The title of this post may seem strange if you haven't been to Nantes yet, but the mechanical Elephant and LU's Petite Beurre cookies are the two typical things that have impressed us about this beautiful French city, not far from the coast.
Nantes is a city linked to the past, which has been able to look to the future in a careful way. The entire district of la Ile, once a shipyard area, has been completely redeveloped and from this renovation it was reborn as an original and almost fairytale neighborhood, where giant machines are manufactured. Its imposing castle of Brittany, surrounded by the moat, cobblestone streets and beautiful historic buildings, offer a glimpse into the city's glorious past.
It can be easily discovered on a long weekend, strolling through its beautiful center. The main points of interest are located along a path marked by a green line along the sidewalks, which will guide you around the city to the most beautiful attractions. For that reason, I recommend you to download for free The Voyage in Nantes (site nantes-tourisme.com), where you will also find the map with the recommended route.
Nantes really has a lot to offer, we thought to collect for you the 10 unmissable experiences for a weekend, which will allow you to appreciate this beautiful city in a few days.
L'Ile de Nantes e Les Machines de l'Ile
The island of Nantes is a territory in full evolution, this area has been recovered in an original way and today hosts a unique installation Les Machines de l'Ile. This project is the brainchild of two artists, P. Orefice and F. Delaroziere, who gave life to the fantastic world of Jules Verne with the construction of immense mechanical machines inspired by Leonardo da Vinci. The main attraction is definitely the large mechanical elephant, which during the day makes several itineraries around the main building. Made of wood and steel, it is 12 meters high and 21 meters long! Seeing it move and spray water from the proboscis makes you feel so small!
Absolutely not to be missed is la Gallerie, an ever-evolving area where there are machines that will animate the next construction of the park. A giant spider, an articulated caterpillar and fantastic birds, are put into operation letting some guests to get on their backs. It is fascinating to see how such large works, made of wood and gears, can be guided by a simple remote control.
The Carrousel des Monde Marins is the first structure built after the elephant. Located along the Loire, it represents through a carousel the underwater world articulated on three floors, from the seabed, to the abyss and going up to the surface of the sea.
Starting in 2022, a new structure will be completed, Arbre aux Hèrons, an immense artificial tree, covered with vegetation that will house several mechanical animals among its fronds.
There are several entrance tickets, we opted for the one at the gallery, which includes access to the workshop, watching a film and getting on a branch prototype of the next work.
Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne
Last castle on the banks of the Loire before the ocean, this beautiful palace was started at the end of the 15th century by Francis II, the last Duke of Brittany, to be completed by his daughter Anne of Brittany. Inside there is a museum on the history of the city, which we have not visited. It is definitely worth entering the interior to appreciate the large courtyard and the delicate Renaissance decorations of the buildings. Along the perimeter of the walled enclosure you can walk, appreciating in several points unmissable views of the city. We did the whole round, being completely walkable. A short distance from the castle, I also recommend visiting St. Pierre's Cathedral and Saint Paul's. This impressive Gothic-style cathedral is best known for the splendid tomb of Francis II of Brittany and his consort Margaret of Foix.
Le Passage Pomeraye
Located on Rue de la Fosse, it's a pedestrian crossing with three-level, neoclassical shops. Built in the mid-1800s, it is called a national monument. The elegance of the staircase, surrounded by beautiful statues and fine shops, entices you to a walk, a bit of shopping and maybe even some highly instagramable shots!
You can't claim to have been to Nantes if you haven't been eating in one of its crepes shops. Galettes, or salty crepes, are a Breton specialty. Made with buckwheat flour, they are stuffed in a variety of ways, but the one not to be missed is definitely the classic, with ham, cheese and egg. It is often accompanied with a glass of local cider, beer or a glass of muscadet and is a real treat! We tried them in two places: in Heb Ken, a renowned place not far from Place Royale, which since 1976 offers good cracks made according to tradition and in the less emblazoned Barampom. It is the latest informal crepes shop that for us has won the award of the best galette in Nantes! Less emblazoned than the previous one, it has larger spaces (you can also sit on the second floor) and serves the galettes in a simple paper cone. They were good, stuffed to perfection and not too greedy with butter. We tried both the traditional and the delicious nantaise, both of which were unmissable!
