Nantes la nuit - V. Joncheray Nantes

A mermaid between past and modernity

No one better than Julien Gracq, born in Saint-Florent-le-Vieil and a schoolboy in Nantes, could describe the largest city in western France: “neither quite of the land, nor quite of the sea (...) just what it takes to make a mermaid.”

Of its love affair with the sea, Nantes has preserved its magnificent ship owners’ houses of the 18th century and its port. Its old quarters around the cathedral and the Château of the Dukes of Brittany, make for interesting visits, day or night, in the Mediaeval quarters of La Juiverie and Le Bouffay.

A giant elephant and a banana warehouse

But Nantes is also a vibrant, modern city. Beside the Loire, make sure you see the incredible Machines de l'île de Nantes, an arts project set in the exceptional site of the former shipyards. Keep your eyes peeled for the Great Elephant, a 12-metre high mechanical pachyderm, and the Fabulous Insectoids worthy of Leonardo da Vinci or that other famous son of Nantes, Jules Verne.

At the furthest tip of the island, visit the in-fashion Hangar à Bananes for its contemporary art exhibitions and its café and restaurant terraces open late into the night...