Exploring public art in the historic city of Nantes, France.
The Loire Valley is best known for fairytale castles, but it’s also home to many charming medieval cities like Nantes, France on the western end of the valley. A center for the arts and culture, the city commissions global artists to take part in decorating its public spaces and is best experienced in the summer months. The Voyage à Nantes trail, a green line that runs throughout the city, winds through the best outdoor sculptures, green spaces, vista views and inspiring architecture. Overall, the sense of whimsy, creativity and inventiveness could not be denied while exploring this quirky and historic city.
Below are my top five picks for a weekend away in Nantes:
Explore Les Machines de l’île
Inspired by the writings and drawings of Jules Verne, who was born in Nantes, along with the mechanical inventions of Leonardo da Vinci, this amusement park / sculpture garden is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. At the center of this park is a workshop set in a warehouse which showcases current projects including mechanical animals you can ride on, including flying bugs and the Grand Elephant, a large robotic life-sized elephant. Riding on the Carrousel des Mondes Marins felt reminiscent of something out of the World’s Fair with a nostalgia that I couldn’t quite describe. It felt like going back in time. Learn more.
Discover Outdoor Art Displays
I’m the type of person that notices things that are “out of place”, especially when I’m traveling. So in a city that places tons of public art in random spaces, my senses were on overload as we rode our bikes around the city. From a “basketball tree” in the middle of an otherwise normal basketball court to a series of 18 rings designed by French contemporary artist Daniel Buren that light up at night along the Loire River, I could not get enough of the unexpected surprises around every street corner. It was refreshing to see this historic French town embrace modern art and culture in such a seamless way. Learn more.
Visit the Talensac Market for Local Eats
Whenever I visit a new city, I always make sure to spend time in a local market to get a real feel for how people live. This market, first opened in 1937, has over 100 vendors from the area with products that range from cheeses, meats, pastries and chocolates to ready-made dishes that can be eaten on the spot. A staple of Bretagne (“Brittany”, a historic province of France), the buckwheat crêpes were on the top of my list and of course my favorite, chouquettes, straight out of the oven! Learn more.
Admire the Architecture at Le Passage Pommeraye
Only in Europe do their malls look like museums. This covered shopping arcade from the 19th century was recently renovated to restore its former glory and is an architectural masterpiece. Full of cute shops, cafés and the mesmerizing symmetrical architecture, I could wander for hours just watching the shadows change as the light progresses throughout the day. Also, to fully immerse yourself, it’s a fun place to practice the French art and sport of people watching. Learn more.
Enjoy City Views and Art at Le Nid
On the 32nd floor of the Tour Bretagne, a large tower in the center of the city, contains the best panoramic views of Nantes and the surrounding areas. Le Nid, or “The Nest” is the bar that the modern graphic artist Jean Jullien, who was born in Nantes, conceived and created. The space is completely decorated with his graphic illustrations, posters and a giant white bird (part heron, part swan) that winds around the bar. As a designer, I really appreciated all the details and thought that went into the branding. Learn more.
Nantes is the perfect last stop for a Loire Valley getaway before returning to Paris. It is only about a two hour train ride from Nantes to Paris Gare Montparnasse.