A CITY IN CULTURAL CHANGE
→ Creative, innovative, versatile, dynamic, young, modern…this wonderful city along the Loire-Delta – only 60km from the Atlantic Ocean – surprises in many ways. Actually, the future of Nantes did not look good at all with the fall of the shipyard industry in the 80’s and the consequent regional economic crisis and high unemployment rate. But Nantes managed the cultural change and these days many students, creative people and artists from all over the world call Nantes their home. We actually learn from a local, that Nantes and Bordeaux are the two current cities where young French people want to be.
In the early evening, we arrive at our Hotel “Oceana” in the middle of the city center at “Place Graslin”, where public cars are restricted. We don’t waste time and go straight to discover the city and walk through the lively streets with small restaurants, cafes, boutiques and bars. Very close to the hotel is the shopping mall “Pommeraye-Passage”, an architectural masterpiece from the 19th century, with beautifully decorated galleries over three floors – it counts as one of the nicest shopping malls in Europe, which we can now certainly confirm. Later in the evening we decide to have dinner right around the corner of the hotel at the restaurant “My Resto”; and we can only recommend this place for good fusion food.
Open air art
We start the next day with a typical French breakfast – Croissants, Pain au Chocolate and Coffee – at the traditional brasserie and restaurant “La Cigale”. This elegant art-nouverau-style brasserie from 1895, with beautiful wooden and ceramic art covering the walls and ceilings, is a landmark of the city and a place that everyone should visit. We start to explore Nantes with a visit to the city district “Bouffay” and the imposing city castle “Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne” from the 15th and 18th century. The historic museum gives a good impression of the beginnings of the city all the way until today’s metropolitan city and its uncomfortable past around slavery, the driver of the economic wealth in the 18th century.
The lovely park “Jardin des Plantes” is very close to the castle and is one of the 4 biggest botanic gardens in France. With 10.000 exotic and domestic plants and many little surprises like giggling mushrooms in a bed of flowers or an oversized park bench, make this city park a small gem and a must see for all visitors.
A short visit to the former cookie factory LU “Le Lieu Unique”, which today offers plenty of space for the creative, art exhibitions and shows, a book store, bar and restaurant and even an oriental Hammam. My personal highlight: after nightfall, projectors show the image of young woman – “Nymphe” or “Sirene” – on the surface of the water in the adjacent canals…purely ingenious, fascinating and somehow magical.
“Le Grand Éléphant” – The trademark of Nantes
Most of the following day we spend in the city district “Ile de Nantes”, the old harbor and industrial area of Nantes that has developed into a dynamic, cultural and creative center of the city. A number of bars, cafes and exhibition areas have established along the quayside. A large recreational area was created for the young and the old to spend their day and the large old cranes remind of the shipbuilding days. We explore the rather large area with bicycles, which can be rented at automated stations at many places around the whole city. A real highlight is the encounter of a huge mechanical elephant that slowly walks around the area, escorted by an excited audience on its side. Many other mechanical wooden and metal sculptures, that were created with the inspiration of the novels by Jules Verne, can be seen at the museum “Machines de L’Ile” and at the fascinating carousel “Carrousel des Mondes Marins” is certainly worth a visit. People can actually ride or fly on some of the machines including the elephant. I have the pleasure of riding on a giant ant and Jan joins the fun on a huge spider.
After two amazing days in such an inspiring and exciting city, we must continue our journey. But we will return, as we have not nearly had enough of this great place.