08 September 2015 by Jessica Boston
A Day in Nantes
Nantes is a large city in western France. It is the capital of the Loire region and has an important role in historic Brittany and a past stretching back as far as 56BC. With a position at the meeting point of the Loire River, Erdre River and Sevre Nantaise it’s easy to see why it is often known as ‘The Venice of the West’. A vibrant, creative city, Nantes is around two hours drive from the port of St Malo and is a good place to break up a family journey to South West France or take a romantic city break.
Here are our recommendations for a fun-filled day out in Nantes:
A magical morning of machines
No trip to Nantes is complete without a visit to Les Machines de L’ile, a collection of magnificent mechanical animals from the weird and wonderful imagination of Jules Verne.
The most famous exhibit is probably the 40ft tall mechanical elephant that makes a 30 minute parade down the streets, with the first journey taking place at 10am. You can buy a ticket and ride inside the elephant for a closer look at the intricate mechanics, or simply watch from the sidelines as the magnificent beast walks by – watch out for the water spray from it’s swaying trunk!
The other unmissable attraction here is the magical Sea World Carousel on the banks of the Loire. The carousel has three levels, each carrying a selection of amazing mechanical sea creatures. Pick your creature and climb aboard, you can animate your chosen steed during the ride using pedals, leavers and pulleys. Some even produce water spray or smoke! Explore the Machines de L’ile exhibition to see more and get a sneak peek at the new inventions being worked on; currently they are creating a heron that will fly around the warehouse!
Take a stroll around Trentemoult on the south bank of the Loire and have lunch in one of the many riverside cafes and restaurants. This picturesque area was once a fishing village and the traditional three storey houses with red-tiled roofs date from the mid 19th century. The three levels were to deal with frequent flooding from the Loire River, and the houses have stairs outside and links between attic levels that allowed people to travel between houses and carry on their business more easily during times of flood.
An afternoon of city sights
After lunch head back to central Nantes to see the main sites and soak up the atmosphere in this bustling city of boutique shops and cafes – a box of pastel coloured macaroons is a decadent treat or makes a wonderful (if delicate) gift.
The most famous site in Nantes is the Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne (castle of the dukes). It is the last castle on the Loire before the river reaches the sea and dates from the 15th Century. The site includes a renaissance palace, courtyard, battlements, gardens and moat. There is a museum delving into the history of Nantes with exhibits and multimedia displays to help bring the past to life. Entry is free so it’s well worth a visit if only for the wonderful views over the city.
Nantes Cathedral is another must-see with stained glass windows and a beautifully detailed interior. The first stones were laid in 1434 but the cathedral wasn’t completed until 1893! Don’t miss the renaissance tomb of Francois II, the last Duke of Brittany, the 11th century roman crypt and the 19th century crypt where an exhibition detailing the cathedral’s history is on permanent display. If you get a chance to attend a concert or service the acoustics and atmosphere make for an amazing experience.
Make time for a visit to les Jardin des Plantes in the centre of town. It’s a beautiful park filled with flowers, healing herbs and rare plants. The gardens include whimsical designs that will appeal to children and adults alike – discover a Loch Ness monster, chickens, a bear and many more botanical tricks and treats.
An evening on the river
What better way to end the day than with a dinner cruise on the River Erdre? The Erdre flows from the North through Nantes and provides gorgeous scenery as a backdrop to your meal. Keep a look out for some twenty hidden castles and grand manor houses that line the river.
Dinner cruises depart at 8.30pm and last around two and a half hours. Some even offer live music on board as well as a sumptuous feast of gourmet local food and delicious wines.
Nantes is a wonderful city to visit for couples or families. The imagination and creativity will bring out the child in everyone and the range of attractions in this cosmopolitan city are ideal for a short break or stopover on your journey through France.