A glass at Las Comedie des Vins
In this small restaurant, located on Rue Suffren, glasses of local wine are informally served, especially muscadet, a very aromatic white. I'm sure, as happened to us, you will feel like locals! The room is small in size, but even a simple chair at the counter will be enough to taste a glass among the different proposals available, perhaps accompanied by a good chopping board of local charcuterie.
Le LU: the authentic petit beurre!
The LU factory (named after the owners, Louis Lefèvre-Utile) famous for butter biscuits, was founded in Nantes way back in 1846. The petite beurre biscuit, based on simple ingredients and lots of butter, has now become world famous. The tower of the former LU biscuit factory, now renovated, is an undisputed symbol of the city. The interior spaces have been rehabilitated with bars, shops and a hammam. The best view of the tower is from the walk above the castle walls.
A curiosity about the cookie: some argue that the shape is not random: the 4 corners would indicate the seasons, the 52 flounces the weeks in a year and the 24 small holes the hours of the day. Original, isn't it?
Le Nid: a view from above
On the 32nd floor of the Tower of Brittany, the original local Le Nid is worth a visit. Designed around an imaginative white bird, a kind of heron-swan, the place offers an unmissable view of the city. Come at sunset to enjoy the splendour of the city that lights up. It may also be worth stopping for an aperitif. Elevator access to the venue costs only €1.
In the rain? Musee d'arts
When we visit a city that like Nantes, that invites for long walks is, we always think: what can we do in the rain?!? We had a pleasant morning in this recently renovated art museum, which offers an interesting collection of European works from the 200th to the 21st century, which ranges from Renaissance to contemporary art. You will find a beautiful collection of works by French, Italian and Flemish painters, just to mention a few: Rubens, Delacroix, Monet and Rodin. Download the free app for more information on the works you are most interested in or to organize guided tours of the museum yourself.
Starting in 2014, the center's shopkeepers were given the opportunity to reinterpret the insignia of their stores in an original way. The result is a series of extravagant signs that tell the products offered in an alternative way. They are marked and almost all along the green line, so you can not lose them.
The Talensac market is a real institution in Nantes, with almost a century of history behind it. A market full of local delicacies: the fish counters, cheeses and bakeries are really inviting! I would have bought everything! Not being able to cook, we were content to buy the traditional gateau nantais, a delicious almond cake flavored with rum. In summer, many bars in the area offer the opportunity to eat the products purchased at the market by tasting a glass of wine. Unfortunately in our case, the weather was not the best.
I hope that these unmissable experiences that we have told you about, can transfer you at least a little bit of the beauty of this city French. The city certainly has much more to offer, such as the Jardin des Plantes, which unfortunately we could not see on this trip. Wonder... it might be a good reason to go back.
We hope we've been able to make you fall in love with Nantes, at least as much as this city has captured us!
Before your trip
- How many days? Nantes is a human-sized city and you can easily walk around on a long weekend
- How do I get to the city centre? The centre is close with the TAN bus that stops just outside Atlantique Airport and takes you downtown in about 20min (€9 ticket each way)
- Best time to go? We were there in February, it can definitely be even more pleasant in spring and early autumn, since it is a city to visit on foot
- Where to stay? For a short weekend, I recommend an accomodation in the center, near Place Commerce, we stayed at Hotel Mercure Nantes Centre Grand Hotel. The rooms are quite spacious, but not fully functional, the bathroom is small with no window. During the last evening of forced stay due to storm Hera, we stayed at Hotel Mercure Nantes Centre Passage Pommeraye, the location is a little further away from the public transport, but the property definitely has more charm, with the window overlooking a beautiful downtown street. The interior is definitely more functional and the bathroom a bit more spacious
- Do I need to book tickets in advance? Only if you want to experience the elephant walk at the Machines de l'Ile you will need to book a few days in advance. Also inquire about the opening of the park, because when we were there it was the first day of opening after the winter break
- Where to eat? France captivates us every time with sophisticated and delicious cuisine, especially in less famous cities, offering sought-after menus at the right prices. The restaurant Sapiois worth mentioning. It offers a composable menu that includes appetizer, main course and dessert at €32. Local products are carefully prepared. Delicious seafood tartare, duck fillet and mandarin paplova. Service is kind and courteous at the table. Absolutely recommended
If you would like to find out more about the places we visited during our stay in Nantes, you will find all the details here