Ignore France’s Forgotten City at Your Peril

Pimsleur Approach • FrenchComments (0)

Nantes is France’s sixth largest city and while it isn’t at the top of most French tourism lists, it is certainly worth a visit. In 2004, Time Magazine voted it the “most liveable city in Europe,” and in 2013 it received the title of the Green Capital of Europe due to its sustainable electric public transport system. It is also home to a wealth of fascinating attractions. From a giant mechanical elephant to a medieval castle, from wonderful restaurant dishes to a human-sized hamster hotel, here’s our pick of Nantes’ most surprising highlights.

Island of Mechanical Animals

Image Via Wikipedia

Island of the Mechanical Animals

One of the most interesting cultural projects in the world,

s is a sight to behold. Inspired by drawings from Leonardo Da Vinci and writings from Jules Verne, and created by visionaries François Delarozière and Pierre Orefice, this spectacular themed attraction sees giant animals come to life. The main attraction is a 39-foot tall elephant that walks, flaps its ears and spays water as it offers a ride for up to 50 passengers. There are even stranger animals too, like a giant shrimp and a smoke-breathing dragon, and you can even see the mechanics in action in the workshop.

Castle of the Dukes of Brittany

Image Via Wikipedia

Castle of the Dukes of Brittany

Set foot in the center of town and it’s impossible to miss the spectacular castle. As Nantes is the historic center of the province of Bretagne (Brittany,) the castle was home to Dukes of Brittany between the 13th and 16th centuries, and has been a French historic monument since 1862. Besides being an incredibly photographic place to visit, the castle also holds a Nantes history museum, which has stirred up quite a lot of controversy. That’s because Nantes was once the most important port city in France during the slave trade, with around 450,000 African men, women and children passing through en route to the New World.  Today there are many monuments to honor those who suffered during slavery, but to really get the inside story about this and other periods of Nantes’ past, the castle is the place to go.

Sublime French Food

If you are planning a trip to Nantes, be prepared for some of the best food of your life. Nantes is full of intimate little restaurants and fresh bakeries specializing in bread filled with chocolate. Other culinary highlights include white butter sauce, “Gateau Nantais” cake and mâchecoulais cheese. But as a port city, Nantes is perhaps most renowned for its delicious mussel (moule) dishes. The popular local restaurant Aux Moules du Bouffay in the Bouffay District serves up a famous pasta dish covered in so many fresh mussels that you can’t even see the pasta, and is well worth the trip to Nantes on its own.

Hamster Hotel

Yes, you heard right. The Villa Hamster is a hotel that offers guests the unique opportunity of trying out the lifestyle of a hamster. A standard room costs around $200 a night and contains wood chips, a hanging water dispenser and a hamster wheel! It’s even possible to borrow a furry hamster costume to really give the hamster life a try. Rumor has it that the owners also have grand plans to open up another hotel in the city with the theme of being inside a uterus. We’ll have to wait and see how that turns out.

Nantes offers many surprises.  Where else can you ride a giant mechanical elephant and pretend you’re a hamster in the same day? No wonder more and more tourists are now discovering this fascinating city.


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