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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.
Our top five activities
Sail the Erdre
You can hire an electric boat from Ruban Vert on the Île de Versailles and sail the beautiful Erdre River to the north of the city at your own pace.
Cruise on the Loire and Erdre
Bateaux Nantais (Quai de la Motte Rouge) offer a variety of themed evening cruises, with dining, dancing and entertainment.
The Maison des Vins provides a comprehensive introduction to the wines of the Loire region. Follow this with an established wine route to vineyards in the area to taste your favourites.
‘Mysteries and Legends’ night-time tour
Ask the tourist office for details of this fun tour of the city by night, with quite a few surprises along the way. Skilled story-tellers create a truly exciting atmosphere.
This almost secret location below Le Lieu arts centre is perfect for a spot of indulgent relaxation. The oriental décor will get you in the mood!
Our top five events
June: Printemps des Arts
A spirited celebration of the baroque in theatre, dance, music and visual art to kick off the festival calendar. Events take place throughout the month in various city venues.
August-September: Les Rendez-vous de l’Erdre
This is not just a jazz festival, but a wider celebration of the Erdre River with many events and informative activities. Artists from all over the world feature in the musical programme.
July-September: Les goûts uniques
This is one for food lovers. An extravaganza of local produce, famous chefs, wine-tastings and general culinary indulgence. It ends with a 1,000-seat meal in the courtyard of the chateau.
This festival showcases traditional themes and innovative trends in Breton and other Celtic arts. Expect plenty of music, singing (in various Celtic languages) and dancing as well as exhibitions.
November: Les Utopiales
For sci-fi aficionados, Les Utopiales really is utopia. Get into the part in costume or simply marvel at all the fantastic beings attending the themed films, discussions and art.
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.
Accommodation in Nantes
Nantes has a wide choice of accommodation, catering for all tastes and budgets. Lovers of traditional French style and spacious elegance should make for the 18th-century Hotel de France (24 rue Crébillon, 02 4073 5791), or for four-star contemporary opulence, the Mercure (4 rue du Couëdic, 02 5182 1000) with its lavish foyer. The sassy Hotel Pommeraye (2 rue Boileau, 02 4048 7879) is a well-placed, moderately-priced option with a young professional vibe. For an indulgent apartment break, spoil yourself at the Seven Urban Suites Cité de Congrès on the Île de Nantes (10 rue Konrad Adenauer) with free spa facilities, or try Park Suites (4 rue des Petites Ecuries, 02 2808 1020) in the lively Bouffay quarter.
Nantes is a wonderful place to explore on foot, but you may be glad of the efficient tram and bus service for visiting sights across the Loire River. Buy tickets at any stop and use them for both forms of transport or a quick boat taxi up the Erdre. Getting about by bike is a practical option: the Bicloo scheme allows you to pick-up and drop off all over the city.
Nantes Airport Information
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