Another underrated gem in France, yet an important hub of cultural activity, is the city of Nantes.
Built on the banks of the Loire River, only a few kilometres away from the Atlantic Ocean, Nantes quickly developed as an important maritime center. Through centuries, however, the maritime business gradually declined, resulting in the closure of the shipyards at the end of the 1980s. Nantes had to quickly react and adopt to the new era. And that’s where the promotion of its cultural identity seemed to be of the utmost importance.
Ever since, the city has been in a constant forward-thinking and innovative development mode with praiseworthy end-results. Nowadays, Nantes is an exciting, futuristic, and welcoming destination that does not cease to impress. And with long-haul travels set on hold for the moment, city breaks like this should rank high on your travel bucket list!
A Journey To Nantes
Nantes boasts one of the best summer art festivals in the country, known as “Le Voyage à Nantes” (or in short LVAN). As part of this exemplary project, many artists from all around the world are invited to add their personal touch in the urban landscape of the city through site-specific artworks. Even if the festival runs only during summer, some of these art installations remain on the selected locations permanently.
The best way to discover all these contemporary artworks, as well as some of the most emblematic city attractions, is by simply following the so-called Green Line. A lime green stripe painted on the ground, will take you on a 12 km discovery journey through Nantes’ best historical and cultural sites.
Le Voyage trail serves as a great introduction to the city for both pedestrians and cyclists.
Les Machines de l’Île
How many of you knew that Jules Verne was born and grew up in Nantes?
Obviously, Nantes has served as an inspiration to this great writer already at his early age. And likewise, Jules Verne has inspired and continues to inspire the urban and cultural development of the city itself.
One of the most outstanding projects that brings into life the fictional creations of Verne’s fantasy world by using the mechanical engineering ideas of Leonardo da Vinci, is “Les Machines de l’Île”. Hosted in Ile de Nantes, and specifically in a former warehouse that ships were once built, Les Machines de l’Île is a mechanical zoo where machines come to life right before your eyes.
A giant ant, a giant spider, a hummingbird, and the most loving animal in this Mechanical Kingdom, the Great Elephant, promise to leave visitors awestruck.
The place is usually very crowded and due to Covid-19 restrictions there is an additional limitation of the people that can enter the site at the same time. Having said that, do plan enough time since there are quite a few activities you can (and should) engage with.
Visit the Gallery des Machines
In this exhibition space, you will get to admire the mechanical structures, learn their story from conception to realization, and what more participate in a live demonstration of the way they function! During the tour, the commentary from the mechanics is done in French, but you can ask some of the assisting staff to give you a short summary in between two demos. Alternatively, download the official app prior to your visit in order to get access to an audio and text guide. The content will only become available to you when you are on site and it is activated automatically.
Explore the Workshop area
Right opposite the Gallery des Machines is the actual working space of the people that created the mechanical animals you have previously seen in the lab. They are continuously working on new projects and you can admire them while on duty from the workshop terraces. Also available (yet only in French), a short film describing the entire Les Machines de l’Île project all the way from Day 1.
Ride the Great Elephant
By far the most popular and exciting activity for children and adults of all ages! Le Grand Éléphant is a giant mechanical creature measuring 12m in height, 8m in width and 21m in length that has become an iconic symbol of the city of Nantes in recent days. Visitors can comfortably sit on his back and enjoy a 30-minute journey around the site, while this darling beast roams his way through and sprays water with its trunk! If you want to take this ride, I highly recommend to make an online reservation early in advance otherwise you risk to stand in a long queues with no guarantee that you will find an available slot by the time you reach the cashier.
Spin Yourselves Round and Round on the Carrousel des Mondes Marins
Unlike all others, this unique triple decker carousel is an ode to the marine world. It offers visitors seats on various moving underwater creations. Each decker is thematic οn its own way, with the first being the seabed, the second being the abyss and the third being the sea surface.
The Gallery des Machines and the Workshop area can be visited with the same ticket (8,50€ full price, 6,90€ reduced price). Yet, you will need separate ones for riding the Great Elephant (8,50€ full price, 6,90€ reduced price) and the Carrousel (8,50€ full price, 4€ reduced price).
For any ticket you buy from the ticket office or sale you make at the gift shop, remember to always ask for your payment to be rounded to the next euro. Through an initiative of Les Machines de l’Île, your money will support the Conservation Center in Laos that strives to preserve the Asian elephant from extinction.