Nantes in the Pays de la Loire, is a delightful place to visit. It has been named “the most liveable city in France” and the European Green capitol. The old city is restricted to traffic and is mostly pedestrian. A code is required to enter this section of Nantes at various barriers around the city (if you’re a visitor with a car, get the code from your hotel or ask at the tourist office). There are many interesting things to see such as the Chateau and the Nantes Cathedral and well as wandering around the charming old city full of shops and places to eat, many of which serve crepes – it did used to be part of traditional Brittany after all.
One place which is a must is Les Machines de I’ile for a once in a life time experience that is very unique and magical. It is situated in a former ship yard on the Loire River. The concept comes from the creative minds of Francoise Delaroziere and Pierre Orefice and is “located at the crossroads of the invented worlds of Jules Vernes, the mechanical universe of Leonardo di Vinci and the industrial history of Nantes”. You will most likely see a giant model elephant as you enter the grounds.
You can wander around for free or buy a ticket to see displays of “animals” that have been created and you can buy a ticket to ride the elephant (buying it online is the best). The elephant is 40 feet high and composed of wood and metal with leather ears, blinking eyes and a trunk that moves and sprays water. Inside you can see the gears and moving parts. It’s great to be on the top as the elephant moves around the grounds.
Especially exciting was the giant spider moving along with creepy music, legs moving and “poison” coming out its mouth and behind. There were employees suspended underneath to operate each leg and other moving parts. It is possible for a few people to get the pleasure of riding on the head. The spider visited Calais in June, wandered round the city of Nantes in July and is being sent to Quebec while it will do its thing in May. There isn’t a definite date for its return to Nantes.
The three level Jules Verne inspired carrousel is wonderful with all sorts of sea creatures that have moving parts operated by those riding them. You can buy a ticket just to climb up on the exterior walkways to look at this creation. As someone once said, it is a great time for the young and the young at heart. And who knows what’s next here at this most extraordinary Island of the Machines…
Linda Mathieu, a native Texan, lives in France with her French husband. She was a Paris Tour Guide and is the author of Secrets of a Paris Tour Guide, available at www.amazon.com.