A city guide to Nantes, France

Page 1


Along the Green Line, in Nantes France

Les Machines de l’Île

Along the Line: A curated city guide to Nantes, France

Urban Discover Nantes Landmarks Sights Around the City Art Scene Les Machines de l’Île Estuaire Green Space Jardin des Plantes City Escape Day trip to Trentemoult

Words by Konstantina Pyrnokoki | Photos by Aleyah Solomon

Getting to know a city you’ve never visited before can be equal parts exhilarating and challenging. The latter’s hardly the case with Nantes, though; it seems everything’s been laid out for travellers determined to discover the city’s every corner. Arriving at this enchanting town serving as a gateway to Brittany, we quickly realized that all we had to do to be part of its fascinating history and culture – even just for a few days – was simply follow a line. That’s right! There’s a green line running throughout the city, meant to take you exactly where you need to be. This unusual trail known as ‘Le Voyage à Nantes’ makes sure visitors take in all that the city has to offer by foot. And you’ll be surprised to find out that it’s no ordinary walk. From castles and cathedrals to a giant mechanical elephant or a trampoline moon, you never know what’s coming as you keep following the (quite literal) twists and turns of the green line. If you decide to walk the path in its entirety, make sure to dedicate at least two days in order to fully experience Nantes’ highlights. For now, all you need to do is join us as we take you to the finish line (pun very much intended).

The view from Tour Bretagne

URBAN The first thing one may notice about Nantes is how easy it is to discover by foot. From the heart of the city to the banks of the Loire River, you will immediately feel so in tune with Nantes’ playful vibe and wide pedestrian streets that you’ll find yourselves getting from one district to the other in no time. Allowing for history to coexist with contemporary art and modern architecture, Nantes is a city that knows how to honour its past, while constantly welcoming creativity and innovation through the voice of its artists.

Banana Hanger

Canal Saint-Félix

A tilted building along Allée d’Erde

Walking from the train station and the Bouffay district with its 15th and 16th century remnants, all the way down to the Isle of Nantes (the area closest to the river) and its abundant open-air art, everything appears connected under one big celebration of heritage and culture. Somewhere in between, lively bistros, cafés and restaurants will allow you to unwind and get ready for the next adventure. Even though Nantes’ image has been tremendously reshaped since the Middle Ages, the invasion of modern art into the city’s life since the late ‘80s has not come at the expense of its cherished history. And that’s what makes Nantes so special; the ability to maintain its classic charm while introducing you to its peculiar and vibrant artistic universe.


The appeal of Nantes lies exactly in its fusion of old and new. Brittany’s former capital underwent a massive restoration after World War II, resulting in a completely revamped, artistic look that’s defined the city over the last three decades. But way before the art festivals and the public installations, Nantes was known for its medieval and – much later – its neoclassical architecture, along with its centurieslong tradition of trade through the Loire River. Now, some of its most prominent sites and buildings are solid reminders of the city’s glorious past.

Colonne de Louis XVI , Place Maréchal-Foch

Le Château des ducs de Bretagne Built at the end of the 15th century by François II, the last Duke of Brittany, and later on his daughter, Anne of Brittany, this dominating castle standing tall for eight whole centuries is steeped in history. The château is currently home to the History of Nantes Museum, boasting more than 1,150 artefacts across 32 rooms.

Basilique Saint-Nicolas seen from Place Royale

Cathédrale Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul

City Churches Its nave rising higher than Paris’s Notre-Dame – to a full 37.5m – Cathédrale Saint-Pierre-etSaint-Paul is one of Nantes’ oldest cathedrals, with its first stones laid in 1434. While there, take a minute to gaze at the grandiose yet serene tomb of François II and Marguerite de Foix. Equally awe-inspiring, Basilique Saint-Nicolas stands out thanks to its neo-gothic style and 85-metre-high white spire.

