Perfect city break in France: 9 things to do in Nantes
Once the capital of Duchy of Brittany, Nantes is located on the Loire River between Brittany and the Loire Valley, about 350 kilometres from Paris. Brittany was unified with France in the early 16th century. Nantes was the largest port in the country and was responsible for nearly half of the 18th-century French Atlantic slave trade. The city of Nantes, with almost 350 000 inhabitants, is a former centre of shipbuilding and trade. Today Nantes is the capital of Pays de la Loire region and serves as a regional platform of arts and culture. To help you discover the city, the tourism board in Nantes laid a 10 miles long green line linking up sites and points of interest that they think you shouldn’t miss while you’re there.
Ready for the excellent France city break? Here you go!
Breakfast in Nantes
If you arrive by a fast low fare Ouigo train from Paris around 9 am, like me, the first thing you might want to find is a place for a good breakfast. I must say that it was not an easy task for me. As I did not want to have a quick bite straight at the railway station, I headed to the city centre. First I tried a cafe next to the cathedral of St. Pierre and St. Paul but they just offered coffee and nothing to eat.So I felt quite lucky to find La Boulangerie d’Antan at 19 Rue de Verdun near the Cathedral. Just a shop, not a cafeteria, but as I was quite hungry I was happy to find something to eat.I got the impression that the city gets up late because later on the way I saw many places to eat. So then I was ready for my sightseeing day in Nantes filled to the brim. I started with a visit to
Cathedral Saint Pierre and Saint Paul
Its foundation stone was laid in the early 15th century but the cathedral wasn’t finished until the end of the 19th century. Anyway, it remained amazingly architecturally harmonious. The large, airy interior is impressive. It’s 100 metres long, with 37.5 metres vaults, higher than the Notre-Dame in Paris.Cathedral’s most notable treasure is the tomb of François II, Duke of Brittany, and his second wife, Marguerite de Foix, parents of Anne of Brittany. This Renaissance masterpiece was made by Michel Colombe in the early 16th century.Then take a short stroll to the Castle and
Walk the walls of the Castle
Set in the historic heart of Nantes, the Castle (Château des ducs de Bretagne) is the city’s most important historic building, along with the Cathedral St. Pierre. It is a fortress with 500 metres of curtain walls with seven towers, all linked by a sentry walkway. The inner courtyard reveals an elegant 15th century ducal residence as well as other buildings dating back from the 16th and the 18th centuries. The current castle was the work of Francis II, the last Duke of an independent Brittany. His work was continued by Anne of Brittany. Following the integration of Brittany into France in 1532 the castle became the residence of the kings of France when they visited Brittany, and later a military barracks, an arsenal, and a prison. The restoration has brought out the full power of a Breton feudal fortress and the elegance of a Renaissance ducal palace. The castle was reopened after restoration in 2007.
Feel the power of Anne of Brittany admiring her statue
The marriage of Anne of Brittany to Charles VIII of France in 1491 began the unification of France and Brittany, which was ratified by Francis I of France in 1532. Anne of Brittany was the only woman to become the Queen of France twice, through her marriages to Charles VIII and Louis XII.Charles VIII became Duke of Brittany due to his marriage to Anne of Brittany. Charles prohibited Anne from using the title of Duchess of Brittany and imposed his own rule on the Duchy. However, when the king died, leaving the royal couple childless, the Duchy of Brittany reverted to Anne. Charles VIII’s successor, Louis XII, also married Anne of Brittany, and thus the title of Duke of Brittany belonged once again to the king of France. After unification, Rennes received most legal and administrative institutions and Nantes kept a financial role with its Chamber of Accounts.
Notice the Luy tower of Le Lieu Unique
When I was walking, the walls of the Castle the Art Novae Luy tower of Le Lieu Unique (The Unique Place) caught my attention. Now the former LU biscuit factory is occupied by the National centre for Contemporary arts, giving some space for artistic exploration. New expressions of visual art intermingle with innovative musical research, workshops, a laboratory of ideas and creations galore in the performing arts. There is also a children’s play area, a café, a bookstore, and even a hammam where you can relax after your immersion into art.
