’t Paris or one of the other large cities (Bordeaux, Lyon, Lille, Nice, Montpellier, etc).  My sister-in-law and her family have recently bought a charming 19th-century three-storey masion de ville – what we would call a brownstone at home – walking distance from her husband’s law practice, the kids’ school, their church, and her medical practice. Seeing her setup, the convenience of small town living dug its claws into us a little deeper.

Our little neighborhood of Auteuil has a great deal of the same charm; most of the time it feels like we live in a village engulfed in a much large metropolis. The one marked difference being that a 20 minute drive from the center of Angers will get you into the middle of the country whereas 20 minutes from the center of Paris, or even from my place to the west of the city, will get you no closer to green than the nearest park.

Angers is a historical city, charming as I’ve mentioned and really a place for young families like my sister-in-law’s. Historically, the seat of the Kings of Anjou (later the Dukes of Anjou) in the Province of Anjou, as that part of the country was referred to before the French Revolution. There are about a 150,000 residents of Angers, a town of approximately 16 miles² (40mk²).

Angers is rich with history. We visited the Medieval fortress and saw the Tapestry of the Apocalypse, the longest handmade tapestry in Europe measuring 140m long (460 feet) and 6m high (20 feet). Commissioned by the Princes of Anjou in the 14th century, it tells the story of the Apocalypse from the Book of Revelations and it’s really quite a sight to see. France is home to another famous embroidery, the Bayeux Tapestry that depicts the Norman conquest of England under William the Conqueror. This tapestry is housed in the town of Bayeau in Normandy near the D-day Beaches.

Besides this touristy outing, we spent the weekend en famille: going to the outdoor market early Saturday morning, all four little ones in tow, enjoying the fruits of our trip at a large family luncheon later that afternoon. Sunday was our eldest nephew’s 6th birthday. The fête d’anniversaire unravelled around a delicious chocolate cake (moelleux or semi-baked) and a very long-awaited kick scooter.

A delightful weekend to, as the French say, “change the air and our ideas”, which has left me even more enchanted with the country that is France outside of Paris.

Recipe for the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had:

 

Moelleux au chocolat

You’ll need (cake for 6 people):

  • 125 g flour
  • 125 g butter (room temp)
  • 250 g sugar
  • 1 tablette of chocolate (200g) melted
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  1. Preheat your oven to 350F or 180C (th 6 in France).
  2. Melt chocolate in sauce pan over a pan over water.
  3. Once melted, add butter and stir. Add flour and baking powder, mix completely into chocolate, no lumps.
  4. Mouse the four egg yolks together with the sugar and a dash of water, then add to chocolate mixture.
  5. Beat the egg whites together until they are firm and then fold them into chocolate mix slowly, carefully.
  6. Pour the chocolate mixture into a buttered mold with high edges and bake for 35 minutes.
  7. Decorate with icing sugar. This cake does not need frosting or icing.

Many more photos:

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