Pop­u­la­tion (2016) 609,198

Living France - - Lifestyle -

Nantes is a city of rein­ven­tion. Once France’s most im­por­tant port and then an in­dus­trial cen­tre, the cap­i­tal of the Loire-At­lan­tique de­part­ment was known lo­cally as une belle en­dormie, a ‘sleep­ing beauty’. But fol­low­ing ma­jor re­ju­ve­na­tion, the city has awo­ken with a jolt; emerg­ing, not as France’s pret­ti­est town, but as one of its most cul­tur­ally alive, with a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing edgy and play­fully vi­brant.

To get the best view of Nantes you have to as­cend a 12-me­tre-tall me­chan­i­cal ele­phant that sprays wa­ter, blows steam and sounds his trum­pet at pedes­tri­ans walk­ing along­side him on the ground be­low. It is one of many me­chan­i­cal an­i­mals that can be found at Les Machines de l’Île de Nantes; a fan­tas­ti­cal site si­t­u­ated on the three-mile-long ur­ban play­ground that was once the dock­lands.

After the lit­tle ones have a spin on the fun­fair carousel, you can walk off the fun and frol­ics along the banks of the River Loire to Musée Jules Verne. Here you can pour over first-edi­tion books and hand-edited manuscripts of Nantes’ most fa­mous son, as well as in­ter­ac­tive dis­plays of his most colour­ful books in­clud­ing Around the World in Eighty Days. The Musée d’His­toire Na­turelle also hosts chil­dren-friendly and in­ter­est­ing ex­hibits.

But in Nantes, you don’t re­ally have to en­ter a mu­seum to en­joy the thrills of the city’s cul­tural of­fer­ings. Even on your way to work or dur­ing your lunch hour, strolls in and around the city will be en­livened with quirky art in­stal­la­tions that pop up in parks, gar­dens and city streets. It can some­times seem that no space has been left un­turned in the city’s ur­ban re­newal project and even some of its old in­dus­trial ware­houses have been re­ju­ve­nated to house trendy cafés and artist stu­dios.

While the city is a liv­ing, breath­ing ur­ban project, it is also home to clas­sic cul­ture, in­clud­ing one of the coun­try’s best symphony or­ches­tras and a top opera com­pany in Théâtre Graslin, per­fect for an end-of-week night out. Week­ends off work can be spent strolling around the pedes­tri­anised city cen­tre and shop­ping along the Rue Cré­bil­lon and the neo-clas­si­cal Pas­sage Pom­mer­aye shop­ping ar­cade.

Although it is out­side of Brit­tany, Nantes still holds onto some of its Bre­ton past, mainly through plen­ti­ful serv­ings of crêpes and cider. You’ll also find a bit of Bre­ton magic on Quai Turenne where peo­ple still up­hold the tra­di­tion of plac­ing coins be­tween bricks in the hopes of mak­ing wishes come true.

With big names such as Air­bus com­ing to Nantes, as well as other smaller com­pa­nies, it’s no sur­prise that be­tween 6,000 and 9,000 peo­ple move here ev­ery year, in what is becoming one of France’s fastest-grow­ing cities. Its lat­est re­fresh may have re­vived the city as a cul­tural cap­i­tal, but re­gard­less of what di­rec­tion Nantes takes next, it will no doubt re­main one of France’s most pop­u­lar places to live and work.

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