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Nantes is a very cool city in the region of Pays de la Loire France. It is a young and creative city with many interesting things to see and do. Nantes, France is very easy to reach from Paris: direct TGVs run hourly from Paris Montparnasse reaching Nantes St Nazaire train station in only 2 hours! You can visit Nantes on a day trip from Paris if you don’t mind waking up very early to catch the first train. However, there is so much to do that we recommend spending at least one night.
Nantes is Jules Verne’s birthplace and we are sure that Jules Verne travel and stories have always been a source of inspiration for the city.
Nantes was once the capital city of Brittany, where the dukes of Brittany lived in a castle-fortress that you can visit today. However, Nantes’ must attraction is located on the banks of Loire River: it is called Les machines de l’Ile and it’s on the top of our France Bucket List.
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LES MACHINES DE NANTES (MACHINES OF THE ISLE OF NANTES)
The machines of the Isle of Nantes could be described as the result of Jules Verne’s imagination, the mechanical universe of Leonardo Da Vinci, and Nantes’ industrial past. Les Machines de Nantes is a cultural and artistic project developed by the theater company La Machine, which tries to promote Nantes tourism and the city as a place of creativity and fantasy. These giant, uncommon machines are designed and developed by a group of artists and machinists in the former naval workshop of Ile de Nantes. This place is known today as La Galerie des Machines and you cannot miss it when you visit Nantes!
On Ile de Nantes, there are many cool machines but we are going to focus on the company’s three biggest projects: the Nantes Elephant, the Giant Carousel, and the Heron Tree.
LE GRAND ELEPHANT, NANTES
This giant mechanical elephant was the first big project born in the Galerie des Machines, Nantes. The Grand Éléphant is a huge living machine made of steel and wood who likes to wander around the Ile de Nantes. The elephant can carry up to 50 passengers on his back on a funny, original 30 minute trip with great views of the former naval shipyard. Be careful because this is a cheeky elephant who likes to spray people with his trunk!
Unfortunately, during our Nantes visit the Giant Elephant was “out of order” and never left his pole position. However, cheeky elephants are still cheeky while they are sick and we could not avoid our second shower that day…
LE CARROUSEL DES MONDES MARINS, NANTES
The Carousel of the Sea Worlds is a giant carousel (almost 25 m high) located not far from la Galerie des Machines. It is an incredible mechanical aquarium of disturbing marine creatures located in 3 levels: seabed, abyss and sea surface. This carousel is great for kids and adults. The sea creatures of the Nantes Carrousel not only turn 360º, people sitting on them can move almost all their parts as if they were puppeteers. Le Carrousel de Nantes was voted in 2014 the most original attraction in the world (Thea awards).
L’ARBRE AUX HÉRONS (THE HERON TREE, NANTES)
L’Arbre aux Hérons is the most ambitious and crazy project at la Galerie des Machines, Nantes. The Heron Tree, when finished, will be a giant tree made of steel and wood 50m wide and 35 m high where people will be able to walk from branch to branch and enjoy amazing views of the Loire River and the city. The Heron Tree will be populated with living machines like hummingbirds, spiders or caterpillars, and other creatures like carnivore plants. And of course, there will be the herons! Two giant herons will be flying around the tree with the possibility of transporting up to 12 people from branch to branch.
LA GALERIE DES MACHINES, NANTES
This is the place where Les Machines de l’ Ile are born. La Galerie des Machines is located in the old covered buildings of the former shipyards in Nantes. These buildings were once used for ship construction (les nefs), and later used as business sites until the arrival of La Machine team. Today visitors can see the ongoing construction of l’Arbre aux Hérons, walk on the prototype of a branch, and admire some of its future inhabitants. Currently, there is also a prototype of heron (scale 1/5) for testing which can take up to 2 people. During the visit, the machinists explain the history of l’Arbre aux Hérons, the major project, and its living machines. Also, they invite some of the spectators to test the machines with them or even by themselves.
We found the concept of La Galerie des Machines as “attraction” very interesting because in this way people, especially locals, can follow the evolution of the Heron Tree while helping with the funding of the project (entrance ticket for adults costs 8,50€). The Heron Tree will be ready in 2022 and we are sure it will be a blast!
OTHER COOL THINGS TO DO IN NANTES
What to do in Nantes after visiting the Machines of the Isle of Nantes? This is our suggestion of things to see and do during your Nantes visit:
- Château des Ducs de Bretagne;
- Jules Verne Museum;
- Walk around Place Graslin and Place Royale and admire its beautiful architecture and nice shops;
- Cocktail and sunset views from Anne de Bretagne Tower;
- Jardin des Plantes;
- Bouffay neighborhood at night: wine, beer, tapas in a very cool atmosphere;
- Passage Pommeray, very similar to the Covered Passages in Paris.
- Eat crêpes. After all, you are in Brittany!
When looking for where to stay in Nantes, we found that Nantes hotels are cheaper than hotels in other cities in France so here’s one extra reason to visit Nantes!
Whatever your budget, we recommend staying downtown so you can go everywhere by foot and you have the best restaurants nearby.
We chose the Hotel Kyriad Nantes Centre Graslin for our stay in Nantes. We liked its excellent location, on a quiet street not far from the main square. The room was small but functional, with bright colors. And after all, we just needed a good sleep and a nice shower!
Here is the list of other interesting hotels with good location and services that we found during our research:
- Radisson BLU Hotel 4 STARS. Nice and modern hotel with uniquely designed rooms and great facilities like a steam room and sauna.
- Sozo Hotel 4 STARS. Set in a 19th-century chapel with stained-glass windows, this unique boutique hotel is located opposite the Botanic Garden and has its own bar and spa.
- Oceania l’Hotel de France 4 STARS. We like its excellent location, spacious rooms and stylish common spaces and its contemporary bar.
- Hotel Astoria 3 STARS. Excellent location in the heart of Nantes, between the castle and Jardin des Plantes and beautiful rooms.
- Ibis Styles Nantes Centre Place Graslin 3 STARS. Fantastic location in the historical center of Nantes, close to Graslin Square, and beautiful and stylish rooms.
- Hotel Abat Jour 2 STARS. Great little hotel, always rated high. Good location and spacious, cute rooms.
Have you been to Nantes, France or Loire Region? Would you like to see Les Machines de Nantes with your own eyes?
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