Having survived turbulent years through the Roman, Frankish and Breton eras, Nantes is a city of resilience. Cobbled streets and timber-framed houses are just a handful of remnants from its 18th century glory days where maritime trade bolstered the extravagant way of life. Despite their pockets of instability and unprincipled link to the slave trade, the city has been determined to grow and flourish into a beacon for the future. This doesn’t mean inhabitants have forgotten their past.
Recycling infrastructure whilst maintaining its history and heritage is a common theme that runs throughout the city. Former shipyards are now used to bring the imagination of François Delarozière and Pierre Orefice to life. Their artistic project, Les Machines de L’ile showcases mechanical animals made out of wood and metal that visitors can operate and ride on.
The art of wine making has stood the test of time with family run vineyards, some of which have been in operation for seven generations, stretching from the banks of the Loire in the North, right down to Vendee. Italian style architecture contrasts seamlessly with the vibrant green vines and rolling landscape. The air is fresh and your surroundings are nothing short of peaceful.
An astonishing 11,500 hectares of Muscadet vineyards cover the largest area in the Loire Valley. As a result of being made from a single variety of grape, Muscadet is certified as the biggest white wine growing area of its kind anywhere in the world, with some of the biggest exports reaching as far as Russia and Japan.
In addition to their homage to classic French culture and history, Nantes is undergoing a transformation which has resulted in various awards and titles. Time Magazine named Nantes as the ‘most liveable city in Europe’ in 2004, and as of 2013, the city holds the title of European Green Capital. This was awarded by the European Commission for the city’s efforts in reducing air pollution and CO2 emissions through its well-managed transportation system and for the 3,366 hectares of green spaces and Natura 2000 zones that guarantee the protection of local biodiversity.
The integration of art installations throughout the city is redefining the way people interact and perceive artworks. Invitations have been extended to various artists who have worked to create innovative pieces that not only provoke an organic reaction, but also encourage us to think beyond the realms of reality and develop an open mind to art within a city space. Though there are museums that you can explore, changing attitudes now mean that art is brought to the public.
All of these installations can be experienced along the Loire estuary. The ‘Maison dans la loire’ is a prime example where imagination meets reality. One would never expect to see a single house in the middle of the Loire, however Jean-Luc Courcoult has challenged that and built a structure that brings out our inquisitive nature. Built with everyday materials such as bricks, cement and glass, a light that can be seen inside the house at night, which adds to the authenticity of Courcoult’s installation.
Interaction is also important within the arts trail. ‘Villa Cheminee’, which is situated at the top of a lighthouse is available for rent for one or two nights with working kitchen and bathroom facilities. Away from the charming city, calm waters that stretch far into the distance make for relaxing company and the chance to reconnect with the natural surrounding environment.
Such diversity in both its history and plans for the future is what makes Nantes a particularly special spot in Western France. Jean Blaise, President of MNACEP (The National Project for Art and Culture in Public Space) says: ‘Le Voyage a Nantes is above all a project for an entire region and its wide range of tourist activities is an expression of this region. If we have been hurt in our architecture heritage by the war, deindustrialisation and the filling of the Loire and Erdre Rivers, we are lucky enough today to enjoy a cultural panorama of such breadth and diversity that other regional capitals envy us.’
‘Visiting a city is never simply a question of walking around with a map. It is also an experience where one observes its movements and listens to its soft murmuring. We have tried very hard to offer surprising viewpoints and perspectives on our city that might bring out its unique poetry and personality. Art is everywhere, giving Nantes the very unique image of a city Surrealists loved, where every street corner offers the unexpected.’
At the same token, understanding what one can actually expect from Nantes plays a defining factor for families relocating here, which goes beyond the need to get away from the bustle of Paris – the good standard of education, safety and quality of life takes complete precedence over Paris’s increasing maintenance costs. The benefits of Nantes extend beyond domestic life with some corporations even moving their headquarters, which has resulted in the booming economy over the last 3 to 4 years. New jobs and businesses being implemented with the number of start-ups also growing have a direct impact in the development of property given the growing population. The entire movement is in itself, a unique one, however there is a big responsibility to grow whilst maintaining the quality of life and cultural vision Nantes has established for the future.
Hop on a train to Nantes with Eurostar – from 5h40min away, with a simple change in Paris or Lille.