And I bring you, Nantes!! Is it Breton? Yes!!!

This is a city I have come to know very well. Little did it occur to me that when I visited it  for the first time back in 2004 to see the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany was I going to be so close and visit so often after 2011. it is my gateway to the world now, and my shopping and eating and sightseeing city second only to Vannes. But hey this is Brittany just a twist in history took it away, of course, I am talking about Nantes ,now in Pays de la Loire region.

Nantes is in department 44 Loire Atlantique over the banks of the Loire river in the region of Pays de la Loire  From the Gallo Roman city of Namnétes site of a bishophic in the 5C, part of the Frankish kingdom facing the imposing Bretons, finally conquered by king Nominoé in 851 to be part of Brittany  For the next 3 centuries the role of Nantes grows in importance towards the international markets been a great part of it the slave trade that sees its peak in the 18C. During the French revolution, an important site in the war of the Vendée against the revolutionary power.

Nantes is at 342 km from Paris, 340 km from Bordeaux, and 100 kms from Rennes . It has several isles and canals such as île Beaulieu, île Sainte Anne, île Feydeau, and île Gloriette ; for a while it was name the Venice of the west ! Many of its streets are blockage of river flows done to redirect the Loire river such as the Bourse that now gives to the current cours Franklin Roosevelt street or the Hospital arm that now is part of the cours  John Kennedy and cours Commandant d’Etienne d’Orves, and the tributary of the Erdre river ,today it is over the cours de 50 Otages and the course is change by an underground canal that is navigable until the arm of the Hospital and call the Canal Saint Félix The Loire river crosses the city in two sections, one encircle the île de Nantes isle call the La Madeleine on the north and the  Pirmil on the south. The city is also, traverse by two importants rivers the Erdre and Sévre Nantaise and three small creeks ,the  Chézine, Cens, and Gesvres all in the north side.  The île de Nantes or Nantes island has an area of 337 hectares and is link to the mainland by 10 bridges on the north and south banks. It has ,also, a pedestrian passarelle in the north and two train lines.

Nantes has an extensive road network that in many times is congested with heavy traffic jams at rush hours ,so I do it all the time, but avoid these hours and is ok. It is on the junction of the autoroute des Estuaries or the A83 , and the Loire river force you to  pass by the boulevard périphérique via the bridge or Pont de Cheviré ; with its 43 km is the second longest in France after Bordeaux as in Bordeaux is always with heavy traffic. It has 23 exits or sorties call here Portes or gates and has two names, one on the north that is the A844 and for the rest is the N844 roads ,which is the one I normally take to come to the airport. On this blvd périphérique you have connection to other roads such as the  autoroute A11 on the exit 42 porte d’Anjou that goes on to Paris, the fast paying way. Others are the same A11 to Angers , the A83 towards Niort, Bordeaux, Poitiers,and Limoges, the N165 towards Quimper, Brest and my towns of Vannes and Pluvigner, the N137 to be call the A84 extension here to Rennes and Caen and also Paris. There is a good tramway network of 3 lines that with its 43,5 km is the most used in France ; there is  a boat service that transports in the river banks avec two lines call Navibus ,and the boats Loire and Passeur. The wonderful train station, that I used frequently or Gare de Nantes is service by TER intercités and TGV service to Montparnasse Paris on the TGV Atlantique as well as other cities. The station has two terminal access, the oldest is the nord or north , and the sud or south done for the TGV service also has the navette bus connection to the airport. The two terminals north and south are connected by an underground passage that you reach 15 train platforms. The city has an excellent bike network connected to the regional La Loire à Vélo part of the EuroVélo6 network also known as the Eurovélopiste des Fleuves or the bikeroute by the rivers linking Nantes to Bucharest and also Saint Nazaire to Contanta and one of the most famous European bike routes long of 3653 km crossing Europe from west to east and from the Atlantic ocean to the North sea passing by ten countries as well as the major rivers of Europe such as the Loire, Rhine, and Danube. You,also, have my favorite airport and in and out for the last several years at Nantes Atlantique airport just south of Nantes on the town limits of Bouguenais.

A bit on the laid out of the city best parts to visits. The fortified medieval city was in essence the neighborhood of Bouffay of which still can be seen the gate or Porte Saint Pierre, and the castle of the Dukes of Brittany or Château des ducs de Bretagne, as well as some wooden houses dating from the 15C. The streets of rue de la Juiverie, rue Sainte Croix, rue de la Bâclerie are still some examples of this type of architecture as well as some in the rue de Verdun, rue Bossuet,and place du Change. At the Place Royale , Place Graslin, and cours Cambronne you have the neighborhood of the Theater and Bourse. The current city center goes around the roads of a central way on the western axis starting from the Cathedral to the rue de Verdun, rue de la Marne, rue d’Orléans, rue Crébillon and finishing at the place Gambetta. All in a neo classic style, especially by rue de Strasbourg, done in the Haussmanian way as in Paris. By the 20C the center was extended to the botanical garden or jardin des plantes and the fine arts museums on the east making this neighborhood very appreciated, and the adjoining neightborhood onwards with the Dobrée museum, and the Church Notre Dame de  Bon Port. You have the Nantes island or île de Nantes the great area of the machines or Les Machines de l’île (great area!) occupying the former naval yards and on the west point of the island the Hangar à bananes along the anneaux de Buren with plenty of restaurants, bars night clubs discos including La Fabrique a space dedicated to contemporary music.

