Nantes city is in the province of Brittany, Brittany was once its own independent nation and Duchy before becoming part of the Kingdom of France in 1532. Britons are still to a degree quite fiercely independent and proudly fly the Gwenn-ha-du or the ‘black and white’ the unofficial flag of the south west of France. Nantes itself is a city on the Loire river, 50 km (31 mi) from the Atlantic coast. closer enough to the depths of the atlantic to still get a tang of salt on the wind. Inside the city you will find a beautifully architectured city both old and new, complete with the quintessentially French narrow streets and stunning wrought ironwork. however as a tourist the most fantastic thing is actually a big long line painted in the pavement. The city council of Nantes in an effort to show off the city’s historical prowess painted a line on the pavement that takes you past all the major attractions in the city! We obviously followed said line and found ourselves at the following must see destinations.
1. Passage Pommeraye
Our first stop was the Passage Pommeraye; a shopping center in the center of the city, it was named after Louis Pommeraye a property developer. It was constructed between 1840 and 1843 and its classed as a historic building, it is hands down the prettiest shopping mall I have ever walked into! the renaissance style statues adorn the balcony and stairwell on two levels. The balcony and hall open out onto the top and bottom of streets rue Santeuil and rue de la Fosse. The mall itself has a collection of small shops, including a fantastic chocolate and sweet shop, with hugely elaborate chocolate sculptures, and a variety of different macaroons.
2. Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne
The Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne or the Castle of the dukes of Brittany is Nantes History Museum. It was also the residence of Brittany’s dukes and duchesses between the 13th and the 16th century, naturally it is a wealth of history. Whether you want to go in, or just do as we did and take some photos of the outer walls, the castle itself is pretty spectacular. The castle is open to the public from 10am till 6pm Tuesday to Sunday. So I advise don’t do what we did and turn up to have a look at historic tourist places or just shops in general on a Monday.. nothing is open! And be careful of Tuesday’s as well when museums are closed. 😅 The castle, along with holding historical exhibitions also has a restaurant, so if you feel like dining in a castle, Nantes is the place to do it!
3. Cathedrale de Saint-Pierre et Saint-Paul
Situated in the heart of the city stands a very large, very white stone building. The Cathedral of Saint Pierre, as the building is locally known is a dominant structure in France and is also on our green line city tour. Not that you could miss it.. Its huge! At 63 mtrs at its tallest towers, roughly 38 mtrs in width on the inside and an impressive just over 100mtrs in length.. Its a big building! It took 457 years to complete and was finally finished in 1891, interestingly it has been known as a monument historique since 1862 before it was even finished. But this holy site was not always a revered Gothic style, Roman catholic church. Previous to that it was a druid temple, thought to be in honor of one of the Roman gods. The current cathedral holds the tomb of François II Duke of Brittany and his second wife Marguerite de Foix. The duke’s tomb is a highlight for many entering the expansive building. Its definitely worth taking the time to go see it, and the crypts are also open to the public at certain times.
4. Have lunch in the city center
After walking around the historic buildings for a bit, its worth following that green line to the restaurant streets of Nantes. Now that you have worked up an appetite sit down for a bite in one of the quaint little restaurants or cafes.. Just not on a Monday if you want options. (This is what we get for going to town on a Monday!) If your really looking for a reasonably priced meal and something authentically french. Stop in at one of the many creperies, or head into one of the small cafes for a coffee and a macaroon or croissant.
5. City garden walks
After you have eaten it will be time for a ‘digestive walk’ and the perfect place to go is any of the beautiful parks and green spaces in Nantes. Visit the Jardin des plantes de Nantes, or follow that magical green line to several little parks round the city. We were shown a gorgeous little garden among the apartment buildings in one of the side alley shopping streets. You climb a set of stairs to view this beautiful garden in a totally bizarre setting. Walk around and you will surely find a small green park somewhere in the city.
6. Visit the Natural History museum
One of the little park gardens in the city actually holds the Natural History museum of Brittany. For a minimal fee of between 2 and 4 euro you can enter the museum any day of the week except Tuesday, and a few other days through the year. Click here to find out more. The museum is quite small but enough to keep you entertained for a couple of hours with their collection of taxidermy animals and a big collection of rocks and minerals. A good outing for the whole family.
7. Slavery memorial
Another must see though on a more somber note is the abolition of slavery memorial. Nantes was the most active slave trading port in 18th century France. The memorial is an artistic reminder of the struggles of the people that travelled through not only Nantes port but all others on the trade route. It details both France and the rest of the worlds part in the trade, and how the world has progressed in banning slavery in all its forms. It also acts as a reminder that though slavery is illegal it still occurs today. It opens and continues the rhetoric for conversion about human rights and past and present collective trauma. It is worth seeing and paying tribute to the passage of so many lives that were bought, sold and lost over the docks of Nantes.
8. The Machines
The city itself is a melting pot of old and new architecture, and one of the biggest tourist hot spots of the city is the island in the center of two branches of the Loire. This is also where our tourist line ends. The island once a fishing and industrial zone has been transformed in recent years. The old shipyards were renovated to hold The Machines of the isle of Nantes. The great elephant is a mechanical elephant that was built in 200. it’s 12 metres (39 ft) and 8 metres (26 ft) meters wide, made from 45 tons of wood and steel, and it can take up to 49 passengers for a 45-minute walk. It is an inexact replica of The Sultan’s Elephant from Royal de Luxe, which toured the world from 2005 to 2007; a show created to honor french novelist, playwrite and poet Jules Verne. This elephant however has been built to hold passenger, and for a fee you can go see how the machines are built (there is more then one) and can ride in the elephant. We were on the island while the elephant “went walking” though we hadn’t paid to go inside, seeing the massive wooden and steel elephant slowly make its way around the island while spraying water at all the onlookers certainly was spectacular.
9. Ocean Carousal
The island doesn’t just hold the machines, it also has a gigantic ocean inspired carousal. The carousal consists of three levels stacked on concrete lacework featuring the different levels of the ocean and the machine sea creatures that inhabit them. The giant steel aquarium reaches a height of almost 25 metres! And around 22 metres in diameter. This thing is huge! And absolutely spectacular. The open hours vary month to month so its best to check the website -> https://www.lesmachines-nantes.fr/en/practical/opening-hours/ to make sure its open. The website covers both the elephant and the carousal as they are under the banner of the same project.
10. Visit Trentemoult
After seeing the magnificence of the city center and visiting the great Machines of Nantes, why not take the water taxi over to the fishing village of Trentemoult. This little village has a stunning array of colourful houses, its the picture perfect spot to sit and watch the sun dip into the horizon while enjoying a glass of french wine. Or take a walk through the narrow streets with the brightly colourd buildings and little terraced gardens, and oddly protest posters as well. The village has been the setting for an anti nuclear campaign, as the french government have in the past and still into the present wanted to put a nuclear plant near this little village. Many citizens of Nantes and those living in the village have vehemently opposed this and so the posters stay as a reminder of that.
That’s my list, of course this only scratches the surface of the city of Nantes and it wouldn’t be hard to lose a few days in the city exploring all it has to offer. We certainly enjoyed our time there and will be back! As always thanks for tuning in, don’t forget to leave a comment and hit that like button. I’ll see you next time for more out the gate adventures on wild coast of Bretagne!