Nantes still goes by its nickname, the 'City of the Dukes'. This is a vestige of the time when the city was still the capital of Britanny, the region to which it belonged for 11 centuries (from 851 to 1941). However, Nantes was never just a city, but rather constituted a crossroads between Britanny and Vendée and the sea and the land. A port at the end of an estuary, about 31 miles inland from the ocean, it is a city of merchants, shipowners and enchanted travellers.
Just like Bordeaux, Nantes experienced unprecedented expansion in the 18th century, during the sad time of the Atlantic triangular slave trade, which made the city very wealthy. Again like Bordeaux, it was nicknamed 'the sleeping beauty' until its revival in the early 1990s. Since then, France's 6th largest city by population (nearly 300,000 inhabitants) has renewed its tradition as an innovative city open to the world. Since the time of Jules Verne, who was born (1828) and lived there until the age of 20, the city has developed a tradition inspired by travel and the imagination, portrayed at the beginning of the 20th century by the Surrealists. "Nantes is perhaps the only city other than Paris where I have the impression that something great may happen to me", wrote André Breton in his autobiographical 'Nadja' (1928). From theFolle Journée(mad day) to theMachines of the Isle< /a>and the Biennials of the Estuary (the latter two only available in French), Nantes' current cultural policy is cultivating this furiously inventive affiliation and making it a central attraction.
However, Nantes also deserves a visit for its more historical Classical heritage. The Castle of the Dukes, the slanted façades on Feydeau Island, the surprising Pommeraye Passage, and the walls of 'La Cigale' are all sites that are worth visiting.
Today, the Machines of the Isle are a visit not to be missed. On the island of Nantes, where the city's shipyards were situated until the late 1980s, a strange Bestiary seems to have settled in. Born from the imaginations of François Delaroziere and Pierre Orefice, the world of the Machines of the Isle is located at the crossroads of the 'imaginary worlds' of Jules Verne, the mechanical universe of Leonardo da Vinci and the industrial history of Nantes.
Architecture and entertainment are the two keywords in Nantes. You really must go for a walk through the city centre, as this constitutes a journey through history: the castle and the cathedral, the Medieval district of Bouffay, the 18th-century façades on Feydeau Island and Quai de la Fosse, without forgetting 19th century Nantes from the Royal Square to the Graslin Theatre...
If you have the time, take a quick trip down to Trentemoult! This old village of fishermen and sailors on the south shore of the Loire is very easily accessible by navibus (public transport by boat) from the centre of the city (the shipyard tram stop). It is a superb way to discover the city. In fact, from the banks of the Loire, Erdre or Sèvre rivers, Nantes in general is the most interesting when seen from the water.
Visiting Nantes by car is definitely an idea to put out of your mind! The city of Nantes launched an ambitious plan in the late 1980s to develop its public transport system (trams, buses, bikes, etc.). Proving a real success, this is now a real advantage in the city. However, this just means that cars are even less welcome. Traffic jams and headaches when looking parking are guaranteed.
Sweet Nantes, savoury Nantes. From the 'Biscuiterie Nantaise' (the famous BN) to 'Lefèvre Utile' (LU), biscuits from Nantes are internationally known. Once here though, it is the seafood that will attract your attention. From Loire pike with white butter (invented by Chef Clémencé Lefeuvre in Thouare-sur-Loire, some 6 miles from Nantes) to seafood and shellfish fresh from the coast, you will be in heaven. Without forgetting, for the more adventurous and well-off, the eel (caught in the estuary in winter). In Nantes, eel is traditionally served with a vinaigrette.
I brought you some sweets... As well as the 'Petits LU' (butter biscuits) in their pretty little tins, Nantes is renowned for its berlingots. A berlingot from Nantes is distinguishable from its cousins by its solid colour and exotic flavours. Less well known but much more typical is the Rigolette! Made since 1902, this sweet from Nantes is filled with marmalade. And although Nantes is no longer officially in Brittany, you will have no difficulty finding a sweet made with salted caramel, savoury crepes, or a 'kouign amann' (a Breton cake made with flour, butter, and sugar) to take home with you.
Finally, if you are in Nantes around the 1st of May, you may be interested to know that the market gardeners of Nantes alone produce 80% of Europe's lilies of the valley.
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17, rue Geoffroy Drouet