Nantes: Gateway to the Loire is an unsung jewel of France's west

Beautiful Nantes is well worth visiting

Lovely Nantes is a superb base for exploring the France’s Loire river

And also you needn’t even endure a protracted flight or trek by means of a sweltering jungle to get pleasure from such adventures.

For they’re all available only a brief, low-cost flight away in Nantes, birthplace of the author Jules Verne, gateway to the fairy-tale castles of the Loire Valley and a distinctly magical place in its personal proper – particularly now that it’s residence to a outstanding animatronic menagerie often known as Les Machines de l’île.

This imaginative enterprise, set in a disused shipyard on an island within the Loire, helped reverse Nantes’ decline after its shipbuilding trade died out within the 1980s.

With its financial system in tatters and its once-bustling shipyards mendacity derelict, the town wanted a miracle and this fascinating challenge offered it, creating an enormous indoor “jungle” populated by a shocking assortment of animatronic creatures.

Les Machines de l'île

Les Machines de l’île is a shocking vacationer attraction

Now hundreds of holiday makers flock yearly to see and experience “Les Machines”, which embrace a 40ft-high mechanical elephant, a big red-eyed “spider” and a splendidly bizarre, three-tiered carousel that includes a set of “sea creatures” straight out of a Jules Verne novel (and a Tim Burton film).

And there is extra to get pleasure from on Île de Nantes than this assortment of Heath Robinson-style contraptions, for the entire island is being remodeled right into a thriving artistic group which is residence to artwork installations and galleries, offbeat cafes, cosy bistros, a market backyard and the picturesque fishing village-turned artists’ quarter of Trentemoult.

The upshot is that Nantes has change into considered one of France’s coolest cities, a powerhouse of artwork, design and creativity the place Parisians now clamour to dwell. However remodeled because it has been, the Île is only one of many sights which make this thriving metropolis nicely price a go to.

Nantes has a protracted historical past, and you will find it within the 15th-century Château des ducs de Bretagne, which dominates the town’s historical coronary heart, its medieval Bouffay Quarter.

Nantes' Graslin district is astonishing

Nantes’ Graslin district has astonishing structure

The Graslin district – dominated by the neo-Classical, 18th century Theatre Graslin – is equally enchanting.

Avid consumers should not miss the artisan jewelry, confectionery and craft shops which line Nantes’ gorgeously ornate, 19th-century Passage Pommeraye. And if nature is extra your factor, you may discover it in wonderful bloom on the metropolis’s botanical gardens, which boast a superb assortment of camellias.

As a result of Nantes is compact and nicely served by an environment friendly tram community, I managed to cram in all the above in only a day and a half, whereas ready to sail alongside the Loire aboard CroisiEurope’s progressive riverboat Loire Princesse, a custom-designed, 96-passenger paddle steamer whose light-weight hull and shallow draft allows it to discover the river which is unnavigable by deeper, heavier craft.

Moored at Ponton Belem, simply throughout a bridge from Île de Nantes, this 2015-launched riverboat might, in its approach, be as essential to Nantes’ prosperity because the Les Machines challenge, re-establishing the town as gateway to the spectacular chateaux, medieval villages and verdant vineyards of the Loire Valley, and providing a variety of six and eight-day sailings alongside the river.

Nantes' Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne

Nantes’ Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne is a considered one of many beautiful castles

I opted for a six-day run and was impressed at how a lot we managed to slot in. Highlights included a name at Angers, the traditional capital of the Anjou province and residential to the huge and still-vivid Apocalypse Tapestry, which dates from the 14th century, depicts scenes from the Bible’s E book Of Revelations and is each bit as spectacular the extra well-known Bayeux.

Within the medieval village of Clisson, well-known for its 13th-century citadel, 12th-century church and historical oak-canopied market, we loved a sunny riverside stroll previous an historical water mill earlier than tasting a wide range of native Muscadet wines.

However maybe probably the most memorable occasion was a full-day tour of three spectacular Loire chateaux. Château d’Azay-le-Rideau, which occupies its personal island within the Indre River, was our first cease; then we loved a splendid French lunch earlier than exploring the huge Italianate gardens of Château de Villandry.

We ended our tour at Château d’Ussé, a lovely 15th-century citadel which – with its white “witch’s hat” turrets – is claimed to have impressed Charles Perrault’s story of The Sleeping Magnificence.

It was a tiring however fulfilling day, and by far the longest tour of the journey. Which was a superb factor as the best pleasure of this cruise was having loads of time to gaze out of my cabin’s floor-to-ceiling home windows – or sit out on its balcony – and watch the Loire’s sandy banks roll by.

The boat’s eating room supplied extra pleasures, not least the corporate of 4 pleasant Philadelphians whose desk I shared.

They made meal occasions convivial, whereas the French chef ensured we have been nicely stoked with scrumptious cream soups, substantial roasts and French classics similar to crêpes suzette, washed down with beneficiant splashes of wine (which together with most bar drinks and coffees, was included within the cruise worth).

After dinner, passengers gathered within the boat’s essential lounge for drinks and laughs with the enthusiastic younger crew, who proved adept at bridging language boundaries with a really humorous present and many leisure based mostly on image or music quizzes.

Any quibbles? I might discover none. The opposite passengers felt that, with drinks and the Three Chateaux tour included, and different shore excursions priced at an reasonably priced .40-50 per particular person, the cruise supplied fairly good worth for cash.


Ponders Journey (01954 232802/ gives a six-night cruise from £1,166 (two sharing), full board. Worth contains return flights from Luton to Nantes; transfers, two nights in Nantes, B&B. (Departs October 29, 2018). Nantes tourism: (dialling from the UK: +33 272 640 479/nantes-tourisme. com)

Supply hyperlink