The westernmost city along the Loire River, Nantes is a buzzing student town and creative hub, with a knack for reinventing itself. Street art installations brighten up its historic squares and medieval château, old shipyards have been transformed into bars and galleries, and the fantastical Jules Verne-inspired Machines de l’Îles is a veritable urban theme park, where you can ride a 12-meter-high mechanical elephant.
The beaches of Brittany and the Vendée lie within a short drive of the city, but the island monastery of Le Mont St Michel, one of France’s most visited attractions, tops the list for day trips. To the east, the medieval cities, fairy-tale châteaux, and patchwork vineyards of the Loire Valley provide never-ending highlights for a road trip or bike ride.
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IF YOU ONLY HAVE ONE DAY…
Walk the ramparts of the Château des Ducs de Bretagne, explore the atmospheric Graslin and Bouffay quarters, and pose for photos beneath the giant bench in the Jardin des Plantes. Cross the bridge to the Île de Nantes to ride a gigantic mechanical elephant at Les Machines de l’Île, then join locals for a drink at the Hangar à Bananes along the Loire Riverfront.