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Nantes’ strong identity is expressed in exciting architectural variety and a dynamic events scene. Capital of Brittany until WWII, it combines the splendour of its historical legacy with very modern cultural initiatives. The position of the ducal chateau facing a remarkable arts centre in a former biscuit factory across the Loire River illustrates this powerful contrast.
Our top five sights
Château des ducs de Bretagne
There’s the double attraction here in Place Marc Elder of a fabulous castle (free rampart walk) and the sophisticated museum of Nantes’ history it contains. Explore the horrors of the slave trade and the glories of the city’s commercial past.
Admire the 18th-century houses built with the wealth of the slave trade in this part of Nantes which was once an island but now contains streets of lavishly ornate architecture decorated by sculpted ‘masks’.
Les Machines de l’île
Situated on the Île de Nantes in former ship-building premises, this enterprise develops vast moving mechanical creations which deservedly attract the crowds. Fancy a ride around the site on or in a gigantic elephant? Not just for kids!
Cathédrale Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul de Nantes
A building of striking luminosity thanks to limestone from the Loire, the cathedral is essentially of 15th-century origin, on the site of earlier versions. It contains the elaborate marble tomb of Duke François II and his second wife.
The opulence of mid-19th-century Nantes is apparent in the architectural spectacle of this covered shopping arcade, decorated to within an inch of its life with frills and foibles.
Shopping in Nantes is a real pleasure, whether you are seeking the sophisticated French boutiques of the Rue Crébillon or original souvenirs in the Passage Pommeraye, an architectural flourish of an arcade in lavish Baroque style. In a very arty city, Rue Jean-Jaurès is the place to browse for treasures or look out for LU biscuit memorabilia in Art Nouveau boxes. Nantes’ own wines can be found at the Maison des Vins de Loire (15 place du Commerce, 02 4089 7598). There’s a big flea market on Saturdays in the Place des Viarmes and a wide range of general stalls on the Quai de la Fosse on the same day.
Food & Drink
Probably the most famous place to eat in Nantes is the brasserie La Cigale (4 place Graslin, 02 5184 9494), going since 1895 and equally renowned for its seafood and Art Nouveau décor. It’s also a salon de thé, so good for people-watching if you can get an outside spot. L’Atlantide (16 quai Ernest Renaud, 02 4073 2323) has a well-deserved Michelin star for Jean-Yves Guého, making booking in advance advised to try the predominantly fishy menu. La Raffinerie (54 rue Fouré, 02 4074 8105) is another address of gastronomic excellence, highly regarded by locals. For a simple, well-cooked meal and good service, La Reine Margot (8 rue de la Juiverie, 02 4047 4385) is a reliable bet.
You’ll have no trouble finding entertainment at night in Nantes – simply head for the Quartier du Bouffay and take your pick of restaurants and bars, many with live music or impromptu jam sessions. Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau is especially popular with young locals and students. If you’re looking for a good bop, the Hangar à Bananes (21 quai des Antilles, 02 4071 0879) sometimes has discos, or try Le Privilège (4 place Emile Zola) for electro/techno sounds. Le Lieu Unique (Quai Ferdinand-Favre) is great for contemporary culture in many forms, and when it reopens after renovation, the famous Théâtre Graslin will be well worth a visit.
Nantes Airport Information
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