Catching a domestic flight from Nice was easy. By this point in the trip, the French words for “exit”, “ticket”, and “line” were second nature. We printed our boarding passes online, checked our bags (which were now bulging at the seams with souvenirs and gifts), didn’t have to remove our shoes for security, and boarded the plane. The quick 1.5 hr flight brought us to northwest France and into the city of Nantes. It was originally meant to be simply a stopover on our way to St. Malo and my work conference, but ended up being so much more…
We caught a bus from the airport into the downtown area. The city was almost completely destroyed in WWII but rebuilt to match the original style. We immediately noticed some interesting “flags” hanging over the streets and knew that this was going to be an interesting place.
A burning crotch? A battleship broken in half with an egg spilling out? We laughed at a lot of them. The next thing we saw was a huge piece of building attached to the end of a ladder sitting the middle of a small courtyard.
We walked through, onto another narrow street, which then opened up into a huge courtyard with a mountain-shaped climbing wall for kids and a orchestra band playing baroque music.
The atmosphere was very laid back and everyone seemed to be having a great time. Not bad for a Sunday. We proceeded another block or so to our hotel, Hotel Pommeraye. It was a very simple and clean lobby with some interesting artistic touches – a clear glass section in the floor with lights underneath and old movie theater seats to name a few. Coming out of the elevator on our floor we saw a very cool piece of art. It was a pen-and-ink drawing of a forest scene that went off the frame and all the way onto the ceiling.
Our room was very clean and nice. Awesome old wooden floors and french doors (what do you know?) that opened up onto a tiny balcony.
The “stripe” on the wall was actually the word “oui” written out about a thousand times. It continued across the wooden floors until it disappeared on the opposite wall. All we could think was, “hipster!”.
One of our guidebooks told us that Nantes had a public bicycle system, Bicloo, that cost 1 euro to ride for 24 hours. You pay online (we had to navigate the french-only website), get an access code to use to unlock a bike, and ride. You can return the bike to any other station (every few blocks it seemed) and it also has a lock to temporarily lock it up if you’re getting dinner or something. We got our bikes and rode to the Ile de Nantes.
What we found there was one of the coolest places of the trip – a giant mechanized elephant and associated theme park, a techno DJ dance party by the river, and an old Banana factory converted into multiple bars and restaurants. Les Machines de l’ile is a group of artists that create gigantic mechanical, moving sculptures. The elephant was so big it could hold about 50 people on it. It sprayed water, “walked” around, and made elephant noises.
There was a small bar where we grabbed a beer and watched the action. The merry-go-round didn’t have your typical animals – it looked more like something out of a Tim Burton movie.
The DJ dance party mentioned earlier was down by the river and featured a beer tent (which was fresh out when we got there) and people hanging out in the beautiful setting.
We hung out for a while and then grabbed our bikes to head for the Banana factory. It was a strip of restaurants along the river with tons of outdoor seating, art sculptures, and more people having a good time.
We grabbed another beer and some snack food and hung out for a while. It was another very relaxed setting.
We both kept commenting on how different Nantes was than any other city we’d been to. The industrial spaces that had historically been the center of the area’s culture were re-purposed and given new life for the public to enjoy.
We then decided to ride back into the downtown area to get some food. We stopped at a castle where a huge crowd was gathered near a pristine old VW bus. It ended up being “A Journey to Nantes” which highlights the history and art of the city. We moved away from the crowd, took some pictures of the castle, and headed on our way to get some dinner.
We had a quick crepe dinner (many to come in this part f the country) and had some fun on our bikes on the way back to hotel.
We were really glad for our day and night in Nantes. I would definitely return to spend some more time here and see it as a great place to live and work. Not as touristy, very down-to-earth feeling, and a lot of cool places to enjoy.
From here, we woke up Monday morning and caught our train to St. Malo on the coast of Brittany.
Check out our 3 Weeks in France page for a full summary of our trip!