I’m not a fan of Paris. There, I said it. But I have visited other parts of France and felt differently. I spent six days in Pays de la Loire’s Nantes for a travel blogging conference, and although I had never even heard of this French city, it’s found a place on my list of suggestions for off-beat places to visit in Europe. If you want to experience a French city without the hoards of tourists and ridiculously high prices, head to Nantes and do these five things while you’re there.
1. Be a tourist and walk the (green) line
The tourism board in Nantes is brilliant. To help you discover the city, they’ve laid a green line linking up sites and points of interest that they think you can’t miss while you’re there. Follow the line, which is 10 miles long, and you’ll have plenty to do and see in a day (or two, if you don’t want your feet to swell up).
2. Go back to your childhood at Les Fils à Maman
Steph, the blogger behind French cooking blog Une Graine d’Idee and the lovely woman who created the menu for our private cooking class recommended visiting Les Fils à Maman for a meal. She suggested getting their famous burger but when we visited I opted for a vegetable risotto, which was top notch. We ate outside on what seemed like the perfect September evening but the restaurant’s decor inside will make you think you’re back in the 90’s. It’s fun, good food, and your bill comes with a jar of gummy candy alongside it. I mean WHAT ELSE COULD YOU WANT?!
3. View the city from Le Nid
At the top of the Tour Bretagne sits Le Nid, which translates to “the nest”. The city commissioned local artist Jean Jullien to decorate the space, which includes a super-long stork with a bar in its butt and eggs scattered around as seating. Pop outside and you can see the entire city; at night, it’s incredible but during the day you can read the writing on the walls (which tells you what you’re looking at straight in front of you) and can spot the splattered eggs that some locals painted on the roofs of their buildings.
4. See something totally unique at Les Machines de l’île
The city decided to do something with an area of abandoned shipyards and created Les Machines de l’île, a unique museum with larger-than-life machines that are disguised as wildlife. Kids would love it but it’s unique enough that adults that aren’t into mechanics will still think it’s pretty cool. The star of the show is the mechanical elephant that’s over two stories tall, walks around and spits out water. You can actually purchase a ticket to ride in it as it walks around. Watch my last Nantes video to see the museum (and the elephant) in action.
5. Visit Hangar a’ Bananes (The Banana Warehouse) at sunset
If you’re up for a short taxi ride, head to Hangar a’ Bananes which is an old banana warehouse that is now lined with interesting bars, restaurants and even clubs . Walk along La Loire, choose your spot and if you get there early enough you can watch the sun go down over the river. Then, in the evenings, these large circles that line the river light up. I have no other way to describe them and don’t know what they are, but they make for such an Insta-moment.
How to get to Nantes:
The airport is just a 20 minute bus ride from the center and runs every 20 minutes or so. You can also hop on a train and get there relatively easily from nearby destinations in France if you decide not to fly.
Would you plan a city break to Nantes? Let me know in the comments below.