From Shipyards to Elephants?
How exciting to discover a "new" city you know nothing about! I am always delighted to get the tour by locals, and this time my hosts were the Normands Voyageurs - an incredible couple who is as smitten with the US as I am with France.
Valentin and Hélène returned from their 6-month road trip of the US (check out their travel adventures at www.normandsvoyageurs.com) and settled in Nantes. As we had become instant friends when we met in Minnesota, I couldn't wait to accept their invitation to stay with them in their new home.
1 - l'Ile de Nantes
There is something special about a city on water. The Loire River separates into two "arms" - Le Bras de la Madeleine and le Bras de Pirmil, creating an island. This was of course the perfect place to make ships back in the day, but what to do with huge boat hangars once the industry has moved on?
Nantes is an innovative city, not afraid to allow people to express themselves. Thanks to the imagination of co-authors François Delaroziere and Pierre Orefice, the shipyards were transformed into a universe of Machines, combining the industrial history of Nantes, the mechanical world of Leonardo da Vinci, and Jules Verne’s “Invented Worlds". It is a place for all generations that is educational, fun and full of surprises!
Le Carrousel des Mondes Marins is not like any other you have seen - featuring animals created in the mind of Jules Verne. As in the ocean, there different creatures to be found at the different depths. After observing some low-laying fish being swallowed into deep caves, we chose one at the top, with moveable fins and jaws. The passengers, young and old, make this magical ocean come to life.
A robotic elephant you can ride? Mais oui! It makes quite the impression as it stomps through the crowds, carrying passengers on its back and spraying unsuspecting spectators at will!
Inside the old ship hangars there are demonstrations of new machines that will be part of living worlds to come.
Just beyond the carrousel, Les Grues Titans or Titan Cranes are a reminder of the glory days of the shipyards.
2 - Château des ducs de Bretagne
This beautiful castle was the residence of the Dukes of Brittany between the 13th and 16th centuries. Today it houses the Nantes History Museum using 32 of the castle rooms. If you don't have time to tour the interior, a walk around the exterior to admire the architecture is also impressive, including the moat and draw bridge!
3 - La Cathédrale Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul
Situated in St Peter's Square, this gothic cathedral is the seat of the bishop of Nantes. It was built from 1434 to 1891. The cathedral suffered a lot of damage during the Normandy Beach invasions in 1944 and a fire in 1972, but it has been beautifully restored. The stained glass windows, however, had to be completely redone and are of a more modern design than most French churches.
Inside the cathedrale, be sure to see the tombs of Anne de Bretagne's parents, Duc Francois II de Bretagne and his wife Marguerite de Foix.
4 - Trentemoult
The colorful streets of this former fishing village have a unique charm. Located in Reze, this neighborhood is a great place for dinner along the Loire river. Come early to stroll along the banks and visit the workshops of over 20 resident artists. The first thing you notice is that these are not your typical French houses. In fact, you feel transported to a tropical island! These dwellings have bright, vibrant colors and the architecture is specific to this area, no stranger to flooding. These 3-story homes were built with cellars on the main floor, the living area on the upper level, and an attic on top that often joined the neighbors! Staircases were usually placed on the outside as well. Another benefit of the Loire River is the abundance of tropical plants brought back from travels around the world. Enjoy the magic and whimsy.
Hélène and Valentin chose the historic bistrot of La Guinguette. We began with an apero outside, then moved inside to enjoy an amazing meal with a view of the sunset.
5 - Passage Pommeraye
What is a trip to France without a little shopping?? The Passage Pommeraye is full of beautiful shops, but this area wasn't always so desirable. King Louis-Philippe commissioned Louis Pommeraye to transform a rundown, unhealthy neighborhood into a luxury shopping destination worthy of high society Parisians. It was a great success, and is still filled with lovey boutiques. The architecture is stunning as well, and it was classified as a historical monument in 1976.
6 - La Cigale
After a bit of shopping, you probably need to sit and have something to drink. The timeless classic La Cigale is the place to be. Perhaps the most beautiful Brasserie in the world, it is worth the wait. Brasserie – Café – Salon de Thé - while you sip your beverage of choice, admiring this exquisite decor, you can imagine Jacques Prévert writing his latest collection of poems at the next table. Tip: be sure to use the restrooms here, so you have a chance to walk through the entire restaurant!
7 - Tour de Bretagne
For a panoramic view of the city, head to the top of la Tour de Bretagne.
Keeping with the artistic flare of the city, there is a restaurant at the top of the tower called Le Nid - the Nest. A chic spot to sit on an egg (yes, really!) and enjoy a cocktail and appetizers while taking in the views.
Looking out over the city, try to find the various nests that have been built out of different materials and hidden in unsuspecting locations. Yep, a sort of "where's Waldo". We even found an egg splattered on the top of a building!
8 - La Tour LU
Even the LU tower has a nest! This famous cookie (biscuit) company was created in 1846 by Jean-Romain Lefèvre and his business partner and wife Pauline-Isabelle Utile (their initials are LU). Their famous "petit beurre" goes all the way back to 1886. The design of this cookie is recognizable by all French children, but did you know that it has 4 "ears", 52 "teeth" and 24 indents? Hmmm... there are 4 seasons, 52 weeks in a year and 24 hours in a day! Clever!
9 - Jardin des plantes
This botanical garden features more than 11,000 plants. The paths wind through waterways, sculptures, fountains and statues. This is a perfect place to enjoy the calm beauty of nature, with an ice cream cone, of course!
10 - Parc de la Gaudinière
Keeping with the nature theme, I saved the best experience for last. After Hélène and I went to the market (Le Marché de Talensac) to buy some fresh produce, cheese and a Gâteau Nantais, we set off for a picnic in the park. (The local speciality dessert is the Nantes Cake - a sort of pound cake made with almond flour and rum, topped with a perfect white glaze, hinting of rum as well) .
There is something magical to me about a picnic, especially in France, especially with local specialities, and above all, with great friends in a park that also has an amazing CASTLE! Do the French take this for granted? "Just another castle ..." I hope not!
Well, that is 10, but there are so many more things to see and do in this amazing city! (I know you have a life, so I won't make it the top 20!) . The four days I spent in Nantes were incredible, and left me already planning my return. I can't thank my gracious hosts, Valentin and Hélène enough for their warm hospitality and the excellent tour of experiences in their lovely city.
Un très grand MERCI à Valentin, Hélène et le meilleur chat du monde, Elvis!
IF you have one more minute to spend with me ...
I get lost all the time ... even finding tourist spots that "you can't miss" ... BUT Nantes totally gets me - they have a GREEN LINE that truly you can follow to all of the sites! Genius!
Merci - A très bientôt !