Situated in southwest France, in the department of Loire-Atlantique, region Pays de la Loire, Nantes was once the capital of Brittany. It was independent from France and home to one of the country’s largest ports.
Although not directly accessed by the sea, the city’s strategic historic location on the confluence of the Loire and Erdre rivers gained the city its historical nickname of Venice of the West’ (La Venise de l’Ouest). The rivers are what made Nantes a thriving city with a solid base for ship building and traders arriving from far away.
Today, parts of the river system have been reclaimed for modern roads and tramways. Large steel cranes and the dry docks are the only remains of its former industrial glory. And, Nantes continues to evolve, transforming spaces where factories and warehouses once stood into creative and leisure facilities, implementing innovative ways to enhance the joie de vivre of the city.
There’s a great balance of preserving the past whilst introducing the future and ensuring residents have a good quality of life. It is no wonder that Nantes has consistently been voted one of the top three best places to live in France. And, its why Nantes makes a great weekend getaway.
The Machines de L’Île
Ready to channel your inner child? Cross the river to Île de Nantes and enjoy a ride on the Grand Elephant or play with the sea creatures on The Carrousel des Mondes Marins. You can’t help but smile at the mechanical fairy-tales of The Machines de L’Île.
The park was born from the imagination of Francois Delaroziere and Pierre Orefice. The Machines de L’Île brings to life the fantastical stories of French novelist Jules Verne. It also pays homage to the industrial heritage of the city. At the Gallery, mechanical caterpillars and cranes wow visitors. And, don’t miss out on a visit to the workshop where the magic happens. It is guaranteed fun for the young, and the young at heart.
Follow the green line
Every year during summer months, there’s a trail of creative discoveries so that visitors and locals can explore the city and
find surprises en route. Indicated by a lime green paint line running along the streets, The Voyage à Nantes is a 12 km trail that zigzags in and out of elegant squares. It takes in major sites as well as back-streets. You’ll uncover unexpected works of art dotted around the city. They might include a stackable chair roller-coaster, tree climbing bears or random sculptures.
Look out for the Micro’Home by Myrtille Drouet on Rue Du Puits-d’Argent. The quirky house is 5m above ground, at 2m wide it contains a living room/kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. It’s an imaginative way of life in the city and you can actually stay in it too. Book with www.nantes-tourisme.com
Artists have reinvented shop signs as imaginative interpretations, injecting fun into shopping. Whenever there is a painted eye along the green line, you’re sure to find a surprise above. Most art installations are temporary, but some are so loved by locals they have become permanent fixtures.
Château des ducs de Bretagne
Dominating the historic Bouffay quarter is the former residence and fortress of the last Duke of Brittany, François II and his daughter Anne of Brittany. She is famous for being twice Queen of France, having married Charles VIII and Louis XII. After the integration of Brittany into French rule in the 1532, the château became a residence for the kings of France.
Today, the château, a monumental landmark, is home to the Musee d’Histoire de Nantes (Nantes History Museum). The museum divides its exhibitions into themes. From the Roman conquerors through its Brittany connections, the World Wars to the city’s industrial heritage, as well as the dark history of the slave trade. It is a part of the city’s past that it has found hard to come to terms with, much of the population are descendants of both traders and slaves. The museum aims to educate locals and visitors. There is also a memorial, a walkway dug into the shores of the river Loire featuring historical and geographical information, statistics, maps and timelines, as well as testimonials etched into its glass walls.
The memorial is open to public for free and makes a solemn follow up after learning about the slave trade at the history museum. memorial.nantes.fr
Cross the Loire on the Navibus ferry and alight in the colourful Trentemoult neighbourhood, an old fishing village. It’s a brilliantly artistic and gastronomic detour. Locals love to come here to dine and socialise, to enjoy the vintage atmosphere and watch the sun set over the Loire. The narrow streets are bright, the buildings appear haphazardly piled together giving it a quirky charm, and it’s home to around 20 professional artists.
Le Lieu Unique
This is the only remaining tower of what was once the Lu biscuit factory, today, Le Lieu Unique is a space for individual expression. Have a drink at the bar, enjoy a night out at the theatre, browse for a book at the library or relax with a spa treatment at the hammam: www.lelieuunique.com
Locals Love: Creperie Heb-Ken. A friendly, no-fuss popular creperie in the centre of the Graslin Quarter with an extensive menu of crepes for all tastes from savoury to sweet, it is always busy! Get there early or risk a long wait. The patio is especially pleasant in the summer. www.heb-ken.fr
La Civellet: On the waterfront of the Trentemoult neighbourhood, excellent seasonal French dishes in a lively atmosphere. Worth crossing the river for. www.la-civelle.com
Wine and Dine – Brasserie la Cigale. It is impossible to walk past this brasserie without stopping to peek. Brasserie la Cigale on the Gralin Square was once the headquarters of the city’s Surrealists and is today a popular gastronomic destination. The seafood platter is seriously impressive as is the elegant interior: www.lacigale.com
Indulge your sweet tooth: Maison Georges Larnicol – MOF: A famous Biscuiterie Chocolaterie in the Pommeraye Passage shopping mall. The sweet scent of their pastries fill the air. Don’t miss the ‘gâteau nantais’, an almond based cake with rum – a Nantes speciality and their Kouign Amann cakes are the best! larnicol.com
How to get there
EasyJet has a base in Nantes with flights to the UK and European destinations: www.easyjet.com
Eurostar has regular services to Paris from London/Ebbfleet International. From Paris it’s just 2 hours by TGV to Nantes. Check out the new interactive robot at the departure lounge in St Pancras station. Not only does it answer your questions, it can read facial expressions and even pose for photographs if you ask nicely! www.eurostar.com
How to get about
A Nantes Pass gives you access to public transport and 28 tourist sites. Available for 24, 48 and 36 hours from Nantes Tourist office. For active travellers, Bicloo offers self-service bike hires with 123 stations in the city: bicloo.nantesmetropole.fr
Where to stay
There are hotels for all budgets, but for those who enjoy comfort with history the 18th century former townhouse now Hotel de France on Place Graslin is wonderful.