After our visit to the Netherlands two weeks ago, we ended our trip with a long weekend in Nantes. Hubby had to be here for two days present for work and then it’s nice to be able to join sometimes. Incidentally, it seldom happens that we go along, but in a few cases we can plan it conveniently. Having said so, we got into our car and drove in one go to the Loire region in France. Our little girl did an excellent job during the ride. A good test for our holiday to Spain about a few months.
We stayed the days at the Mercure hotel, opposite the old biscuit factory of LU, located about 5 minutes walking distance from the city center. This trendy hotel may not be the most romantic, but absolutely clean and fully equipped, perfectly adequate and is ideal for a short stay or business trip. Like ours was.
France is certainly not unknown territory for me, besides that my parents have a summerhouse, I have visited many places in this beautiful country. Nantes, on the other hand, I knew about the stories, but a visit had never happened. Therefore I was really looking forward to discovering this historic city in a few days.
Prior to that, I had already red some things about Nantes and noted some of the sights that I definitely wanted to visit. The first days with my daughter, the weekend with Ralf. With on the end: visiting the vineyards and sell wine. Something we often do when we take a holiday trip to a wine area. And within the area of Nantes you will find delicious Muscadet wines that we didn’t had in stock yet. An ideal wine for the spring / summer period. Enough to do so during our stay. More about this later. Now a short briefly about the city of Nantes.
Nantes is a port city in the west of France, where the Erdre and Sèvre rivers flow into the Loire at the southern edge of Bretagne. Nantes is the capital of the Pays de la Loire region and of the Loire-Atlantique department. Together with the city of Saint-Nazaire, the city forms the economic and cultural center of the Pays de la Loire area and a large part of Bretagne. After the war Nantes developed into an important economic center, many roads were built and improved, railway connections were expanded and are now largely covered by the city, an airport has been built, the port that threatens to become silted has been made accessible for large seagoing vessels and the industrial area was expanded.
When you enter the outskirts of Nantes you will be surprised with a lot of new build, but once you get further into the city center you will be surrounded by the beautiful historic buildings that the city still has to honor. Like the eye-catching ducal castle Château des ducs de Bretagne, which dates from the 10th century and was rebuilt by Frans II in 1466. The Musée des Arts Décoratifs is also housed in the castle and contemporary exhibitions are organized alternately. The castle has been made public and offers the visitor a glimpse into the life of the Dukes of Bretagne.
From the castle you walk straight into the cozy historic center with narrow streets, small cafes, boutiques and flower stalls. Exactly such an environment where you get that ultimate holiday feeling when you look up at the blue sky and you see decorated facades and small balconies on the left and right. I love to wander through an unknown city and immerse yourself in the local life.
Nantes is not only famous for Muscadet but also for Crêpes. Something Lara and I both love. But these are not just crêpes, you can get them here in all varieties: sweet, salt, richly topped, you name it. An ideal lunch for our first day on tour in Nantes, we thought. And so we entered at Ker Breizh on the 11 Rue de l’Héronnière. A small eatery that appears to be a favorite among the locals, given the small number of empty tables. But fortunately they had a table for two left. Because we were curious about both variants, sugar and salt, we decided to order one with banana and chocolate spread and the day special: scallops, with chorizo, feta and lamb’s lettuce. Okay, quite heavy but tasty for sure. If you are in Nantes and want to try a special crêpe, then you definitely have to visit this place.
A few blocks away you find a beautiful building in the middle of a residential area, I’m talking about the Musee d’histoire naturelle de Nantes. In contrast to the Natural History Museum in London, this museum is slightly smaller. The number of stuffed animals and skeletons is comparable to the Horniman Museum, which we visited earlier in London. But overall it’s a beautiful and nice museum to visit with kids. For more information about the current and upcoming program click here.
After having seen and tried everything, we decided to continue our tour towards the Passage Pommeraye. This shopping center has a look of the 19th century and is named after its project developer, Louis Pommeraye. Since 1976 the Pommeraye has been classified as a historic monument. It’s one of the most unique buildings in Europe with a historical history. In addition to being able to wander around in the shops, the passaga alone is worth a visit. Eventually we bought some macarons and truffles from Maison Georges Larnicol. You can’t leave them when you are in France, of course.
The next day also decided to become a beautiful one: the sun was shining and the birds were singing loud. Nothing better to go out for a wonderful morning walk through the Jardin des plantes. This park, which covers some 7 hectares of green spaces in the center of the city, has about 10,000 living species of plants, 800 square meters of greenhouses and more than 5000 flowers that are planted every season. At the edge of the park you will also find a spacious playground with sandbox where children can play together while parents can enjoy a cup of coffee on the adjacent terrace of the Café de l’Orangeri.
Another famous park in Nantes is the Machines de L’île, a cultural, tourist and artistic project on a site that used to belong to the city’s shipyards. Although this park is not a green garden, it is a park full of mechanical objects, inspired by the wonderful world of Jules Verne. This project was set up by the artists François Delarozière and Pierre Orefice and opened to the public in July 2007. Nowadays the exhibition has developed into a tourist attraction for Nantes with around 650,000 visitors annually.
As a visitor to the park, you can get tickets to the Exhibition space, work studios and attractions. We decided to take a look at the Machine gallery where various mechanical insects were presented and demonstrated. Something that Lara found magical, but also a bit scary. Better known at Machine de L’île are The Carrousel des mondes Marins (2012), a 25-meter-high carousel with 3 floors full of creatures from the sea. and the Grand Éléphant (2007), a 12 m high elephant which is made from 45 tons of steel and wood. This huge mechanical animal can carry up to 49 passengers for a ‘walk’ across the terrain of Machine de L’île. Something we definitely wanted to experience. We were deeply impressed by this park, very special. Definitely worth a visit when you are in Nantes.
Meanwhile, Ralf had joined and we were able to conclude the afternoon and evening together somewhere in the city while enjoying a snack and a drink. Nantes is close to the sea, so fish and shellfish are good to find here. We had booked a table for three at La Cigale. A classic brasserie on the 4 Place Graslin with a beautiful 19th century decor full of colorful tiles, wood paneling and many plants. The place in Nantes where you have to be for a Fruits de Mer and a good glass of Muscadet of course. Please note that if you wish to have lunch or dinner here, a reservation is made.
When you make a city trip to Nantes by car, you drive in no time into the vast vineyards of the Muscadet. The domain of Mélon de Bourgogne, a wine grape from Burgundy, which has dominated the fields here for centuries. The Muscadet area has four appellations, of which Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine is the best known. Muscadet is always a white wine, nicely dry in taste, fresh and fruity. Muscadet goes very well with fish dishes, but can also be combined with white meat, such as a fried chicken.
When you visit the vineyards outside of Nantes for an afternoon, you have to go to Clisson around lunchtime. This beautiful place on the La Sevre Nantaise houses many nice restaurants, hotels, chambres d’Hôtes and boutiques. A bit hidden, but once you are there it is very surprising. When wandering through the narrow streets with only the birds and church bells in the background I got that ultimate French holiday feeling over me again.
We decided to have an extensive lunch at Restaurant La Vallée. A restaurant with breathtaking view over the river and the hill with lovely houses, a church and ruïne of an old castle. Really recommended, very refined, 3 courses, including matching wines. And very child-friendly, also not entirely unimportant.
Days fast passed by, but we had seen and done a lot in this versatile city located in the west of France. Art, creativity and nature are central in Nantes, something you can see and taste. Fortunately the sun showed itself more often than expected, which made it possible to make lovely walks. We keep good memories of it and that usually says enough. Time to pack up and return back towards our hometown London.