A bit of history I like.  At the Gaul’s time this area was known as the Namnétes , defeated by Julius Ceasar in the year 56 BC. The Roman latinised the name to Condevincum and make the main town of the ; at the end of the Roman period, the city was called Portus Namnetum or the port of the namnétes. Once the Roman empire ended in 476AD the area passes under control of the kingdom of the Franks by king Clovis even after facing tough resistance from the Armoricans (Bretons) and some already living in the Roman controlled areas since 280AD.  In 850AD the region is run over by king Nominoé a Breton king , on the next year in the battle of jengland the Breton market of which Nantes was its capital passes to Brittany under the treaty of Angers. From 919AD, the city of Nantes is invaded and control by the Vikings. The next period, the Dukes of Brittany will fight against the counts of Nantes for the succession rights, and for a while the area passes under the Maison of Anjou. The second war of succession of Brittany puts in opposite sides the half brother of the decease duke John III, that is Jean de Montfort helped by the Breton State calls for in Nantes ,and those of Charles de Blois helped by the king of France Philippe VI and recognized duke of Brittany by the nobles of the kingdom; The Montfort won, and their dynasty in the 14C to 16C continues and made of Nantes the capital.

Nantes becomes the main treasure to play between the king of France and the Duke of Brittany, Duke François II. Nantes is conquered in 1488 and Brittany  is administered by the kings of France. The Breton next in line and daughter of François II, is Anne de Bretagne who marries the king of France by alliance Charles VIII in 1491 and later king Louis XII in 1498 becoming as well queen of France twice! Her oldest daughter Claude de France under stress many had said, donates the duchy to her husband king François I of France, even if the Breton States asking for the union also asked for the traditions and privileges to be maintained .  In 1532 the Duchy of Brittany is finally officially annexed to the crown of France by the act  in a perpetual and indisputable will proclaimed at Nantes August 13 1532.

During the wars of Religion ,Nantes sides with the League in the fight against the Protestants, and one of the big cities to recognized king Henri IV. By 1685, th edit of Fontainebleau signed by king Louis XIV and the edit of Nantes are suspended while the black code is ordained by the king. This law ,allows the port of Nantes to become an important place for the trade of sugar, tabacco, and slavery with the colonies, and make Nantes rich especially with the slave trade by Europe, Africa ,and the Americas. Even if Nantes was not the only one doing this, she was a pioneer.

During the French revolution, the city was held by Republican forces (revolutionaries) on the first line of the Vendéene revolt and its resistance was one of the keys of the Republican victory by given them a rear base and negating the Vendéene of a harbor to received help from England. From October 1793 to February 1794 the convention or revolutionary council established a terror politics in the area without mercy. Between 12K to 13K persons, men ,women and children were put in the prisons of Nantes of which between 8K to 11K died, either by the guillotine, firing squads, epidemics or drowning’s in the Loire. Since 1960, there is a renewal spirit to bring out the Breton traditions and by 1994 the Breton Cultural Agency  created by the mayor’s office to keep track, and by 2001, the municipal council recognized the historical and cultural attachment of Nantes to Brittany without going as far as changing the current administration laws. This disunion comes forward since 1941 by the regime of Vichy in their regional programs of 1955 and later in administrative regions separating each time the Loire Atlantique (dept 44) from the other Breton departments. Nantes  is now in the region of the Pays de la Loire even if the debate persists. How can laws by a traitor (Pétain of Vichy) are still held makes no sense to me anyway, my five cents worth.

During the WWII Nantes was occupied by the Nazis from 1940 and finally they leave the city in August 12 1944 before the arrival of an unit of the US 3rd Army under General Patton, that was led by General John Shirley Wood (the same who liberated Vannes).

 The castle of the dukes of Brittany, located on the right bank of the Loire river in city center of Nantes.  It was the principal residence of the Dukes of  Brittany from the 13C to the 15C. It is a fortress with seven towers links by smaller corridors , at the courtyard is surrounded by different buildings dating from the 15C 16C and 18C as well as the Ducal residence built in chalk . The Cathedral of Saint Pierre et Saint Paul, gothic style on the Place Saint Pierre. It was built under the request of Duke John V duke of Brittany and the bishop Jean de Malestroit in 1434 and it was eventually finished by 1891!!!. The Basilica of Saint Nicolas of neo gothic style and one of the first one in France dates from the 19C; it was raised to Basilica in 1882. The Church Notre Dame de Bon Port, built in 1852 has a dome that it was copied from that of the Invalides in Paris.

