My previous post on my new favourite French city, Nantes, was all about how contemporary art and architecture was taking over the city, creating an incredibly chic and cool place to explore. However, whilst Nantes is absolutely bursting with contemporary art; its older and more traditional sights definitely shouldn’t be overlooked.
One of the first places I visited was Chateau de ducs de Bretagne or Castle of the Dukes of Brittany; an imposing fortified chateau which dates all the way back to the 13th century. It has an adorable moat around the outside which gives it some great character. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a real chateau with a moat before this so I loved it!
The inside of the chateau houses the Nantes History Museum and has recently undergone a complete restoration. I was a little disappointed by just how modern the interior had been made as I felt it would have been more interesting and atmospheric had it retained as much of its traditional charm as possible. Despite this, the museum itself is excellent; very informative and interactive. Perfect for kids and big kids like myself!
Another stunning piece of traditional architecture within the city is the cathedral. It’s first stones were laid in 1424 yet was not completed until 1893, more than 400 years later! The interior domes reach to over 37 metres, which incredibly, is higher than those of the Notre-Dame in Paris.
As a city, Nantes has strong links to the slave trade movement as many 18th century ships were constructed here and sailed from the port towards Africa to buy slaves. As such there is an area of the city, the Feydeau Quarter which is filled with opulent and lavish residences which housed the slave traders and owners.
The houses and buildings of the Feydeau Quarter were built on what used to be a stretch of the Loire River and I guess someone forgot to tell the builders that sand isn’t the most stable of materials to build on as many of the buildings have wonky doors and windows due to sinking foundations!
One of my favourite places that I visited in Nantes was what our tour guide referred to as ‘Nantes’ jewel’- La Cigale. This art nouveau restaurant is richly decorated and today remains as it was when it was built at the end of the 19th century.
The food at La Cigale is sumptuous and indulgent and while you’re there you should definitely try a glass of the local french wine- Muscadet. We drank it with every meal (except breakfast, of course!) and I even brought a bottle home with me to relive my time in Nantes!
Across from La Cigale is the Opera House- a perfectly preserved, imposing building which dates back to the 18the century. The eight marble columns on the exterior of the building and the muses which sit atop it, serve to give the Opera House a distinctly Italianate feel which I loved.
Another example of Nantes’ traditional architecture is Passage Pommeraye, a beautiful shopping arcade built in 1843. It is built over three floors and connects what was once the business side of the city, with the area of the city more associated with leisure.
As you can see from the above picture, when I visited Passage Pommeraye it was full of (very talented) artists who were each attempting to capture the beauty of the arcade in different and unique ways. This, for me, sums up Nantes and it’s people. In some cities such as Rome, Barcelona and Florence which are filled with unquestionably beautiful art and architecture, I often find that local people don’t stop to appreciate it. However, in Nantes, it’s clear that the local people are proud of their artistic city; proud of the traditional architecture which has been perfectly preserved; proud of the new contemporary art which is springing up all over the area; and proud of the way these two are combining to place Nantes firmly on the map.
I travelled to Nantes with CityJet, who run daily flights from London City Airport. My trip was also sponsored by the lovely people at Le Voyage a Nantes, Nantes Tourisme and the Pays de La Loire Tourist Board.