22nd May- 23 rd 2012 (Bed No 35)
We arrived at in Nantes too early to check into our accommodation so we headed into the centre of town for a quick look around and to get all the information from the Tourist Information office ready for the next 2 days activities.
The Isle of Nantes is 5 km long, 1 km wide and is surrounded by stretches of the Loire river. For the past 10 years there has been a significant changing landscape under a major urban project in Nantes. Once used for cattle grazing, then an industrial heartland of soap factories, shipyards and sea trade, it has today a new lease of life.
We headed back to our accommodation where we were met by the apartment manager who spoke just a little English. He showed us around the complex and I got excited because they even had a laundrette for the tenants. Yes, I can wash our clothes. The dirty cloths wash bag had gotten very full and this was the perfect time go get everything cleaned & dried all at once. The apartment was great. Very spacious and it had a microwave and small hotplate. A bit light on the kitchen utensils, but I could make do. Both Arthur and I were looking forward to a few simple but healthy home cooked meals.
The following day we set off to explore more of Nantes. We started off with a 1 hour tour of the town centre on the Le Petit Train with commentary setting out from the cathedral passing through tiny, narrow historical street where cars & buses cannot travel. This gave us a quick overview of the town which we could expand on throughout the day.
Our next stop was, St Peter & St Paul Cathedral. The building works of this imposing church spread over a period of 457 years. With its two massive tower, flamboyant gothic styled monument right in the heart of Nantes. It amazes me how we never tire of seeing church after church. Their beauty, wealth and lavish decorations differ through the centuries.
With a very interactive and at times comical audio guide commentary we walked through the Castle of the Duke of Brittany: This is the final castle on the banks of the Loire before it reaches the ocean. The history of the castle goes back 500 years which can be seen in the architecture throughout the building.
Another impressive building was the Biscuiterie LU: This was the place where the famous sailor’s sea biscuits were made. We watched a video that related the history of the making of the biscuits and factory and then walked the spiral staircase to the upper level. From here we were able to get a great panoramic view of the city.
A very different and interesting tourist attraction in the old shipyard area of Nantes was the “Machine Gallery”. Here at this attraction machines were designed to mimic animals and plants as found in nature. Here the creators explained the history and workings of these strange creatures. Arthur and I were invited to sit in chairs which were winched to a high advantage point over the displays. What a great view! We could see the machines come to life from high above. Thank goodness we are not afraid of heights! The most impressive structure was the giant elephant that stood 12 m high 8 m wide and 21 m long 48.4 tonnes of steel & wood. When this majestic animal went out for a walk, it was like architecture in motion. We didn’t have time to go for a ride but the elephant could carry 49 passengers. Watch the video clip it’s amazing.
It turned out to be a beautiful and warm day. At the beginning of the day we had bought a “Nantes Pass” which gave us access to free entry into all the attractions we had visited and also free travel on all the public transport. Well worth the 20 Euros each! A break at a small bar for a beer and a punch (I still haven’t found a refreshing brink that I enjoy), then we hopped onto the tram which took us back to our apartment.
A change of scenery was planned for today. We took a trip to the land of Chateaux (Castles), the Loire Valley.
There were so many magnificent castles but it was impossible to see them all in just one day. We browsed the list and decide to pick three castles.
Our first castle was the Chateau Royal Dew Chambord in Chambord. We stopped on the roadside and ate our lunch admiring the view of the castle perched high on the cliff.
I could go into great detail explaining the different architecture and interior of the castles but I don’t want to bore you to tears. So just use your imagination, look at the photos and create a spectacular image in your mind.
The renaissance period undoubtedly saw the birth of the garden tradition in the “Val de Loire” Loire Valley, and the next two castles were built within this period.
As we made our way down a magnificent tree lines avenue the Chateau De Chenonceau came into view. It was an instant wow! The castle was built on the pier of an old fortress mill surrounded by the river Cher. Equally impressive were the luscious gardens which were composed of eight rectangular lawn areas with a water fountain in the middle. Can we possibly see a more fairytale type castle? We will have to see!
Following the Loire river we continued coming across superb little villages with chateaux and brilliant viewing points. Our last chateaux for the day was Chateau et Parc Langeais . This was more of a medieval castle with parapet walks and drawbridges. In 1491, it was the site of the marriage between Charles V111 and the young Duchess Anne of Brittany, an event which paved the way for independent Breton’s eventual union with France. This was a very important historical event. The chateau’s interior was brought alive by the outstanding quality of its decoration and furnishings based on the original 15th century designs. As we walked from room to room, the audio guide commentary took us back in time and brought the castle to life.
It was a pleasant drive back to our apartment, again with spectacular scenery and views. A nice home cooked meal and back to planning the following day.