You will find many squares like the Place Graslin with its theater, the Place Royale with a fountain representing the Loire and its tributaries, the Place du Commerce , the most lively in town ,and the Place Maréchal Foch with its column on a pedestal a rare statue of king Louis XVI existing in France today.  All these square are connected by wide avenues such as the cours Cambronne from the Place Graslin, cours Saint Pierre and cours Saint André from the place Maréchal Foch with a nice perspectives.  These neighborhood grouped the former justice palace, located at place Aristide Briand, the regional government building or préfecture of the Loire-Atlantique (now the seat of the chamber of accounts of Brittany!) , the Palais de la Bourse, and the island or île Feydeau (by rue Kervégan, temple du Goût, and cour Ovale) all on a single grouping comparable with the île Saint Louis in Paris. By the quai de la Fosse you will find traces of the old harbor of Nantes.

For the chic shopper the Passage Pommeraye is heavens right in city center built between 1841-1843 on three levels with a central stairs and decorated with medallions and statues , just chic ; then you have the brewery or Brasserie La Cigale opened in 1895 and just doing well. The cookie /biscuit LU an institution here and now Le Lieu Unique now a cultural center on the national scene; you can see it from the top rampart of the castle of the Dukes of Brittany. The former Manufacture des Tabacs or cigars done in 1861  similar to one in Strasbourg with five buildings  and two interior courtyards that by the 1980’s was renovated and turned into municipal services offices and lodgings. The nice Jardin des Plantes that I past my leisure times each time traveling by the train station was created in 1807, and opened to the public in 1895 along the styles of the 19C with a mosaic or ceramic tradition and floral decorations with several cascades and water fountains; officially it is known as the botanical garden but still call by its old name. The park or parc de Procé was a domain surrounded by a mansion done in 1789 , the park has been provided with huge trees rhododendrons, magnolias, fuchsias, dahlias and bushes and has the oldest tulipan of Virginia in France.  The floral park or Parc Floral de la Beaujoire created upon the celebration of the Floralies in 1971 has one of the biggest monumental fountain of Europe! the northern part is dedicated to  the horticulture such as the rose axis with 35 sites and allowing the exposition of 25K rose trees of 1500 species!! . Some curiosity is the Miséricorde cemetery or cimetiére Miséricorde  called here the Pére Lachaise(Paris) of Nantes  as you have on a long tree-lined promenade of cypress and linden trees about 60 mausoleums of the neo gothic style  that house the dead of the grand families of Nantes with the oldest part has a cemetery for the Jews and Protestants until the 1870’s , with the Jewish square place on the part reserve for Protestants.

As far as museums ,this town can match any. First, the museum of history (Musée de l’Histoire) in the interior of the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany showing the story of Nantes over the centuries.  The museum of fine arts or beaux-arts of Nantes has paintings showing a complete panorama of the western painting styles from the 13C to our days. You have the very nice and rich Dobrée museum with works from the middle ages to the 20C showing a large selection of archeological objects going from the 1C just to the Carolingian period as well as housing the box of where it was place the heart of Anne de Bretagne (duchess of Brittany, and queen of France). The beautiful Graslin theater is an opera house done in 1788 on the place Graslin ,across the great restaurant La Cigale. The Jules Verne museum is dedicated to his work of the writer born in Nantes in 1828. The museum of natural history of Nantes has a collection of natural sciences from the zoology the fauna, mineralogy and a vivarium  showing reptiles and amphibians of all origins.  The Planetarium of Nantes has an 8 meter dome with projections showing the solar system and different constellations; it has , also a numerical planetarium. Also, the first memorial dedicated to slavery is here known as the Mémorial de l’Abolition de l’Esclavage d’Europe. Opened in 2012 along the quai de la Fosse between the pont Anne de Bretagne and the Passarelle Victor Schoelcher

Some webpages to help you plan your visit to this wonderful, airy ,and cosmopolitan city of the west of France, Nantes. It is worth a visit indeed.

city of Nantes on the history  in French :

Tourist office of Nantes:

Dept 44 Loire Atlantique tourism in French:

Region pays de la Loire tourism in English:

Nantes Metropole on tourism of Nantes !

There you have it folks, you can go wrong by reading above before you visit. Hope it helps, have a great weekend, happy travels, good health, and many cheers!!!

4 Comments to “And I bring you, Nantes!! Is it Breton? Yes!!!”

  1. I visited Nantes once and stayed with a French friend who took me to meet an elderly French woman. They had a “discussion” about whether or not Nantes was Breton. I will always remember their passion but I can’t remember why they were arguing. Seems like all would agree?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for all the recommendations and history of Nantes – I am visiting on Thursday, so your post came at a good time!


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