Ce n'est pas Paris, c'est Nantes!
Updated: Mar 9
Romantic, picturesque, a bustling economy, adventurous - no we're not talking about Paris, it's Nantes!
If you haven't been to France before then your first port of call will undoubtedly be Paris, and why not. With its iconic architecture and landmarks, fantastic museums, incredible food, views, events and more, besides being the capital of course, Paris is absolutely worth a visit. But it's not real France....
Adventure 176 takes you on a journey to Nantes, birth place of Jules Verne no less, to inspire a little more ambition in people's trips to l'Hexagon.
Nantes - Top 10:
1. Around 2hrs by train South West of Paris from Gare Montparnasse, Nantes is the regional capital of the Pays de la Loire 'department' of France.
2. With a population (including surrounding areas) of just under a million people, it's comparable in size with Bristol in the UK and Frankfurt in Germany.
3. It is consistently voted one of the most environmentally friendly cities in France. Interestingly the top three are typically all from the Pays de la Loire region! Read the city's 2018 environmental progress report in English or in French.
4. Nantes has also grown a reputation as THE place to be for start-up businesses in France, boasting an impressive ecosystem for digital leadership and innovation. Must be why it was awarded the EU's €1,000,000 Capital of Innovation prize in 2019!
5. It is the home city of acclaimed music artist Christine and the Queens. If you don't know her check out the singles Tilted, Narcissus is Back and Chaleur Humaine. She punctuates the city's edgy and vibrant music scene.
6. It is also home to the second most successful team in the history of French Football, FC Nantes (8 Ligue 1 wins). Pretty sure the locals would like some more recent silverware but hey...
Photo: talksport.com - FC Nantes play at the Stade de la Beaujoire
7. Jules Verne, famed French writer of Around the World in 80 Days, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Journey to the Center of the Earth (among many others), was born on Nantes Island in 1828.
8. Verne's imagination is encapsulated by the 'Grand Elephant' - a 48 ton, 12m high mechanical elephant capable of transporting 50 passengers. On display at the 'Les Machines de l'ile' museum, the elephant makes regular appearances in the Summer along side other mechanical animals and insects.
Photo: Les Machines de l'ile
9. It's close to the port town of Saint Nazaire, home to Les Chantiers de l'Atlantique - one of the world's largest ship building yards (building RMS Queen Mary 2, among many others).
10. Puy de Fou, the world's largest historical live entertainment theme park, is about a 1hr drive from the city. Also around an hour away - the towns of Angers (home of Cointreau liqueur and the Chateaux d'Angers) and Le Mans, home of the world famous 24hr race.
Puy de Fou - a must for any adventurous visitors to the region this Summer!
Comprising 26 live shows of 30-40 mins each, the park has won numerous awards since it's inception and has inspired an entire sub-industry of prop makers, set designers, actors and trainers.
Nantes - the innovator of France:
Look back at Nantes' history and you'll see that it has the enviable ability to positively counter national socio-economic trends. In the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, it was a leading city (sometimes THE leading French city) in the sugar, shipbuilding and food processing industries. Right now it is a leader in digital start-up businesses, green living, public transport and emerging tourism outside of the capital. Against a national backdrop of continued strikes and a complacent workforce, Nantes continues to innovate and grow.
It wasn't always like that however....
While the rest of the country was enjoying Les Trentes Glorieuses (a thirty year period of general economic prosperity in France) from 1945 to the mid 1970's, Nantes was enduring a period of rapid decline and extreme social discontent. The occupation during World War Two had left the city in tatters, no least due to the allied bombing campaigns destroying infrastructure and killing civilians. Consequently, vast swathes of the city's buildings and population became inactive - simply not needed anymore.
Only during the 1980's did new policies come about to reshape the perception of the city towards one of greater ingenuity, innovation and sustainability. Repurposing old facilities was a hallmark of this period and today, residents and tourists alike can enjoy a city that remembers it's heritage but effectively nurtures it's future.
Nantes - a center for outdoor activities:
France in general benefits from fantastic natural landscapes and Nantes and it's surrounding areas are no exception. About an hour's drive to the North West for example, you can find the wonderful Brière Regional National Park, an enormous wetland that's home to abundant animal and plant life.
The park is accessible via hiking trails, cycling paths and boat rides - the latter available with a guide from the park's central HQ.
Celebrating it's 50th birthday this year, Brière is putting on a series of events throughout 2020. Check here for details.
Nantes - best pizza outside of Italy?
We think so...
Just a short walk from the main train station and opposite the Château des ducs de Bretagne, lies the charming NeoPolitan Pizzeria. Started a little over six months ago by head chef and owner, David Guepin, NeoP has built quite the reputation in Nantes for it's quality, ambiance and price point.
Born in Nantes, trained in Naples and having lived and worked in multiple countries around the world, David brings a warm, personable and experienced approach to his business.
What better way to round off a day of sightseeing and activities. Say hi from his friends at Adventure 176 and be sure to go large on the balsamic glaze! Table reservation and takeaway options available on the NeoPolitan website.
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