Between historical heritage and artistic effervescence, Nantes didn't choose. With no preconceived ideas, the city takes advantage of its architectural and industrial remains to welcome contemporary culture and give free rein to the most innovative creations. The Machines de l'Île, a space of exhibition and entertainment unmissableWhile there are many places to meet and play in the city.
The Place du Commerce, the traditional heart of the city, is where the people of Nantes usually meet for a drink before going for a walk or a party. The immense terraces that invade this pedestrian square are very pleasant. For shopping, you have to take a few more steps and venture into the surrounding streets, starting with the Pommeraye passageway which opens into the small cobbled street of the Fosse. Beneath its immense glass roof, this sumptuous 19th century shopping mall is home to an anthology of beautiful boutiques. After walking through its three levels and climbing its grand staircase, the walker discovers the rue Santeuil, full of bars and gourmet tables
Just a few steps away, it is the Rue Crébillon, long a reference in luxury, which connects the Place Royale to the Place Graslin. Spectacular, the latter is known to the people of Nantes for its priorities on the right (beware of tourists who would be fooled by its false air of a roundabout!), but also for the imposing 18th century theatre that overlooks it. Behind its Corinthian columns, weekly concerts and operas are performed in a baroque setting. After the performance, some music lovers usually cross the square to stop at La Cigale, a must-see address in Nantes. Within the walls of this Art Nouveau brasserie, designed in 1895 by the ceramic architect Émile Libaudière, the Belle Époque still twirls around in search of pleasure and beauty. A listed historical monument, La Cigale has even inspired directors such as Jacques Demy, who filmed Lola there in 1961. Today, you can savour local cuisine with a focus on fish and local market garden produce. The seafood platter remains a sure bet!
In the footsteps of Duchess Anne
Then, on the other side of the Cours des 50-Otages, the main artery of the town centre, the walker goes back in time to plunge into the medieval history of the town, punctuated by the castle of the Dukes of Brittany. Cross the drawbridge to enjoy a really nice and never boring visit, even for the youngest! Walk on the ramparts around the moat, a few steps in the courtyard to admire the crown of Duchess Anne reflected in the water of the well and visit the museum. Playful and well thought-out, the museum appeals to all generations with its models, interactive screens, videos and varied exhibitions.
At the foot of the castle is the old Bouffay district with its maze of small streets with picturesque names: rue du Vieil-Hôpital or des Petites-Écuries, place du Pilori... Among the abundance of shops and small restaurants, a few half-timbered houses dating from the 15th century still remain, including the superb Apothecary's house. Don't forget to cross the passageway of the Place Sainte-Croix, easily spotted by the bell tower which dominates its church. Bordered by a medieval-inspired garden, this open art gallery has taken over the former priory, linking the past to the present with genius. Finally, it would be a pity not to salute the cathedral of Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul. For the thrill, don't forget to descend into the crypts. Open to the public, they enclose the treasure and its liturgical ornaments. After this historical parenthesis, it is very pleasant to reach, not far away, the banks of the Erdre and to have lunch there, why not, on a barge. Several cruise departures are possible for a bucolic afternoon.
To the south of the castle stands the tower of the Unique Place. Ultra kitsch, it is easily recognizable and invites you to walk on the slabs of the former biscuit factory where the famous LU butter biscuit was born. At the top of the tower, fall back into childhood by discovering the Gyrorama (belvedere open to the public all year round). There, everyone is invited to operate a mechanism worthy of Jules Verne himself to enjoy a panoramic view of the city. On the lower level, a video retraces the epic story of the LU factory before its metamorphosis. By evoking the filling in of the Loire, the film also reminds you that Nantes, once called the Venice of the West, was, before the 20th century, a city of islands and water, crossed from one side to the other by the many arms of the river. On the ground floor, no more pure butter biscuits are made, but the production of contemporary art is actively nurtured, in an atypical space with multiple facets: bar, club, restaurant, bookstore, boutique, but also an art laboratory. Throughout the year, contemporary exhibitions, literary encounters and live performances take place there. Concerts, theatre, magic, circus, dance... A bubbling cultural centre completed in the basement by the Zeïn Hammam, the opportunity for a well-being break in a totally exotic atmosphere: the pleasure of real oriental baths in a sensual setting combining traditional mosaics and industrial remains
The temptation of an island
For several years now, Nantes has been passionately vibrating to the rhythm of contemporary creation with, as a highlight, its island in perpetual mutation. Surrounded by the Loire River, the island has ambitious urban projects while encouraging the zest of cultural madness that now animates the site of the former shipyards. There, alongside the Great Elephant which daily surveys its territory, watering passers-by, a mechanical and fairy-tale bestiary awaits visitors in the Machine Gallery: a must-see! For a coffee, a ride on the merry-go-round and a jump to the specialist bookshop (Leonardo da Vinci admirers, don't miss the chance to explore its shelves!), take advantage of the moment before continuing the walk along the playground and its tropical vegetation. Pass under the yellow Titan crane and continue straight on towards the Banana Shed. A Mecca for Nantes parties, it really comes to life as soon as night falls and Buren's colourful rings light up. The party is then in full swing in the restaurants, bars and clubs where people dance until dawn
When? All year round to take advantage of the various events that the city offers.
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