A journey in the bustling Nantes
If someone were to ask me the three words I’d use to sum up Nantes, there’d be no hesitation in my response: tasty, cultural and above all else, quirky.
Located less than 250 miles from Paris and around 30 minutes from the Atlantic coast, Nantes is the eclectic, yet often overlooked gem of Western France. Once one of the most important ports in all of Europe, its rich history has made it culturally diverse. With
routes from London City, Gatwick, Manchester and Dublin now flying direct into Nantes Atlantique airport, and with a huge variety of attractions in its arsenal, many have already realised that Nantes is a great place for taking a unique city break.
The first port of call should be the ‘Château des ducs de Bretagne’, or the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany. Located in the heart of Nantes, its large, turreted towers complete with drawbridge, elegant courtyards and fascinating Gothic-inspired architecture, make you feel as if you’ve stumbled back into 1532. As well as being an exceptional heritage site with a rich history and impressive architecture, the Château now acts as a cultural hub for the city, not only housing the Nantes History Museum but a variety of other temporary exhibitions and art installations as well.
A short walk upstream brings you to Nantes’ most unique attractions. While the warehouses of the former shipyards may look unassuming from the outside, they in fact hold the ‘Machines de l’île de Nantes’ - three unique machines inspired by the imaginary worlds of Jules Verne. Why not take a spin on one of the 33 marine animals swirling around on the Marine Worlds Carousel, which was awarded the international prize for ‘Most Original Attraction’, or take a ride aboard the world-famous Giant Elephant? Look out for the incredible 110-foot high Heron Tree attraction due for completion in 2019.
Each Summer, Nantes becomes more animated than usual, as the ‘Le Voyage a Nantes’ celebrations roll around. From art exhibits to the ‘Rendezvous de L’Erdre’ Jazz Festival the city is transformed into a hive of activity. In July and August, follow the green line under your feet to discover the best the city has to offer. From Le Lieu Unique to the île de Nantes, you’ll find everything from art installations to pop up restaurants, classic sites to little-known treasures, and even a great place to watch the sunset over the Loire Estuary.
If your trip doesn’t coincide with ‘Le Voyage a Nantes’, there is still plenty more art to enjoy. You can take a journey down to the coast to experience Estuaire Nantes<>Saint-Nazaire, a permanent, open-air collection showcasing 29 original artworks along the length of the Loire Estuary. Not only will you discover the natural beauty of the Loire River, but potentially a new favourite artist as well. Back in the city, from June to August, the HAB Galerie on the Île de Nantes will host the first French solo exhibition of work from Tatzu Nishi, the internationally exhibited Japanese installation artist.
If that wasn’t enough, Nantes is a prominent stop on the ‘Loire à Vélo’ cycling route and this year sees Velo-city host their annual Cycling Parade in the city in early June. To mark the occasion, 5,000 people are expected to take to the streets as part of the festive parade to take part in an unusual 15km Tour de France parody.
And when you get hungry, you’re in luck! Nantes is home to a wide variety of restaurants and bars, but nowhere quite encapsulates the tasty, cultural and quirky description as well as ‘Le Nid’.
Located on the floor of Tour Bretagne, ‘The Nest’ is home to a giant white bird, half-stork, half-heron, who keeps a watchful eye over the city. Designed by esteemed Nantes-born graphic designer, Jean Jullien, at night the eggshells are transformed into seats and tables, and the belly of the not-so feathery beast is transformed into a bar. With a panoramic view and a drink in hand, it’s a perfect way to round off any trip to one most dynamic, creative and inventive cities in Europe.