When the rest of the world thinks about idiosyncratic cool, minds inevitably turn to France. So, when the French people look for that offbeat vibe favored by individualists, where do they turn? Well, in huge numbers, their focus will land on Nantes. Where else in the world will you find a giant mechanical elephant that you can ride on while spraying water at passersby? And believe me, that’s merely the start of it, learn more about the best things to do below.
1. Take a pass at le Passage Pommeraye!
Okay, so there isn’t much that’s revolutionary about shopping per se, but it does depend on where you shop. This delightful mall was built in 1843 and has stayed the same since (except for, admittedly, the identity of some of the stores inside). While the staircases and the cherubim that line the arcade are classics from a bygone age, the stores inside vary from the chic elegance of Hermes and Byblos to the magnificent kitsch of La Chaise Longue. If you want one location to provide you with an evening gown, a fridge in the shape of a Coca-Cola can and the most sumptuous petits-fours, then you’ve found your paradise.
Address: Rue de la Fosse, 44000 Nantes, France
Website: Passage Pommeraye (in French)
2. Step back into the past at Chateau des ducs de Bretagne
From a monument to style and shopping to a monument to history! Originally built in 1207 by Guy Thouars, then a Duke of Brittany (hence the name), the Chateau has undergone some renovation since but remains a jewel in the crown of its region. Its most recent restoration involved 32 rooms of the castle being turned into a museum to the history of Nantes.
The multimedia nature of this museum allows the visitor to put themselves back in the past, to appreciate the full splendor of 13th-century Nantes. Even better news is that the exhibitions here are free to view on the first Sunday of each month. At other times, it’s an affordable 8 EUR, just over 9 USD.
Château des ducs de Bretagne
Address: 4 Place Marc Elder, 44000 Nantes, France
Website: Château des ducs de Bretagne
3. Experience something different at Le Lieu Unique
Once upon a time the iconic French biscuit manufacturer, Lefevre-Utile (LU), owned a factory in Nantes. When they left it, in the 1990s, it was set for demolition until artistic director Jean Blaise stepped in to turn it into a center for contemporary arts and music. The initials, LU, stayed intact, as the building was christened Le Lieu Unique (the Unique Place).
Here you will find bars and restaurants sharing space with creative studios as well as live shows and concerts. If you’re visiting Nantes, do consult the itinerary to see which shows you could take in. Admission for a show is set at 23 EUR (just over 26 USD), although there are concessions available. It’s easy to reach, too, having its own stop on the C3 bus line.
Le Lieu Unique
Address: 2 Rue de la Biscuiterie, 44000 Nantes, France
Website: Le Lieu Unique
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4. Unleash your inner gourmet with a trip to Gautier-Debotté!
Once you’ve indulged your mind, it’s time to give your sweet tooth a treat. The place that most Nantais head to for this purpose is the chocolatier Gautier-Debotté. Sumptuous hand-crafted macarons and more draw the eye and make the mouth water. There’s also a delightful range of teas for when you’ve overindulged and need something to wash the chocolate down. It’s the ideal location for gift shopping, but a word of advice: go on the last day of your visit, as the treats are too tempting to stay in your luggage for long.
Chocolatier Gautier Debotté
Address: 9 Rue de la Fosse, 44000 Nantes, France
5. Take a walk in Jardin des plantes de Nantes
While most of Nantes’ attractions are reasonably-priced, we all spend a little more on holiday. With that in mind, if you find the need to get your spending under control, you need something that’s both diverting and free. The open botanical gardens found on Rue Stanislas Baudry are a perfect option, providing quiet serenity and a beautiful backdrop as part of your trip. With more than 10,000 live plant species and a collection of small lakes, there is always something exotic to see. There is an admission fee to enter the greenhouses, but even without paying it you can see some stunning outdoor installations and enjoy a break in the Orangerie cafe.
Jardin des plantes de Nantes
Address: Rue Stanislas Baudry, 44000 Nantes, France
6. Tread in famous footsteps at La Cigale
Visit any French city and you will find a collection of brasseries that cater to a nation’s love of the finer foods, wines, and coffee. However, it is the cultural significance of La Cigale, opened in 1895, that sets it apart from other spots in the area. Surrealist artists such as Andre Breton and Jacques Prevert were regulars here in their 1920s pomp.
Additionally, it has been used as a location in several films. Such is La Cigale’s importance to the city of Nantes that it was registered as a historic monument and when the owners turned it into a fast-food restaurant in the 1960s, it was done on the understanding that the original Belle Epoque decor was retained. That art nouveau style remains in place to this day.
Address: 4 Place Graslin, 44000 Nantes, France
Website: La Cigale (in French)
7. Take a few solemn moments to experience Memorial de l’Abolition de l’Esclavage
Amid a city of such color, modernity, and enthusiasm, this memorial to the abolition of slavery takes care not to shy away from the part Nantes played in the slave trade. As an important port, of course, Nantes was involved and while this museum does not begin to negate the wrongs that were done, it does recognize the debt that the city owes as a result. Documents, artwork and other exhibits depict the facts of the era as well as highlighting the work done to bring about abolition. While a visit to the memorial makes for a somber experience, it does bring into relief the progress made since that time. A short walk from the city center, there’s really no reason not to make the trip.
Memorial de l’Abolition de l’Esclavage
Address: Quai de la Fosse- Passerelle Victor-Schoelcher, 44000 Nantes
A city with heart and soul: Nantes is waiting for you
Nantes may not have been first on your list of French holiday destinations, but you’re probably reconsidering that now!
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