Nantes, the historic city of the kings of Brittany, is the perfect place to immerse yourself in Breton history while enjoying its dynamic contemporary atmosphere.
Nantes has been part of the Loire-Atlantique department since 1790, but its inhabitants are still very much Breton in spirit. It's true that a charming scent of Armorica still hangs in the air in the city, built on the majestic river Loire. A detour via the countless crêpe shops in the quartier Graslin or Cours Cambronne will give you a real, delicious taste of this Celtic nostalgia.
Start your exploration of the city with a visit to the Château des ducs de Bretagne, which will immediately immerse you in the mediaeval atmosphere of the court of Anne of Brittany, who was Queen of France. If you come in the summer, try to book for the illumination of the moat and the ramparts, and unforgettable enchanting spectacle. The museum recounts the history of Nantes over five centuries; entry is free.
Next, take a little time to wander the cobbled streets around the superb passage Pommeraye, whose decorated arcades are filled with beautiful boutiques. The mediaeval area of Bouffay is perfect for a lively meal in the evening, with eel from the Loire, a glass of Muscadet and a salted caramel tart, for example. If you're looking for a waterside atmosphere, the banks of the Loire are charming– a slice of calm in the middle of the city – and the estuary, which goes from Nantes to Saint-Nazaire, is packed with natural and cultural treasures.
Lovers of visual art will be spoiled with two unmissable visits that are perfect for young and old alike. It's impossible to escape the Machines de l’île, which live in the former naval shipyards. Your children will love riding 12 metres up atop the giant mechanical elephant, and straddling the creatures of the 25-metre-high sea creatures carousel. Alongside the Saint-Félix canal, the former Lu biscuit factory (and its famous all-butter biscuits!) is now known as the Lieu Unique. The fantastic industrial building has been turned into an unusual art centre, with regularly changing exhibitions.
Nantes is the capital of the Loire-Atlantique department and you can get there by flying to Nantes Atlanique Airport or by high-speed train (two hours from Paris). In town, you can get around via the tramway.