Don’t believe the French when they say they speak “good English.” The majority of them won’t get past ten or fifteen words. Do believe that the city of Nantes is worth the talking with hand, feet and dictionary app.
The city of Nantes is a two hour by train trip away from Paris. It used to be part of the duchy of Brittany and there are still some fancy Breton flags and stripes around. The chateaux, these days a great place to hang out on the grass, was partly built by bad-ass Duchess Anne of Brittany. Persephone Magazine has an awesome writer for awesome historical ladies, so I won’t wax on about why she was bad-ass. But she and her family left an amazing, huge chateaux with a museum that’s a maze and will take up your entire day if you’d let it.
I went to Nantes (first of all) because of the Great Elephant. For a couple of years I’ve heard about it, seen it on steampunk filled pages, the entire ile sounded pretty awesome with taking back deserted harbour grounds and making it organic, artsy and cool. We found it on our first day and gravitated back to it a couple of times. Riding the Elephant was the chocolate sprinkles on the cake.
If marine-themed carousels and basketball hoop trees don’t excite you all that much, Nantes has plenty more to offer. Especially lingerie shops, up to five in one street. Besides that, there are a lot of boutiques and very few chain stores (we didn’t encounter ANY McDonald’s or similar places). There are several museums (The Jules Verne museum being one of them, as Nantes is his birthplace), expositions and, right now until September 1st, an art route through the entire city. It’s all very easy accessible, a lot of the art is on squares, up against buildings or in the water. We bought a City Pass, so we got free access to a lot of museums and the public transport, leaving us with more money to spend on food.
Because really, going to France without enjoying the food? We could have survived the week (enjoyable) on savoury and sweet galettes (crÃªpes made with wholegrain flour) but that would have meant missing out on all the other delicious offers. There are several streets stuffed with restaurants representing different corners of the world, but my inside -tip would be Le Captainerie on Quai de La Fosse, near the bridge of Anne de Bretagne. It seems to be nothing more but a marine-themed truckers’ cafÃ©, but the lady of the house looks like a French clone of Edna (of The Incredibles, not the Dame) and she made us the best omelettes we’ve ever eaten.
Nantes is a spacious city, with green scattered through the streets. If you need more of that, you can go to their Jardin, one of the four biggest in France. In this park there’s a botanic garden, a water play yard, faerie tale elements and loads of space to sit and relax. If the word park still doesn’t feel nature-y enough, I’d recommend hiring a car (or finding a bus) and get to the Naturelle de Grand Lieu Reserve. You could get lost in it (we did).
Leaving Nantes, Paris felt too loud, dirty, and stuffed with tourists. I’d never call myself a Francophile, but Nantes and its surroundings really made me change my mind about a holiday in France.