French City of Nantes, Loire Valley – France
Nantes is the sixth largest city in France, the administrative center of the Loire-Atlantique department and the Loire Valley region, in the past – the capital of the Duchy of Brittany . It stands at the mouth of the Loire River, 56 kilometers from its confluence with the Atlantic Ocean at Saint-Nazaire.
The French city of Nantes (Loire Valley) is located in the picturesque and at the same time in the alluvial Loire Valley, which is crossed by many small rivers.
To the north, the valley rises, turning into hilly terrain characteristic of Brittany, covered with small groves. To the south there is a swampy lowland. Neighboring towns and villages: Bougene, Carquefou, La Chapelle-sur-Erdre, Orvo, Reze, Saint-Herblain, Saint-Sebastien-upon-Loire, Saint-Luce-upon-Loire, Tretière-y-Vertou differences from the rest, is not included in the administrative region of Nantes).
The city of Nantes is the former capital of Brittany, formally no longer part of this province: in 1962, when the current administrative division was created, the settlement was annexed to the Loire Valley. However, the costs in this city, whose history is so closely intertwined with the fate of Brittany, are not taken seriously.
The significant medieval center later amassed immense wealth through colonial expeditions, the slave trade, and shipbuilding, all of which in turn have been superseded by recent industrial growth. Although much of the city’s provincial vibe has been lost through modern additions such as skyscraper towers that hide the Loire and highways ripping apart city blocks, Nantes remains an integral part of Brittany for its residents.
A brief history of Nantes
The French city of Nantes (Loire Valley) was created more than 2 thousand years ago by the Namnet Gauls, whose name was preserved in its name. Christian teachings came to the city only in the 3rd century, when it became the center of the diocese. The conversion to Christ of the inhabitants of Nantes is associated with the names of two young martyrs – Saints Rogatian and Domitian.
From 834 to 936, Nantes was under the rule of the Normans. During the Middle Ages, the Counts of Nantes challenged the Counts of Rennes for supremacy in the Breton mark. During the Huguenot Wars, Nantes stood firmly on the side of the Catholic party and did not open its gates to Henry IV until the signing of the Nantes Edict of Tolerance in 1598.
After the Vendée revolt in Nantes, Commissioner Jean-Baptiste Carrier launched a vigorous activity, replacing the guillotine with a faster instrument of death – the mass drowning of unwanted residents. During the Second World War, Nantes survived the Nazi occupation and was badly destroyed. A group of the Resistance movement, led by Spartaco Gisko, executed the German commandant Karl Hotz.
Like Le Havre , in the 20th century, “Western Venice” (the traditional name for Nantes, crossed by numerous streams and rivulets) was rebuilt beyond recognition. The river channels were filled up and routes were laid in their place, and the railway crossing the entire city became underground. In 1961, the University of Nantes was opened (the former, founded in 1490, was closed during the years of the revolution).
Arrival, information about the city and accommodation in Nantes
A dozen TGV trains arrive daily from Paris (just 2 hours away) to Nantes train station, just east of the city center . It has two exits: most of the necessary services (trams, buses, hotels) are located at the North (Acces Nord). The city has two main bus stations. From the one to the south of the center, on allee Baco, near Ricordeau, buses head south and southwest, and the one where the street Hotel de Ville (l`Hotel de Ville) intersects with the boulevard Sancant-Otages (cours des 50 Otages), serving routes north of the river.
Modern trams on rubber wheels run along the river, past the train station and two bus stations. Fixed-price tickets (€ 1.50) are valid for an hour, not just for one trip, although you can buy a ticket for a day, the cost is € 3.50.
From the Nantes travel agency, located in the foyer of the Palais des Bourse, behind the colonnade (place du Commerce), you can get free guides to local hotels and restaurants; various city tours are organized there . They also sell the Nantes City Card, a 1-day (€ 14), 2-day (€ 24) and a 3-day (€ 30) card, which provides unlimited travel on public transport (including river cruises) and free entry to the Museums. The exchange palace itself (Palais de la Bourse) is completely transferred to the FNAC bookstore. An additional information desk is located near the castle (1 rue de la Chateau). Cyber City (14 rue de Strasbourg) has internet access.
