botanical gardens, castle, cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, chateau, children, ducs de Bretagne, Dukes of Brittany, elephant, fountain, France, jardin des plantes, Machines de l'Ile, Machines of the Island, Nantes, Paris, Pays de la Loire, Place Royale, travel, winter vacation
I planned a short getaway during the children’s vacances d’hiver because I needed to get out of Paris. (I was running out of free, warm places to go to for my kids’ entertainment.) I chose Nantes because it was just a two-hour train ride, it was near water and I had read something about a cool attraction for the kids. *SOLD*
Time Magazine voted Nantes to be “the most liveable city in Europe” in 2004. It is the 6th largest city in France, situated on the Loire (River) and is the capital city of the Pays de la Loire region. We stayed at a Novotel that was a 5 minute walk from the train station. There was a superb boulangerie (=bakery) across the street where we grabbed breakfast-on-the-go and a Carrefour supermarket nearby for drinks and extra munchies. Parfait. We meandered through the old part of the city that night and ate at one of many crêpes restos. (Crêpes originated from the region of Brittany.) The streets were buzzing with people after 20h00, just as we old folks with kids were heading back to the hotel. I understand that this city is like a smaller version of Paris, with a growing arts scene and great energy, where (young) people settle because they can’t afford to be in Paris. Like Paris, there is an island in the middle of the river too. In fact, there were a lot of similarities. It was a bit strange…
The castle of the Dukes of Brittany (“Château des ducs de Bretagne“) is majestic, and now houses the Nantes History Museum. But why pay money to force our children to behave in a museum when we can run on the ramparts for free and take in the views of the courtyard?
A walk through downtown led us to the beautiful square, Place Royale, where I wanted to relax at an outdoor patio restaurant to have lunch. Our wonderkids had other plans though, which culminated in BOTH youngsters crying in the restaurant shortly after being seated. Ohh-lah-lah! French emergency plan goes into action: 1] separate the kids and take youngest and loudest delinquent out of restaurant. 2] Have her cry it out at the fountain, and spoil outside diners’ peace (another French faux pas). 3] Reason with her and bribe with candy. (I have no pacifiers.) 4] Return to scene of crime with resto patrons staring at us like a criminal-with-guard-escort re-entering a courtroom.
Needless to say, the meal was satisfying and family-friendly. The restaurant [“Taverne de Maitre Kanter”] actually offered highchairs (rare in France) and a children’s menu. But you really go there because it offers seating in the fabulous square to soak in the sun and relax in its beauty. The square is clean. The fountain is stunning. Quoting Tina Fey in her TV show, 30 Rock: “I want to go to there.”
We lucked out by getting tickets to ride the mechanical elephant on the Isle of Nantes. The Island was the location of the shipyards, a prime industry in Nantes that saw its closure in the 1980s. Les Machines de l’Ile [=Machines of the Island] is an ambitious project that has overtaken the warehouses to present a new universe [think Nantes-borne, Jules Verne meets Leonardo da Vinci inventions]. It is fantastically BIZARRE and AWESOME. Talk about being transported to another time and place…! There is this Great Elephant that can spray water, bellow like an elephant and move like the real thing.
We rode the giant elephant but it moved slowly. It is more fun to GAZE AT IT, HEAR IT, FOLLOW IT and FEEL IT .
Well, that experience was pretty difficult to top!! We caught the train the next day but not before visiting Le Jardin des Plantes (=botanical gardens) which is across from the train station. It was a beautiful, spring-like morning and a lovely way to close an entertaining weekend. Nantes is a great place to visit (not at all like a mini-Paris) and we look forward to more creations from the Island in the future!