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On reading that the city of Nantes (pronounced Naunt) has a reputation as one of the greenest and most liveable cities in France, I was encouraged to visit. So I went by train and arranged an AirBnB for a week to experience it for myself.
I took the Fuji XT10 and its lenses (the 14mm, 23mm, 35mm and 60mm) and a monopod. The XE2 and mid-range zoom too, in case of trouble.
I was lucky with the first 2 days of good light and got some nice exteriors around the city, using the popular tramways to get around as well as walking. I discovered a city not totally given over to the car, with green spaces and pedestrianisation and bicycles.
Unfortunately, in later days I saw sunlight rarely, however it is still February!
Nantes sits by the powerful River Loire and underground there is a confluence with the River Erdre. The Erdre surfaces in the city and provides some charming views and some lovely residential moorings for those (like myself) who love boats! A nearby island with a Japanese garden makes a nice detour.
The Loire flows on for another 34 miles until it reaches the sea at Saint-Nazaire where the shipyards that used to be in Nantes have been relocated. The large island where the yards were located is being developed as an extension of the city centre as well as an area of creative arts and engineering. An extraordinary elephant lives there.
In population terms, Nantes is a young city with a university and colleges. In the evenings, countless bars and restaurants are full of young people, giving it a lively, unthreatening feel.
The château of the Dukes of Brittany is surrounded by a moat and provides a big presence in the city. It is very accessible and free to walk the grounds and around the moat. The complex has a cafe and exhibition halls.
There are “grand” squares complete with grand buildings, an opera house, theatres, and some restored medieval timber-framed buildings, and a wonderful art nouveau brasserie called La Cigale. Whatever you do, when visiting Nantes, go into La Cigale and be overwhelmed by the stunning interior. I was expecting my cafe crème to be very expensive, instead it was the same as elsewhere! A nice surprise.
The restored Passage Pommeraye is also a must see. A shopping area on three floors that has an unexpectedly Cheltenham feel to it. The shopping streets nearby are for those who will pay 300euros or more for a pair of men’s shoes, but do not despair, walk on a little way and there are “normal” shops with normal prices; as many as you could wish for.
The Jardin des Plantes (botanic garden) is a stones throw from the main railway station. Outside it had an unsurprisingly off season feel, but if the glass-houses are open, there are a few delights to be seen in the hot damp interiors.
It was a treat to eat good Indian, Thai and Chinese food at lunchtime, avoiding the plethora of hamburger and kebab joints, favourite with the students.
In the magnificent Cathedral, is the tomb of the Duke and Duchess of Brittany (parents of Anne of Brittany), who married two kings of France (not at the same time!) The sculptures guarding the tomb are remarkable, depicting the cardinal virtues which Marguerite and Ann must have had in spades. It is well lit and has a viewing platform.
Nantes, like many French cities and towns suffered great damage during the second world war, as did its citizens, and lost some architectural gems, but it feels a very positive, forward thinking, go-ahead place. The town has been a socialist stronghold for quite a while, quite unlike the area around where I live, which seems to be dying a slow death.
Nantes is well worth a visit, even in February; it cheered me up no end.