While Nantes has a variety of hotels to suit every budget, don’t expect to stumble upon a suitable hotel just by walking or driving through the streets. On the contrary, all hotels are concentrated in two places: firstly, as usual, next to the train station, and secondly, in the narrow lanes around Graslin Square. La Manu Hostel is a former postmodern tobacco factory (2 place de la Manu; 14.90 per night) and is located a few hundred meters east of the train station, accessible by tram 1 (direction: Malachere), you need to get off at the “Manufacture” stop.
1). Hotel Amiral – A small hotel in excellent condition on a busy pedestrian street just north of Graslin Square, perfect for young owls. All rooms have a TV, bathtub and double glazed windows. Hotel address: 26bis rue Scribe;
2). Hotel Cholet – Quiet, welcoming option next to Place Graslin, where you will find a rich selection of rooms (all with bath). On weekends, prices go down. Hotel address: 10 rue Gresset;
3). Hotel Des Colonies – An elegant, affordable hotel a few blocks from Place Graslin, where you can walk to all points of interest on foot. The lobby serves as an art gallery and one of the floors is dedicated to non-smoking visitors. Weekend discounts. There is no restaurant. Hotel address: 5 rue du Chapeau Rouge;
4). L’Hotel – Hidden behind such an indifferent name is one of the city’s finest hotels – a luxurious modern establishment opposite the castle, providing you with all the latest amenities, including a € 8.50 buffet for breakfast. Parking costs 8 euros. Hotel address: 6 rue Henri-IV;
5). Hotel Renova – Simple rooms in the city center: far from inventive, but the prices are excellent (even rooms with bathrooms are inexpensive). Hotel address: 11 rue Beauregard;
6). Hotel St-Daniel – Simple but pleasant and well-lit rooms on a cobblestone street next to Place Boufe, in the heart of the old town, are in great demand in summer. By paying an additional 3 euros, you will get a room with a shower, and by adding another 5 euros, you will get a TV. Hotel address: 4 rue du Bouffay.
Attractions in Nantes
The Loire, the source of Nantes’ wealth, dwindled in the city center. Back in the 1930s, the river crossed the city, splitting into seven canals, but German workers filled five of them (thus paying reparations after the First World War). The districts in the center, which are still called “islands”, are now cut off from the rest not by water, but by double highways clogged with cars.
It is not easy to cross such roads, but they, at least, divide Nantes into several distinguishable districts: the old medieval city is located around the cathedral, with a castle in its southeastern corner, and the elegant 19th century city is located in the west, on the other side of the Boulevard Sancantes -Otages (cours des 50-Otages).
Although the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany (Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne) no longer stands on the banks of the river and has suffered a lot over the past centuries, it still retains the silhouette created by the last two rulers of independent Brittany, Francis II and his daughter, Duchess Anne, who was born here in 1477 year. The list of famous guests or prisoners, defenders or warriors who tried to capture the castle is impressive.
It includes Gilles de Rais (Bluebeard), who was publicly executed here in 1440; Machiavelli in 1498; John Knox as a galley slave 1547-1549; and Bonnie of Prince Charlie, who was here preparing for the Battle of Culloden in 1745. The most significant event in the history of the castle was the signing of the Edict of Nantes by Henry IV in 1598. This fact ended the Religious Wars, giving the Protestants a certain amount of rights and freedoms – but its annulment by Louis XIV in 1685 entailed much more significant consequences.
The strong bastions of the castle are generally well preserved, and most of the moat that surrounds it is filled with water: around there are manicured lawns, where locals like to have picnics at lunchtime. Behind the walls, a mixture of the most incongruous buildings of different styles awaits you, added here over the years. Until recently, they housed several museums, but now they are all closed, and their exhibits are gradually being placed in a single, large mega-museum.
At the moment, a visit to the castle includes a short walk through the courtyard and an ascent to the fortress wall, and exhibitions are held from time to time in the former museums. In 1800, the Spanish Tower (the arsenal of the castle) exploded, shattering the stained glass windows of Nantes Cathedral / Cathedral of Saint Peter and Paul (Cathedrale Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul), located 200 meters away. It was just one of the many misfortunes that befell this church.
During the French Revolution , a barn was made from the cathedral, bombs fell on it during the Second World War, and in 1971 it suffered a fire (when, it would seem, everything was finally put in order). Today, when the church has been restored and reopened, the snow-white walls accentuate the light that fills the cathedral and the sky-high vaults. Here is the grave of Francis II and his wife Margaret, parents of Duchess Anne, with unpleasant-looking symbols of Power, Strength and Justice (for him) and Loyalty, Prudence and Moderation (for her).