Théâtre Graslin

Place Graslin’s centerpiece, the emblematic theatre of the city was named after Jean Grasli architect Mathurin Crucy to develop the Graslin Quarter in 1750, after coming to Nantes to remains one of the wealthiest in the city, with Théâtre Graslin being its precious jewel. The thea respective muses light up spectacularly at night.

in. The Parisian barrister commissioned o purchase land. To this day, the district atre’s eight Corinthian columns and their

Place Royale

A blue granite fountain is what first catches the eye in Nantes’ most royal-like square. Built i century later – Place Royale honours the city’s strong bond with its waters. The marble statue w bronze statues that portray the Loire River and the four rivers running into it (Erdre, Sèvre, Cher

in the 18th century – with the fountain added a with the trident represents Nantes dominating the r and Loiret).

Passage Pommeraye Following its latest renovation, this prestigious shopping arcade relives its golden years, presenting you with the most sophisticated fashion in Nantes. Take a minute to marvel at Passage Pommeraye’s 19th century architectural aesthetic, with the statues’ reflections playing in the light, thanks to its compelling glass roof.

Tour Bretagne It might be a newer city highlight, but Tour Bretagne has been an integral part of Nantes since 1976. A number of dilapidated buildings in the Viarme-Talensac quarter were taken down in the mid-‘60s to make way for this 144m-tall tower and its 32 floors. Feel free to relax and enjoy the view from artist Jean Julien’s Le Nid, the rooftop café-bar also serving as the imaginary nest of a huge white bird and its eggs.


Nantes’ history may be very much alive through some if its iconic buildings and sites, but, ultimately, its mind-blowing public artworks are what make the city so captivating. Essentially, it feels as if you can’t escape art no matter what you do (but why would you want to anyway?). From the life-like signs on top of the boutiques to the gothic lamps at Place Graslin, creativity is everywhere. You may even find yourself playing a secret game of identifying paintings displayed around the city or taking in a one-of-a-kind exhibition at the hidden Passage Sainte-Croix.

One of the art reproductions being put up throughout the city for a game of identifying artworks


Even though the opening of galleries and museums as well as the general investment in art began in the ‘80s, it wasn’t until 2007 that a very important feature was added to Nantes’ art scene; les Machines de l’île. Born out of Pierre Orefice and François Delarozière’s imagination, this Alice-in-Wonderland-esque project is meant to celebrate the machines of the city in the most inventive way.

Housed in the Parc des Chantiers, at what used to be Nantes’ shipyards, there’s now an entire mechanical universe that’s come to life. The mechanical Great Elephant that walks along the Loire squirting water will be happy to show you around the Isle taking 50 people at a time on its back. Nearby, a carousel of sea animals and marine carriages promises a fun ride, while you may ‘land on the moon’ further down, jumping on the lunar-shaped trampoline with an earth replica hanging right above your head.

Near the banana hanger symbolizing Nantes’ industrial past, you will find all kinds of hip restaurants and bars. La Cantine is especially recommended for the summer months, where you can lie on one of the colourful chaise longues and enjoy a refreshing cocktail from the bar. AltercafÊ will also offer you some much-needed downtime by the river, while you might return for its electronic music nights curated by local DJs.


The most striking art of the city, though, does not end with the machines. In fact, as part of the Estuaire project, a collection of 30 more distinct artworks is on public display in Nantes, in the nearby town of Saint-Nazaire and along the banks of the Loire River connecting the two cities. In an attempt to point out the river’s significance for both Nantes and Saint-Nazaire, Estuaire manages to highlight Loire and its diverse surroundings’ infinite beauty through the most surreal and culturally stimulating art projects. From the side of Nantes, Estuaire unveils a number of unique installations, with some of them using the water as a natural background serving a specific purpose and others blending inland with the city’s industrial landscape. While each of them deserves its own praise, the following ones immediately stand out.

