The city where the father of science fiction was born is Nantes. How much does the city connect with the vision of the French author from the 19th century, who wrote in his works about various technological and even unrealistic conveniences that were very far from the reality of the time?
I asked myself this exact question just before my departure from Prague to Nantes. I had no idea what I would come across during my walks in the city with my camera. I usually read the guidebook before traveling to an unknown destination, but here I made an exception. Since I was leaving for Nantes 4 days before Christmas Day, I mainly hoped that the city would be full of Christmas decorations, and I was not wrong. In addition to the beautiful French shop windows full of twinkling lights and the Christmas spirit, I absorbed the right futuristic atmosphere in the city, like from the time of Jules Verne.
Île de Nantes island
Nantes is the perfect place for a family holiday, mainly thanks to the Machines de l'Île de Nantes theme park.
The park is located on the western side of the Île de Nantes island, which you can reach in about 10 minutes on foot from the city center. This is a really large park inspired by the writings of Jules Verne or the fantastical inventions of Leonardo da Vinci. This strangely crazy place offers huge robots and animal figurines that you can ride on, providing plenty of fun rides and vacation experiences for kids. To me, the amusement park looked more like an art park full of historical works of art from the previous century that you can touch and even ride. The biggest star of the park there is clearly the iconic giant 12-meter Grand Éléphant mechanical elephant, which can accommodate approximately 50 people during its ride. He's not so fast anymore. An elephant ride (or rather a walk) has a speed of 1 to 3 km/h and takes about 30 minutes. I witnessed children being literally swallowed up by a huge elephant. When the elephant driver from time to time makes an elephant sound during his ride or starts spraying water from his trunk at the children running around the elephant, the children are then literally in a frenzy. All children's reactions seemed to me to be a combination of two conflicting emotions - fear and wonder. I didn't see a single child who didn't fall in love with an elephant.
Another fun and artistic place in the park is the Carrousel des Mondes Marins. This gigantic carousel with moving sea creatures is almost 25 meters high. Unfortunately, children under the age of 13 cannot get on the carousel, but children over the age of 13 will be delighted by the ride. It is not just one carousel, but is based on the overlapping of 3 carousels. The first carousel, located at the very bottom, includes a giant crab, a reverse-powered octopus, an exploration machine that dives deep into the engine room, and much more. There are 14 elements in total. On the second level, you will find 6 elements: a deep-sea lantern or a pirate fish, and finally, on the highest level, you will find flying fish, jellyfish, etc.
Also worth watching is a mechanical spider, for example, which first sleeps in its nest, then is awakened and climbs its threads. Here you can also see a heron with an 8-meter wingspan, gracefully floating in the air, or a giant ant. Machines de l'Île de Nantes is a truly artistic amusement park for the whole family. However, don't forget to book access to the machines in advance. Although I visited the park in December 2021, there were a large number of visitors, even though part of the park was closed due to the weather.
Just outside the park on the Île de Nantes is a series of large metal circles surrounded by the Loire River. Just walk past the Grue Titan (a big yellow crane) and you will discover this art installation, which is worth a visit mainly during dusk, when each circle has a different color and so the view of the city of Nantes in the distance is truly unique. Île de Nantes is part of an extensive redevelopment project, but you can still have a good time here. In addition to the mentioned installation, there is a nice walk along the river and you will find several bars and restaurants.
Nantes is home to several stunning churches and cathedrals such as the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul de Nantes and the neo-Gothic Basilica of Saint-Nicolas with its beautiful windows. Right in the center is the pompous Château des ducs de Bretagne. However, what is worth a visit in the city center is the dazzling Passage Pommeraye. The beautiful interior of the building with its elaborate staircase, statues, ornaments and transparent roof was built in 1843. It has a total of three floors and serves as a small shopping center. You will find a pastry shop, a stationery shop, a jewelry shop, a chocolate shop, etc. However, be prepared for a large number of people walking by admiring the beauty of the interior.
Nantes is truly magical in winter. The old town of Nantes is a maze of half-timbered streets where you'll also discover some of the city's best shops, including specialty food boutiques. In winter, the squares in the center are covered with Christmas stalls. The Christmas Market really does offer everything from food, drink, sweets to selling vinyl, handmade products, jewelery and other design products. But what does Nantes look like in the summer months? I believe that with the abundance of beautiful parks and greenery, sitting on a blanket by the river in summer can be just as magical as it is in the winter before Christmas.
Photo gallery Nantes 12/2021, below.