The Museum of Fine Arts, located east of the cathedral, on rue Clemcnceau, boasts a decent collection of paintings on display in superb modern galleries. Temporary exhibitions of the highest level are also held there. However, not all canvases of the Renaissance and modern times are exhibited at the same time, but, most likely, you will be able to see a variety of paintings: from the magnificent “Triumph of David” by Delaunay to “The Red Horse” by Chagall and “Nymphs” by Monet.
The financier Graslin began to lead the development of the western part of the city in the 1780s, when Nantes was at the height of its dawn, thanks to the sugar and slave trade. Place Royale with the original fountain was built in the last years of the 18th century, and after the bombing of 1943 it was rebuilt again. In the 1780s, the neighboring Graslin Square, named after its creator, also emerged with an exquisitely decorated Grand Theater, whose Corinthian portico stands in stark contrast to the 1895 Art Nouveau Corinthian Brasserie La Cigale on the corner.
A picturesque 19th century multi-storey shopping center, Passage Pommeraye, located west of Place Royale on Rue Crebillon, descends three flights of stairs to the river. This kind of attention to luxurious details in modern shopping malls can only be dreamed of – here you can get an idea of the first attempts to attract consumers to large stores . Each of the gas lamps illuminating the central part of the passage is held in the hands of a specially crafted marble cherub.
Voltaire, west of Place Graslin, takes you to the Natural History Museum. It has an eccentric collection of curiosities, including battered stuffed animals of almost every animal and bird imaginable, as well as rhino nails, coelacanths, an epyornis egg, and an Egyptian mummy.
There is even a fully dressed, dark human skin, removed in 1793 from the body of a soldier whose dying wish was to make a drum out of him. Live snakes and reptiles are waiting for you in the small vivarium. A little further on is the Museum of Thomas Dobre (Musée Dobrée) Viollet-le-Duc – the mansion of the XIX century, passed two museums, one of which is the official version in the casket kept the heart of the Duchess Anna.
Where to eat and drink in Nantes
Unlike hotels, all the winding streets of the Old Town are full of restaurants, and if you stroll along the pedestrian streets in the center, you will certainly find something suitable too. Nantes is a fairly large city, and therefore there are many ethnic restaurants (in addition to those listed, there are establishments with Algerian, Italian, Chinese, Vietnamese and Indian cuisine).
1). Au Soleil Levant Restaurant – One of several Asian establishments on a small pedestrian street, with tables in the hall and outside. The Japanese restaurant serves quality sushi, sashimi, maki rolls and noodles in a wide variety of combinations, with a full dinner costing 15-20 euros, and a set for lunch just 9 euros. Restaurant address: 12 rue de la Juiverie;
2). Chez L’Huitre Restaurant – As the name suggests, this cute little restaurant specializes in oysters, starting at € 7.80 – € 15 for a half dozen. But besides this, you will be served here smoked fish, fish soup and other simple dishes. Opening hours: open until late; closed on Sundays for lunch. Restaurant address: 5 rue des Petites-Ecuries;
3). La Ciboulette Restaurant – A simple suburban restaurant tucked away in an alley not far from the cathedral, serving inventive sets for dinner for 15 euros and 22 euros, and cheap specials for lunch (a four-course meal costs 8 euros). Opening hours: closed on Sundays. Restaurant address: 9 rue St-Pierre;
4). Restaurant Le Minotaure – The motto of the restaurant “Come in and be stunned” is somewhat exaggerated, but in this place everyone will find something to their liking: mussels with fries (you can fill the plate as much as you like) for 10.85 euros, steak for 12.50 euros, and a good selection of fish dishes for 18.30 euros, as well as a lot of lighter suggestions. Opening hours: open daily from 12.00 until late at night. Several tables are on display in the square. Restaurant address: 5 square Fleuriot-de-l`Angle;
5). Brasserie La Cigale – The famous brasserie of the late 19th century, where excellent food is served in a lush setting, whether you sit at a table on the terrace or in the simple dining room. Fish is the main delicacy of the establishment, as are the plates of seafood that cost 29-80 euros. The set for € 1.90 and € 23.80 is served until midnight. Brewery address: 4 place Graslin.