Regularly quoted in newspapers as being one of the nicest cities in France, Nantes is also renowned for being a rich, lively and innovative city, with a booming economy and thriving cultural scene. The cultural capital of western France and gateway to the Loire Valley, this city of history and art with a powerful maritime heritage inspired the imaginary world of Jules Verne. On the north bank of the Loire, the old town unfurls over three main squares: Place Graslin, Place Royale and Place du Commerce, with the cathedral and castle marking the city’s eastern edge. To the south, the main attraction is the former industrial site of Ile de Nantes, now populated with bars and restaurants.
What to see?
Follow the Green Line trail and enjoy an artistic and historical journey across the city. The walking tour is designed to unveil local treasures, from Nantes’ architectural landmarks to many art displays.
For a panoramic bird’s eye view of Nantes, visit Le Nid, ‘the nest’ at the top of the Tour de Bretagne, the only skyscraper in Nantes.
Castle of the Dukes of Brittany
The Dukes of Brittany Castle stands proudly in the city centre, opposite La Cité des Congrès. This fortress will take you back in time 500 years ago. You are welcome to cross the drawbridge over the moat, step into the courtyard and stroll along the wall-walk at the top of the ramparts, admiring the view. The Castle is also home to Nantes’ Urban History Museum.
St Pierre and St Paul’s Cathedral
Close to the Castle, Nantes Cathedral is a fine example of flamboyant-Gothic architecture, with its soaring white marble columns and colourful stained glass windows. It holds within its walls the monumental Renaissance tomb of the parents of Anne, Duchess of Brittany and twice Queen of France.
Machines de l’Ile
Les Machines de l’Ile is an unprecedented artistic project inspired by the “imaginary worlds” of Jules Verne, the mechanical universe of Leonardo da Vinci and the industrial history of Nantes, standing where once great ships were built. You can dive into the magic universe of the Marine Worlds Carousel, a gigantic 3-storey ride dedicated to the sea, or take a ride on the back of the Grand Elephant, which is like being on the 4th floor of a travelling house, with a breath-taking view of the former shipyards.
It’s a real pleasure to walk up the wooden steps of this 19th century undercover shopping arcade, a stunning architectural masterpiece, and indulge in a spot of window shopping.
Where to eat ?
With an abundance of fresh seafood landed on the city’s docks each day, and a vast array of vegetables, fruits, meats, cheese and more arriving from the rich farmland of the Pays de Loire, there is no shortage of wonderful produce to inspire the culinary imagination.
Across the piazza from la Cité des Congrès by the canal, la brasserie Félix is a showcase for the local talent, terroir richness and an art de vivre deliciously Made in Nantes in refined surroundings. The cuisine is modern, inventive and seasonal, served with the finest wines.
More info: www.brasseriefelix.com
No visit to Nantes is complete without breakfast, brunch, lunch or afternoon tea at the city’s legendary brasserie, a dazzling riot of Art Nouveau tile work and frescoed ceilings in a series of historic salons dating to 1895. Fresh seafood (platters from €39) and French classics such as snails, pan-fried calf kidneys and steak in pepper sauce are served nonstop from 11.30am, making it a great place to hit between official mealtimes.
More info: www.lacigale.com
The Bé2M, just a few steps away from la Cité des Congrès, is a restaurant, bar and wine cellar with a jazzy and warm atmosphere. The excellent products composing their boards and plates are enhanced by the Chef’s knowledge. Wines are carefully selected by Mathieu, the Bé2M’s owner and sommelier. Whether to eat or drink, the Bé2M is another unique spot.
More info: www.be2m.com
Crêperie de Brocéliande – Crêperie Heb-Ken
There is no denying the city’s Breton roots with crêpes and galettes de blé noir (savoury buckwheat crêpes). Both come generously brushed in Breton butter – unsalted for sweet fillings, salted for savoury fillings, washed down of course with a bowl or bottle of artisanal cider or apple juice.
More info: www.lestablesdenantes.fr/restaurants/creperie-de-broceliande/ and www.heb-ken.fr
Le Bouche à Oreille
With checked tablecloths and curtains, this is a classic bistro that mixes French classics with traditional dishes from Lyon in eastern France – feisty must-try andouillette (a rich, gut-busting tripe sausage of mega proportions) is not for the faint-hearted. Look for the pig with chef’s toque on the pavement outside.
More info: leboucheaoreille-nantes.fr
This buzzing neobistro would be right at home in Paris. Market-sourced, modern and wholly creative cuisine by English chef Dominic Quirke (a Newcastle lad wed to French lass) is sensational – and extraordinarily good value to boot. Dining is around tightly packed bistro tables or at a table d’hôte–style bar, and don’t be surprised if Dom comes to chat with you. Advance reservations are absolutely essential.
More info: www.pickles-restaurant.com
La Civelle – La Guinguette
A short boat bus ride across the Loire River will take you from Nantes to the breathtaking former fishing village of Trentemoult. The fishermen have since been replaced by artists and freelance graphic designers, but the charm still remains as you wander narrow cobbled streets lined with colorful tiny houses. Take a tour of the town, where cats dart across your path and postcard-perfect scenes await around every corner. Riverbank dining is at its best at La Civelle and also at La Guinguette, where you can enjoy a glass of wine with a selection of small plates.
More info: www.facebook.com/lacivelle.trentemoult and www.laguinguette.fr
More restaurants : www.lestablesdenantes.fr