Nantes: the 'little Paris' of the West of France. By Sarah Vauchelet

By Sarah Vauchelet

French student from the University Toulouse III - Paul Sabatier

The article was written and published in terms of the course “Writing Personal Columns in Newspapers, Magazines & Blogs”, School of Journalism & Mass Communications, Erasmus Plus Programme of Aristotle University Thessaloniki.


"When I was 18 years old, I only had one desire: to escape from Nantes. You are growing up in a city, living there for years, having all of your first experiences in it and at the end you just want to experience a new city. Therefore, I left Nantes for Toulouse for almost two years. In the end, I only had one desire: to return to Nantes. Leaving my city, just made me feel so attached to it, because I missed so much all of its beautiful places. It is now time to present to you all of my favourites in Nantes, the ones that I really enjoy to see every time I am coming back.

When I am in Nantes, I like to walk in two different parts of the city. The first part is the one that we can call «the sea part of Nantes». The first feeling that I really missed when I was in Toulouse was the sea influence that Nantes has. Nantes is located on the West of France, near the Atlantic coast. In 40 minutes, you are on the coast. Also, the river which crosses the city, «La Loire», is more or less high because of the tides. During many years, Nantes was one of the most important docks of France. Therefore, one of the most important sources of wealth of the dock of Nantes was the slave trade, which helped the development of the city. 550.000 captives were transported through the port of Nantes between the 15th and the 19th century: it was the first port of France for this type of exchange, above the port of La Rochelle (178.000 captives) and Bordeaux (135.000 captives). Since 2012, a monument to commemorate the end of the slave trade stands on the banks of La Loire.

A lot of ship owners became very rich thanks to the slave trade. They built some private buildings to live. When you are pass in front of these buildings, you are able to notice a particular architecture: they are not upright buildings! In fact, they were built on sand and despite their foundations, their weight is too heavy so they are sinking into the sand and going on the side. You will be very surprised! You can see them at the place called «Quai de la fosse» and also when you are at the place called «Hangar à Bananes», you can see some of them on the other side of the river.

This influential feeling of the sea can also be experienced at the place called «Hangar à Bananes». This dock was built in 1901 and it was used to stock the bananas that were coming from the French colonies which were Guadeloupe, Guinea and Ivory Coast. But in 1987, the port terminals were moved to the city of Saint-Nazaire, located directly on the coast and 60km away from Nantes. As a result, this place was abandoned until 2006. Therefore Jean-Marc Ayrault, the mayor of Nantes, decided to transform the ancient hangars into nightclubs and bars.

If you are going to Nantes, you should definitely go to this place to enjoy a night full of dance or a sunny day with a glass of fine drink. Furthermore, you can’t miss three things if you are going to this area. The first one is the two old Titans cranes. They were used when the city of Nantes was still producing boats. They are now testifying the industrial History of Nantes. The second one is the rings of Buren, a work of art created in 2007. These 18 rings are illuminated at night in blue, green and red. They are symbolizing the slaves’ rings and they remind to us the bad importance of Nantes in the slave trade. Finally, you definitely can’t miss the Machines of the island of Nantes. In the old buildings of the former shipyards that were used for ship construction, an exhibition place was created about the machines that the company Royal de Luxe is building. You will see a mechanical elephant of 12meters high and 8meters wide, made from wood and steel. It can carry spectators and you can go on it for a 45 minutes walk. There is also the Marine Worlds Carousel which is a 25meters high carousel. It is featuring 35 moving underwater creatures on three levels. You can go on it for a special carousel tour and enjoy a beautiful view of Nantes!

The second part of the city where I really like to walk can be called «the heart of the city». I really love this part because the architecture is so gorgeous and elegant, and that is why some people are calling Nantes «the little Paris».

One of the most beautiful and famous building of Nantes is the «Passage Pommeraye». It was built in 1840 and today it is a small shopping mall. It is always crowded, especially during Christmas time; however, it has a peaceful and relaxing atmosphere. I am not even going to shop there: it is pretty expensive. I just love to walk there and take pictures.

At the top of this gallery, you will arrive to the Crébillon street. This is the street where you can find all the fancy shops of Nantes. Two places are located at each end of the street. At the top, it is the Graslin place. This is a beautiful place to have a drink near the Graslin theatre. At the bottom, it is the Royale place. It is a huge area with a beautiful fountain. I love to have a drink here during summer: the bar’s terraces are very big and everyone is coming here to meet friends after a work day.

Finally, I really like to end my walk in Nantes by going to the oldest part of it, near the castle. First, the castle of the Dukes of Brittany. It was built during the 13th century and it is really-well preserved. During summer, a lot of young people are seating on the grass of the moat to share a beer and talk.

Secondly, I walk through the narrow streets to observe the Middle Age architecture and discover some little and cute clothes shops. I often meet some friends at the «Bouffay place» to have a drink. There are lots of different bars and the atmosphere is totally relaxed. And if you want to taste food from foreign countries, you really need to go to this quarter! I love to eat Chinese food here. Just walk into the small streets of this area and you will find the perfect restaurant. On my way back home, I pass in front of the Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul of Nantes. This beautiful and big cathedral is the biggest one in the city. During winter time, they decorate it with special lights and it is really beautiful to see. Also, if you want to enjoy a stunning view, you have to go to the top of the «Tour de Bretagne». Reach the bar located on the 32th floor, called «Le Nid» (the Nest), and you can enjoy a 360° view on Nantes.

I have so many special memories in all of these places. And I will always be so attached to this city. I love the special atmosphere of Nantes: I like to sit near the Loire’s river and have a drink with my friends during spring time, I like being able to reach the sea in one hour during summer time and I like walking under the rain in the little streets during winter time. A lot of Parisian people are moving to Nantes because of the beautiful architecture and the nice way of life we have in this city. Every time I leave it, I wait for my return to enjoy again all the sweet moments and walks that I have in Nantes."