The Venice of the West, Nantes sits at the river delta of the Loire, the Sevre and Erdre Rivers, just inland from the Atlantic coast. Originally settled by the Celts, then a major French port city, Nantes is now young and hip with half its population under 40. The city shows its youthful verve at Les Machines de l’Ile de Nantes, the brainchild of two artists sparking off the imaginary worlds of Jules Verne and Leonardo da Vinci, which opened in 2007 in the redeveloped shipbuilding yards.
Not surprisingly then there are huge fantastic contraptions to see and interact with including a mechanical elephant you can ride. The next being built is the Marine Worlds Carousel and you can watch its construction in the workshop area. If this unique project isn’t enough to draw you to Nantes, there’s also the Museum of Jules Verne, one of the city’s best-known sons. The Musee des Beaux-Arts has a wonderful collection of art including Picasso, Monet and Chagall. The city’s best castle, Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne now houses the city museum, and the soaring cathedral took nearly 500 years to finish, from 1434 until 1891. The oldest part of the city is the Bouffay district with winding narrow streets and medieval architecture, also Place Royale and Passage Pommeray, a 19th-century three-tiered shopping arcade.
You can buy a Nantes City Pass which gives you free entry to the museums and also free travel and some shopping discounts. But Nantes is as much about now as it is about history and sightseeing. The bar and restaurant scene is lively, unsurprising given the young population. Head to the Hangar a Bananes, a rejuvenated warehouse on the Ile de Nantes which is full of places to eat, drink and dance. In fact all over the city industrial buildings finding new uses, such as the contemporary performance venue Le Lieu Unique, once a biscuit factory.