City trip to Nantes, former capital of Brittany
We already visited what we consider the fantastic French region of the Loire. We did a tour by car past beautiful castles and excellent wineries. Recently, we visited Nantes, one of the last cities on the Loire before the river flows into the Atlantic Ocean.
The extraordinary history of Nantes as the former capital of the Dukes of Brittany, makes it a particularly attractive destination for a city break. From the 17th century onwards, the city was an important port on the ocean for the (slave) trade with the French colonies. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Nantes flourished as an industrial city.
Nowadays it is a cultural and artistic metropolis dotted with many terraces, restaurants and little, green parks. As far as we are concerned, Nantes is an absolute must-see. Especially if you are passing through to the southwest of this fantastic holiday spot!
Sightseeing in Nantes
Château des Ducs de Bretagne
One of the most beautiful sights of Nantes is the five-century old castle of the Dukes of Brittany. It is the last castle on the banks of the Loire before the Atlantic Ocean. François II, the last Duke of Brittany, initiated the construction. His daughter Anne, twice Queen of France, completed construction.
The castle was restored in the 1990s and at the beginning of this century. In 32 castle rooms you can now find the historical museum of Nantes with its very contemporary decoration. The museum gives a look at the past, the present and the future of the city.
Absolutely worthwhile is the 500-metre long walk that you can do over the fortified walls. You have a beautiful view of the castle buildings, courtyards and the city itself.
Jardin des plantes
Close to the Nantes cathedral is the Jardin des plantes, a very beautifully landscaped botanical garden of seven hectares. It is a wonderful and above all colourful oasis of peace. The garden, designed at the beginning of the 19th century, offers many beautiful flowers, ponds and paths. At one of the water features, there is a nice terrace where you can have a drink.
Les machines de l’Île
The tourist walks available in Nantes also lead to Les Machines de l’ Île on the Île de Nantes. For us this was the surprise of the city. On the site of the former shipyards, you find many mini-parks where you can sit on the grass to relax and enjoy the view of the old town and the boat traffic on the Loire, just like the many French people.
For more action, visit the unique exhibition by many French people who brought Jules Verne’s “Invented Worlds”, the mechanical universe of Leonardo da Vinci, to life. The exhibition is more a combination of an art project and an amusement park. In the beautifully designed and restored old halls of the shipyard and beyond, you will come across many unprecedentedly cleverly designed mechanical animals. Think, for example, of a large elephant that always goes for a walk with a group of tourists on its back.
The cathedral of Nantes
A stone’s throw from the Château des Ducs de Bretagne is the Cathédrale Saint Pierre. On the spot where the construction of the present cathedral started in the 15th century, there were already a basilica and later two more cathedrals. It was not until the 17th century that work on this large-scale building project was completed. In the cathedral you will find two crypts where the treasures and history of the cathedral are shown.
Jules Verne museum
If you have previously read one or more works by Jules Verne, a visit to the Jules Verne museum is certainly interesting. The museum is located in a building from the 19th century where the man who predicted the submarine and space journeys never lived himself. However, he often visited this part of the city because of the inspiring view of the Loire. The museum has a collection of artefacts, replicas of his inventions and memorabilia inspired by his writings.
Sites you should see in Nantes
Apart from the sights mentioned above, the city walk takes you to many other places that we think you should see.
One of them is Le Cours Cambronne, a square surrounded by palatial terraced houses. Another is the Place du Bouffay on the edge of the old town and the chic, dry Île Feydeau. It is a classic, beautiful square with many terraces where it is really nice to hang about especially in sunny weather. Another recommendation is the picturesque LU tower on the corner and at the entrance to a former biscuit factory in Lefevre-Utile. Nowadays it is a cultural centre.
What to see and do outside the city
If you are travelling by car, consider driving to the old seaside resort of La Baule. The old Breton seaside resort became a seaside resort at the end of the 19th century, beginning of the 20th century, but long after that it was home to the French high society.
Another recommendation is the beautiful coastal town of Pornic. The eye-catching thing about this town is the restored Château de Pornic that is also called the “Château de Barbe Bleue” (Bluebeard Castle) because it was owned by Gilles de Rais. Take a stroll through the narrow, old alleys and have lunch at one of the many cosy restaurants in the harbour!
Best time to visit Nantes
The best time to visit Nantes is from April to September. You get plenty of sunshine yet it is not too hot thanks to the influence of the Atlantic Ocean. Keep in mind that many shops and restaurants are closed in August because of the French summer holidays.
We were there in mid-April and had fantastic weather to enjoy a picnic in the park, just like the French.
How to get to Nantes
We visited this beautiful, old city by car when we were travelling through France on our way south. If you only have a few days left and you still have to come from the Netherlands or Belgium, then the train (TGV) or the plane (Brussels Airlines, KLM or Transavia) is your best option.
Moving around the city
The immediate vicinity of the old town, where almost all sights can be found, is so small that you can easily reach everything on foot or by bike. Along most of the main roads you will find green cycle paths. Additionally, many small streets and paths are only accessible to pedestrians and cyclists.
There is an interesting walk through the city, which is indicated on a free city map available everywhere. By means of a green line, the route is also marked on the street in the city itself. So even without a city map or Google Maps you can easily walk through all the sights.
Accommodation in Nantes
We stayed in the ideally located Ibis Nantes Centre Gare Sud. Not a very special hotel, but nice and cheap, within walking distance of the old city centre, and with a parking garage. If you don’t come by car, there is also plenty of accommodation to be found in the centre itself.