Visit Jardin des Plantes
A large space covering seven hectares in the heart of town, the “Botanical Garden” in Nantes contains more than 10,000 different plant species and has greenhouses covering 800 m². Garden was created during the reign of Louis XIV in the late 17th century for the town’s apothecaries. The history of the Nantes botanical gardens is closely linked with the city’s maritime history since exotic plants were brought from North America by ships. The garden was opened to the public in the early 19th century. There are many sculptures in the garden, including a statue of Jules Verne and busts of women such as Bather at the mirror. Visitors can also admire a large pond, a small zoo and some amazing plant sculptures of people and animals.
Admire the restored building of Nantes Arts museum
Musee d’Art in Nantes, the sixth largest museum outside of Paris offers an insight into the history of art from the 13th to the 21st century. After 6 years of being closed, the Musée d’arts de Nantes was opened again in June 2017 with 2,000 m² of additional exhibition space, restored facades, a restaurant and a bookshop designed by British architecture firm Stanton Williams.The museum’s collection has over 12,000 pieces of art. Artists include Georges de La Tour, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger, Vassily Kandinsky to name just a few.
Address: 10 Rue Georges Clemenceau.
After exploring the city centre head to the island of Nantes. The Island of Nantes, or “île de Nantes”, was formed the Loire River cutting through the centre of the city, splitting it in two. On your way
Appreciate the new architecture of the island of Nantes
These two buildings were the most remarkable for me: The first is Manny building covered in aluminum bars and housing architecture studios and creative businesses. It includes a public showroom on the ground floor. According to its designers, it illustrates two essential elements of today’s society, namely creativity, and environmental responsibility.
Address: 19bis Rue La Noue Bras de Fer
La Fabrique building is where Centre of culture Trempolino is located. It is the project where all musical communities can collaborate: all ages, different professional levels, different music styles, local and international levels. Notice the impressive street art on two sides of the building.
Address: 6 Boulevard Léon Bureau
After seeing those striking examples of new architecture, be ready to
Immerse in the surreal reality of les Machines de l’île
Les Machines de L’ile is perhaps Nantes’ most surreal attraction. Les Machines contains a range of large mechanical structures and moving monuments created by Francois Delaroziere and Pierre Orefice. The most iconic is the Grand Elephant, a 12-meter-high mechanical creature operating since 2007. Some strange machines came to populate the Île de Nantes. The two designers also chose to put the entire creative process on display, from the very first sketches drawn by François Delarozière. The materials are in their natural state, and the mechanisms are all visible. The building process can be seen for all the sculptures, whether steel or wood. Being able to watch the workshop of the company La Machine in activity enhances this entertaining and educational performance.In the evening, get back to the city centre for some views and dinner.
Enjoy the views of the city from the top from Le Nid
At the top of the 32nd floor of Nantes’ third-tallest building sits Le Nid, which translates to “the nest”. The city commissioned local artist Jean Jullien to decorate the space, which includes a long stork with a bar in its tail and eggs scattered around for seating. From outside, you can enjoy the views of the entire city. If you want to catch the sunset views there, be aware that the line to get up there might be quite long so plan at least a half an hour in advance of the time you want to be there.
Address: Place Bretagne
Have a delicious dinner
France is very much about eating so you deserve a good dinner after a day full of exploration. My choice was La Vespa des Carmes where I had a cocktail, a beef tartar, and an awesome dessert.
Address: 11 Rue des Carmes
Where to stay
If you want self-service in a pleasant atmosphere, try the 4-star Aparthotel Adagio Nantes Centre located opposite the Ile de Nantes. Fully equipped apartments with kitchens, a fitness centre, and an undercover private parking makes a stay there very convenient. The old town is easy to reach on foot or by tram and the Château des Ducs de Bretagne is 100 m away. It’s easily accessible from the train station.
Address: 19 Allée du Commandant Charcot
How to get to Nantes
The cheap and fast way to get to Nantes from Paris by public transport is by Ouigo, a high-speed low-fare train. Just be prepared to get up early to catch the train from Gare Montparnasse train station and enjoy a two and half hour fast train ride for 16 euros.
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What did you think? Have you been to Nantes? Or perhaps you’re thinking of visiting there in the near future? Either way, I’d love to hear from you so please add your comments below. Want to see more of Brittany? Add Rennes to your travel itinerary!
Author: Anita Sāne