Why you should visit Nantes, France's green capital
BY Imogen Green
13th Sep 2023 Travel
3 min read
Home to a famed mechanical menagerie, sprawling green gardens and, now, the Rugby World Cup, France's green capital Nantes has much to offer its visitors
Discover how Breton culture, historic architecture and an abundance of green spaces meet in the Loire Atlantique city of Nantes.
As the fifth largest city in North Western France, Nantes is setting itself above the rest even ten years later. In 2013, it was named the European Green Capital and the first capital to be a designated green city, but years on, Nantes has continued to be one of the greenest cities in France.
With the Rugby Union World Cup commencing this week at the Stade de la Beaujoire, what else is there to explore in this green-forward city?
1. Cycle your way around the city
Nantes is the second most cycle-friendly city in France, so getting around is simple thanks to the well-developed network of cycle paths.
These paths allow you to explore its main spots such as the Château des ducs de Bretagne, the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle, and along to the botanical garden of the Jardin des Plantes.
"Nantes is the second most cycle-friendly city in France"
Whether you plan to go off-piste or follow the green line (an already-mapped art trail that takes you around the 58 art installations in the city at any given time, both new and old) here you can expect to see more whilst still ticking off all the key sites in one go.
2. Explore the Jardin Des Plantes
Set away from the sounds of the city and complete with its own art installations and cafe, lies the 19th-century Jardin Des Plantes.
The phrase "a city within a garden" has become an embodiment of the city's ethos and strategy for maintaining cleaner air. Inside the park there are over 800 square metres of greenhouses with an additional 50,000 new flowers planted each season, which sit alongside an array of art installations.
In 2020, Nantes-born artist Jean Jullien created colourful line-drawn sculptures as part of the city’s art festival, Le Voyage à Nantes.
Additionally, thanks to over 100,000 trees covering about three hectares, the garden contributes to cleaner air in Nantes. Wander around the park, and you'll soon see how removed you feel from the rest of the city, and how much of a bucolic oasis it is.
3. Discover Nantes Isle of Culture of Machines de l'île and La Galerie des Machines
From the first step into the historic industrial warehouse and former shipyard of the historic Machines de l'île, you are quickly transported into the quirky and creative art project that combines the world of Jules Verne and the mechanical universe of Leonardo da Vinci.
But perhaps the most iconic piece of Machines de l'île is the Grand Éléphant, a giant moving steel elephant that can carry up to 50 passengers (which also sprays water to tourists below).
"The most iconic piece of Machines de l'île is the Grand Éléphant, a giant moving steel elephant"
A ticket for La Galerie des Machines offers you access inside the converted maritime warehouse which houses a range of botanical plants alongside their other upcoming creations (think mechanical hummingbirds, a flying heron and large insects).
Nearby, you can also hop on the Marine Worlds Carousel. Situated on the banks of the Loire, the carousel combines mechanics and individually designed animals, and has two different layers that offer breathtaking bird's-eye views of the city skyline.
4. Enjoy locally grown gastronomy
A visit to the city would not be complete without sampling the local culinary favourites. And unsurprisingly, the quality of the gastronomy in Nantes speaks for itself.
With the field-to-fork philosophy at the front of their food mission both in 2013 and still today in 2023, you can expect everything from Loire natural wines, locally caught fish and seasonal produce.
Sain is an example of responsible gastronomy where you can sample freshness and locality in a refined culinary offering without pretension. Quietly located in the central quarter of the city, this family-owned local favourite offers innovative combinations washed down with Loire-only natural wines.
All the produce used in the restaurant is grown on the family farm in Guérande, and the quality can be tasted in every morsel of their offerings.
The menu offers a variety of rustic and light dishes, from aubergine with dukkah to dark chocolate torte with Guérande salted butter caramel.
5. Immerse yourself in the history of Breton history and culture
The history of the city of Nantes is hard to miss thanks to a mix of Art Nouveau, Haussmann-style terraces and neo-Gothic architecture that sit alongside its turbulent history as one of the largest ports during the time of slavery.
To fully understand Nantes' past, a visit to the Château des ducs de Bretagne is a must. Cross the moat where you will see the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany surrounded by the old city walls where early Nantes once stood.
"To fully understand Nantes' past, a visit to the Château des ducs de Bretagne is a must"
Inside the museum's 32 rooms, it offers insights into everything from the colonial heritage of the historical family that once reigned there to the history of the original LU biscuit factory.
In the centre of the city, the Passage de Pommeraye, an ancient three-tiered shopping arcade (and the only three-tiered one in Europe) crafted in 1843, offers an insight into the early days in the city, where the original facades are still home to traditional chocolatiers, boutique perfumeries and gift shops.
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