Bristol Business News Travel – 72:00 hours in Nantes

August 25, 2017

The former European Green Capital nestles on the Loire river in Western France, 50km inland from the Atlantic coast. And, with direct flights from Bristol Airport, it couldn’t be easier to add a couple of extra days and combine a business trip with a little sight-seeing. On a recent visit Bristol Business News travel editor Anne Gorringe discovered steam punk, outdoor art and, of course, the local muscadet. 

CITY FACTS: Nantes’ population, now 600,000, continues to expand, with 10,000 new inhabitants moving in every year. While the city grows, it wants to remain green – so regeneration has concentrated on once-derelict areas of the city.
Like Bristol, it is known for its quirky, artistic edge. Also like Bristol, aerospace giant Airbus is a big employer. In fact, there are also two Airbus plants in the area – one at Nantes Airport and a second along the estuary on the coast at Saint-Nazaire.
Shipbuilding, once big in Nantes, continues along the estuary at Saint-Nazaire. Since its collapse in Nantes at the end of the 1980s, the city centre docks have been renovated and revitalised as the imaginative artistic and cultural project Les Machines de L’ile. Writer Jules Vernes, author of futuristic adventure novels Journey to the Centre of the Earth and Around the World in 80 Days, was born in Nantes in 1828. It’s fitting that the city has taken innovation and art to its heart.

GETTING THERE: Direct flights with easyJet from Bristol Airport to Nantes operate on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. So it’s easy to arrange a work meeting, then stay for a long weekend to explore the area. 

WALK THE CASTLE WALLS: Venture over to the castle, Le Château des ducs de Bretagne, pictured above, and take a stroll around the walls in your lunch hour. Feel the sense of history as you cross over the moat in the grounds and stand outside the barracks – which were important during the French Revolution. Walking the grounds is free but if you want to explore inside, it costs around €5.  

DON’T MISS: The Elephant, a marvellous 40ft-high feat of art, creativity and engineering, in the Les Machines de L’ile. This delightful, steam punk-style ‘machine’, pictured right, made from wood and leather, walks, opens its eyes and shoots water from its trunk. Driven by a machine at the rear and able to carry up to 49 passengers, it’s one of a number of fascinating ‘machines’ created on the site of the city’s former shipyard. The area is now a ‘playground’ for families and adults – complete with an amazing carousel and artists busy creating more fascinating ‘machines’.  

CULTURE VULTURE: Marvel at the Rodins, enjoy the Kandinskys and be challenged by the modern art at Le Musée d’arts on Rue George-Clemenceau. Be among the first visitors to see the newly-renovated art museum, which reopened at the end of June after being completely updated in a seven-year revamp redesigned by British architectural firm Stanton Williams at a cost of €88.5m. Pop in in your lunch hour to see the 12,000-strong collection. Or go after work – tickets are €8, open every day except Tuesday until 7pm (9pm Thursdays). From September it’s free to visit on the first Sunday of every month.

HAVE DINNER: Le Cigales, opposite the Opera House, is an architectural delight. This simply stunning restaurant used to be a theatre and the stained-glass windows and incredible, blue tilework are all original. If you’re here in summer, you might catch one of the free concerts in the square between Le Cigales and the Opera House. 

GET YOUR BEARINGS: Le Nid is a bar that sits at the top of a 144metre high office block with great views of the city, free music events and stays open until 2am. The building itself looks fairly ordinary from the outside – but the €1 it costs to get to the top where Le Nid sits like a nest on top of the tower is a bargain. Inside it’s designed like a giant stork whose neck stretches around the room, providing squashy seats. You can perch on this, or snuggle into egg-shaped seats. The bird’s body makes up the bar area. Walk the outdoor terrace and admire the view. 

HAVE A POST-WORK DRINK: Grab a beer or something to eat in the former LU biscuit factory. The pretty tower is now a cafe-style restaurant with a factory-style arts centre and is right next door to the Canal St Felix and close to the train station and the city centre. It serves a nice glass of muscadet, the local white wine, for the equivalent of a couple of pounds.

WHERE TO STAY IN NANTES: La Perouse hotel is a good-priced four-star hotel, conveniently located in the heart of the city and near a tram stop. Enjoy the quirky artwork, cool design and, importantly for any business traveller, free wi-fi. Online travel sites such as usually have a double room for around £80. Checkout the Nantes tourism website as it offers three nights for two offers all year round.

BE QUICK AND FOLLOW THE GREEN LINE: You don’t have to speak French to get directions to all the fun artworks on display in Nantes’ annual outdoor summer art show. A 10k-long, green line painted on the pavements weaves its way through the city, taking you on a tour of the artworks in the ‘Voyage a Nantes’ art festival each July and August. It’s an ideal lunch-hour walk. At other times of the year, hire a bike to explore further afield along the Loire to see some of the permanent works of art along – and in – the river, pictured above. Several of the buildings at the L’Ile de Nantes come with their own stunning artwork. A giant tape measure looping around one building is actually the Mètre à ruban by artist Lilian Bourgeat. The art in this area follows the theme of ‘art shakes the city’.

ANOTHER LUNCH STOP: Make time for a quick stroll in the city park of Le Jardin Des Plantes with its spectacular greenhouses. If you have time book in for lunch at the cafe here for spectacular food in the open air. Each summer the park is also one of the venues in the annual outdoor summer art show. Entrance opposite the SNCF railway station.

ENJOY THE RIVER: The Loire connects the city to the ocean at Saint-Nazaire, where cruise ships are still made – the Queen Mary II was built here in 2003. Back in 1917, it was the first Queen Mary that brought American servicemen here 100 years ago when the US entered the First World War. Centenary celebrations at the end of June included a spectacular race from Nantes to New York between the Queen Mary II, pictured, and a fleet of trimarans. To take to the water yourself in Nantes with an evening Bateau Ouch boat ride. Setting off at 7pm, it’s ideal for relaxing after a day of meetings. Tickets can include a glass of fizz, tipple of white or red wine and a great cheese board.

OCEAN LINER EXPERIENCE: If you’re here for the weekend, head for the coast. Hire a car and stop off at the Escal’Atlantic attraction in the former submarine base at Saint-Nazaire. In the Second World War, the Germans docked their submarines here, leaving the city open to Allied attacks. The site has been transformed into the interior of an ocean liner. You even enter by going up a gang plank. You can also tour the Airbus factory for a close encounter with a huge A380 plane. Tickets are €13 and €14 respectively.

STAY IN A VINEYARD: Once part of Burgundy, Nantes is famous for its fresh, drinkable muscadet and fruity cidres. Travel out to the vineyards – the nearest are just 20 minutes away and some have accommodation and serve great food. 

DISCOVER A STUNNING MEDIEVAL TOWN: Explore the alleys and shops on a day out in pretty Guerande. This medieval town has great architecture and is an ideal place to tuck into a crepe and cider for lunch. Don’t forget to buy some of the local salt – the region is famous for its salt marshes, pictured.

TOP TIP: Buy a Nantes pass – available from the tourism office at 9 Rue des Etats opposite the castle – for free entry to the Le Musée d’arts, Le Château des ducs de Bretagne and Le Nid and free use of all public transport. A 48-hours adult pass costs €35 or €45 for 72 hours. It also allows you to get onboard for a €13 river cruise and go for a free ride on the giant Carrousel Des Mondes Marins (which would cost €8.5). The pass also gives you a number of special offers in shops such as Galeries Lafayette. See tel: +33 272 640 479.  

NEED MORE INFORMATION?: See Nantes tourist board website

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