In a way, Nantes could probably be viewed as the gateway not only to the Loire Valley, but also to the rest of France. That’s not first and foremost because of the many vineyards found along the Loire Valley, and not primarily due to the architecturally interesting towns and castles that flank France’s longest river (the Loire river is 629 miles/1,013 kilometers long). No, it’s because the Loire Valley has sometimes been referred to as the cradle of the French language – a language that is intimately connected with France’s national identity.
Still, Nantes has not always been a part of greater France. Until 1532, Nantes was a part of a self-governing region in north-western France known as the Duchy of Brittany. Nowadays the sixth largest city in France, Nantes once constituted the southernmost part of the Duchy.
You will find a good many traces of the times when Nantes was not a part of France – for example, the Chateau des Ducs – actually built in order to protect the city from attacks from the Kingdom of France (see below under Do Not Miss).
During the 18th century, Nantes developed into the largest port in France – partly due to the slave trade. The following century saw the industrialization of the city. In fact, the greater Nantes region is still very active when it comes to industry. In nearby St. Nazaire, the Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard is one of relatively few yards to specialize in the construction of cruise ships. This is where Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2 was built. Some of those traveling on board that ship might have arrived to their port of departure on board an Airbus 380 – the world’s largest passenger aircraft. Some of the components of that airplane model are completed in Nantes.
The city of Nantes, with its 800,000 inhabitants, is situated on the Loire River, some 30 miles/50 kilometers from the Atlantic coast. The roots of the city can be traced to a town founded by the Gauls around 70 B.C. With its stone paved streets and the many half-timbered houses in the Bouffay quarters, Nantes is home not only to a lively community of artists but also to some 50,000 students.
Venture outside the city limits to enjoy the Loire Valley with its many vineyards and castles.
The main cruise terminal is situated in the city center of Nantes. Two other terminals are also available: in Saint-Nazaire (by the Atlantic Ocean) and in Montoir de Bretagne.
- It took 400 years to complete the city’s cathedral, Cathedrale Saint Pierre Saint Paul. Construction started in 1434. This is the resting place of François II, who was the last Duke of Bretagne.
- Not far from the cathedral is the Quartier Bouffay area. Stone paved streets and half-timbered houses from the 15th century render this area a particular charm.
- François II, the last Duke of Brittany, built the Chateau des Ducs in order to defend the independence of the Duchy of Brittany from the Kingdom of France. The castle now houses the new Nantes History Museum. If you are more interested in the surroundings than you are in artifacts, it might be worth knowing that the view of the city from the castle is splendid.
- Jules Verne is one of the most well known French authors of all times. Verne was born in Nantes and the city has dedicated a museum to its famous inhabitant: Musee Jules Verne
- In line with the imagination of Jules Verne, the Machines de l’Ile blends the author’s invented worlds with the mechanical universe of Leonardo da Vinci and the industrial history of Nantes.
- La Musée des Beaux Arts in Nantes features one of the finest collections of art in France. Works of masters such as Monet, Picasso and Chagall, among others, are on display.
- If you fancy staying outdoors instead of visiting museums during your stay in Nantes, Le Jardin des Plantes might be a good alternative. This botanical garden features an astonishing range of exotic plants from places all over the world, such as Africa and Asia.
- Time magazine argued in 2004 that Nantes is “the most liveable city in Europe.” While factors such as economy, innovation and growth were probably important parameters behind that conclusion, one cannot fully assess Nantes’ qualities without looking at its restaurants. If you would like some more after having sampled crêpes (a specialty here), you might want to try L’Embellie or Villa Mon Reve – two restaurants with good reputations. The unique art nouveau restaurant La Cigale (1895), faces the Graslin Theatre, where you can enjoy opera. You will find several other alternatives for eating out.
There are a number of shore excursions available in Nantes and the surrounding area. Examples include:
- A tour of historical Nantes, with its rich and varied architectural and cultural heritage. Visit the Saint-Pierre Cathedral, the Chateau des Ducs (the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany) and the Passage Pommeraye – a monumental staircase. Tours specifically focusing on the cultural sides of Nantes can also be on offer.
- Clisson is a picturesque small town south-east of Nantes. Some shore excursions include a vineyard visit on tours to Clisson.
- For a more thematic take on Nantes and the surrounding region, join a gourmet-oriented shore excursion. These will typically include visits to quality restaurants in the area.
- A sample of the many vineyards of the Loire Valley can be explored during a shore excursion. These tours are often combined with visits to one of the many castles in the region.
- The town of Angers, where the Dukes of Anjou held court, can be experienced on a shore excursion from Nantes.
There are good connections by rail, road and air to and from Nantes. Paris, the capital of France, is 240 miles/386 kilometers away.
Avid Cruiser Posts, Photographs and Videos Featuring Nantes.
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