Around the world in 80 Days
Given its situation at the end of the Loire Valley, Nantes has long been associated with travel. Its famous son, Jules Vernes brought the magic of travel to everyone in his “Around the World in 80 days” and he remains the second most translated author as a result. So what as it about the old Breton capital of Nantes that inspired him so much?
Taking a stroll around this weekend on a visit to the in-laws I was struck again that as an urban destination there is a lot to see. Apart from the majestic squares of the Place Royale, the Cours des 50 Hotages or the Place du Commerce, some of which have now been made pedestrian, the old docks area has undergone much restoration and new museums seem to spring up every few months.
My favourite visit is to the Ile de Nantes where there is an amazing collection of machines, such as the enormous elephant, which trumpets its way in and out of the hangars, occasionally spraying the unwary tourist with a gush of water from its great wooden and metal trunk…
Also on the same island, The Hangar a Bananes is a big space that now houses restaurants, cafes, bars and clubs, but was, in the dim and distant past, the place built for storing green bananas offloaded from the ships arriving from the French West Indies and left to ripen before they were sent for sale.
Nantes has a darker side to its history too, being an important port on the old slave trade routes. Rather than hide its head in shame and ignore its role in this, it has been decided to set up a new museum commemorating the abolition of slavery which is due to open in September 2011.
On a lighter note, many people flock to Nantes in early February every year to see the “Folles journées” or “Crazy Days” of Nantes, which is a renowned classical music festival where classical music lets its hair down. Well worth a visit if you can…. (in 2011 it will be 2nd – 6th February)
Nantes has had a tramway since 1985 and is served by the TGV train. There are currently 376km of bike routes, a programme in continual expansion. There are many cycling possibilities in the region too, particularly along the Loire Valley and out into the vineyards. It is in fact the end of one of the European VeloRoutes running from St Nazaire (just further west on the coast) through Nantes & all the way to Bucharest in Romania …Back in town Nantes has its own version of the Parisian Vélib bike rental system, called Bicloo
Where to stay Try this eco-certified hotel to stay in: Hotel La Pérouse
This hotel is bang in the centre of town, a truly great location!! it got its European Eco label 2 years ago, also is part of La Clef Vert program. They have now almost managed to serve an all-organic breakfast too; they just need to find a couple more reliable organic suppliers to complete the menu.
We were very pleasantly surprised by our visit there, very contemporary design, lots of wooden floors and very welcoming. I can see why they won the Responsible Tourism Awards, Accommodations category, last year in the competition created by Voyages-sncf.com.
The receptionists speak English and were extremely friendly & helpful. Reasonable list prices too from 89 Euros the room with free overnight parking – see their site here http://www.hotel-laperouse.fr/gb/index.html