Located on the Loire River, Nantes is the capital of the Pays de la Loire region but historically linked with Brittany and is an ideal setting for experiencing the Breton culture, grand castles and cosy bistros of northwest France. City breaks in Nantes are a perfect way to explore this culturally rich destination.
Nantes has a long and prestigious history stretching back beyond the Roman period. Although it is now the capital of the Pays de la Loire region it is generally regarded as the historical centre of Brittany. This gives Nantes a distinctly Breton flavour. To learn more about this heritage head to the Château des Ducs de Bretagne, a magnificent castle that was the seat of the Dukes of Brittany from the 13th to 16th centuries. After this period it became the Breton base for the French monarchy, and today it houses the excellent History of Nantes Museum. Here you’ll find an array of fascinating interactive exhibitions for both kids and adults. Another must-see destination for history buffs is the Musée Dobrée, home to an eclectic collection of artefacts including the heart of Anne de Bretagne, the Duchess of Brittany.
There aren’t many cities where you relax in the belly of a 45-tonne mechanical elephant, but then Nantes isn’t like other cities. At the Les Machines de l'Île de Nantes you’ll find a carnival of strange attractions, from man-made elephants to the 25m high Le Carrousel des Mondes Marines. Both kids and inner children will find a lot to love here. If you’d rather learn about animals of the non-mechanical kind, the excellent Musée d'Histoire Naturelle features an enormous whale skeleton as well as an extensive collection of fossils and stuffed animals. For art lovers, there’s the Musée des Beaux-Arts, home to one of France’s finest collections of art where you’ll be able to see art from the likes of Picasso and Monet. For a real taste of adventure, make your way to the Musée Jules Verne, dedicated to the writer of books such as Around the World in 80 Days and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, who was born in Nantes in 1828.
The Breton connection gives Nantes a distinctly northern French style of cuisine. Famous the world over for crêpes and fine wine, there are plenty of excellent restaurants in the city. Café Moliere, in Place Graslin, close to the impressive 18th-century Théâtre Graslin, is a great place to go for croques-monsieur and steak-frites. Cocotte Restaurant is based in an old butchers’ shop, and boasts an exceptional menu of mouthwatering pigeon and duck. La Bouche à Oreille serves mouthwatering bistro-style dishes, and Le Grappillon offers French dishes with an Indian Ocean twist. If you’d rather tuck into something sweet, Crêperie Heb-Ken has a variety of tasty crêpes to choose from.