Air - Rolf Julius

Rolf Julius has created an actual ‘audible façade’ for the Estuary collection. Through his Air art music with sculpture, through a building’s metallic, white skin that conveys movement and emit rustling sound, much like the wind.

twork, he wanted to connect s a distinctive, quite soothing

Mètre à ruban - Lilian Bourgeat

Adorning the entrance of a construction company, Lilian Bourgeat’s Mètre à ruban aims to d object such as the measuring tape. Very accurately representing the real thing on a much larger s gigantic tape!

distort the perception of an everyday scale, you’d never lose count with this

Les Anneaux - Daniel Buren

Daniel Buren’s Les Anneaux serves as a magical portal between Nantes’ maritime past and the city’s cu The 18 rings placed along the Loire work as frames that reveal a different point of view depending At night, they turn blue, red and green.

urrent urban aesthetics. g on where you stand.

Lunar Tree - Petra Mrzyk and Jean-François Moriceau A white, dead tree has emerged from Petra Mrzyk and Jean-François Moriceau’s imagination. Seemingly realistic during the day, the tree eventually becomes ‘lunar’ at night when each of its branches emanates a halo of light into the black background.

Résolution des forces en présence - Vincent Mauger

Equally frightening and majestic, Vincent Mauger’s strange object challenges the notions o employing nature’s most basic material. Long wooden stakes are attached to a central matrix, to anyone walking around it.

of space and landscape, creating a kinetic effect


Between walking around the city and gazing at the marvelous art, some form of rest is in order. And what better place to relax in than Nantes’ numerous gardens and parks! There’s almost enough greenery to counterbalance the concrete in this former shipyard town.

Inside the Jardin des Plantes

With 57 square met

which is first and for

produced every yea

including exotic pla

dreamy 19th centur noticeable through

walk among the pla

part of the ‘Nantes w

tres of green space per inhabitant, the city has in fact developed a unique botanical tradition

remost evident in the Jardin des Plantes. Hosting more than 10,000 taxa with 1 million plants

ar, this 1,000-hectare botanical garden boasts one of the top five national plant collections,

ants from America, Asia and Africa. Some of these were even cultivated on-site, in the garden’s

ry greenhouses. Don’t be fooled by nature in its purest form, though; the human touch is still the artistic angle of the site. Impossibly massive and tiny benches will interrupt your peaceful

ants, while a tree’s artificial reflection on the grass is sure to catch your eye. Clearly, it’s all


Along the Canal Saint-Félix

Canal Saint-Félix

‘Feydball’ football field (by Nantes-based firm Barré Lambot and landscape designer Guillaume Sevin)

Water Mirror

Another kind of green space can also be found along the river. Covering over 900 square metres next to the Cantine, gardener Olivier Durand’s vegetable garden produces tomatoes, basil, radishes, courgettes, cucumbers and more, changing according to season and harvest. Along Canal Saint-Félix’s waters you will once more get the chance to lie in the grass, before you stumble upon the Lieu Unique, the old biscuit factory that’s been revamped by architect Patrick Bouchain into an art centre, complete with a bar, shop and theatre. More green space can be found in the centre of the city. Near the Castle of the Dukes that’s reflected on the deep Water Mirror – itself surrounded by greenery – the Élisa-Mercœur square takes the form of a proper town park characterized by vast lawns and bright floral bushes. Its children’s play area is your perfect excuse to become a kid again!


If you want to step away from the buzz of the city for a while, a day in Trentemoult is just what you need. Only a ten-minute ferry ride away from Nantes, a calm fishing village invites you into a whole new world, one that’s extra-colourful, yet overwhelmingly tranquil. This almost self-sufficient paradise will reward you with peaceful walks along the river or endless promenades in between its brightly painted houses. The traditional three-storey residences with the external staircases, the patio tables and the happy summer vibe will instantly make you feel at home – even if your actual house isn’t nearly as fun! If you don’t feel like sitting by the river at dusk, don’t hesitate to join the locals for dancing at the local ‘guinguette’ cabaret. By this point, you might find yourself missing Nantes, so get back on the ferry and let the line show you the way. Or not; there’s only so much a trail can include. Besides, a city’s greatest surprises are by definition unchartered.

In Partnership with

Š 2017 Here & There Magazine