Recently, I caught up with Kate Thomas, an American Francophile who currently makes her home in Sainte-Luce sur Loire, a northeast suburb of Nantes. She was gracious enough to share with me all of the reasons she loves this singular city, located in western France – just 30 miles from the Atlantic coast.
What brought you to Nantes, Kate?
I arrived in Nantes four years ago completely by chance. After studying abroad in Clermont-Ferrand while a student at Kalamazoo College in Michigan, I decided to come back to France after I finished my degree. I applied for a teaching assistant-ship through the French government and was placed in the heart of Nantes.
On my first day in Nantes, I discovered that Nantes is built on–literally–three rivers, the Loire, the Erdre, and the Sèvre. Thanks to the natural geography of the city and urban planning over the years, there are tons of “green spaces,” espaces vertes as the French call them, which allows Nantes to be a large metropolitan area while retaining a human scale. In the first months of living here, I fell in love with Nantes.
What are your favorite restaurants/bars in the city?
I’ve got a number of “squats,” bars, restaurants or cafés where I’m a regular and on a first-name basis with the owners and servers.
The Webb Ellis is a rugby-themed bar that is great even if you’re not a rugby fan–I’m not. They serve homemade micro-brews and other beers, and also have their own wine labels. Since southeastern France is the heartland of French rugby, they serve mostly all goods from the same region: lots of nice cheeses, hard sausages and other charcuterie.
Another favorite is Café Cult , which is in a historical building in the heart of Nantes. They serve lunch and dinner, and also are a café/bar all day. The convenient location, good service, and big patio seating section make it a great place to meet up with friends.
Au Coup de Canon (12 Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau) is a wine bar and bistro that has a small but well-prepared menu and an awesome wine selection. They will help you choose from the many chalkboards overflowing with wine choices (at least they divide the wines by red, rosé, white, foreign, bubble, etc.).
For a longer dinner with friends, I often go to Les Copains D’Abord (7 Rue de l’Arche Sèche), a cozy restaurant with a delicious seasonal menu. Their steak tartare is my favorite in Nantes, served with homemade rustic potatoes. The resto itself is almost hidden under a bridge, but is about 2-minutes from Place Royal, in the center of Nantes.
What is your favorite season in Nantes? Why?
Late spring, early summer (May and June)! First off, it’s mussel season! After months of waiting, moûles-frites are GREAT at this time of year, and we’ve got a great selection since we’re so close to the coast. Also, because we’re so far west in the time zone, it stays light quite late, which makes for great picnics along the Erdre River where we even raise our plastic cups to the “bateaux nantais” (tourist boats) that pass by.
In your opinion, what are some of the most unique/interesting things about Nantes?
The slanty buildings! Along the two main rivers in downtown Nantes, many of the old buildings (those that survived the WWII bombings) are sinking and shifting, making them sit crookedly on their foundations.
Nantes is a city that’s rich in history but has learned to marry its past to its modernity. There are reminders of this history all over the city, architecturally and culturally. Nevertheless, the city has been updated to accommodate modern lifestyles, especially with rental bikes (the “bicloo”).
What is a place, activity, etc. that is a “must see/must do” that most tourists might miss when visiting Nantes?
Hands down, Marché de Talensac (Place de Talensac)! This is a large covered market open everyday (except Monday) that has everything from fresh bread and fish, fruits and veggies, to gorgeous patisseries, or olives. I’d suggest picking up a picnic lunch from the market before heading for a walk through the Japanese gardens at the Ile de Versaille (10 min from Talensac) and then walking along the Erdre River.
The LU is a former cookie factory that’s been converted into a bar, restaurant, hammam ( steambath), concert space, gallery, and bookstore. One of the original towers is still standing and has a great panoramic view of the city for only 2€. After climbing up, you eventually get onto a platform that rotates almost 360°. Even more fun: YOU control the platform with a crank!
Written by Jen Westmoreland Bouchard for EuropeUpClose.com