Surrounded by a water-filled moat, the imposing Château des Ducs de Bretagne is a good place to start any visit of France’s sixth largest city. It was built in the 15th century by Francois II, one of the last rulers of Brittany, and later became the Breton residence of the French monarchy. After an extensive 15-year restoration programme, the castle now houses Nantes’ history museum, where visitors can learn about the city’s past as France’s largest port. Kids will enjoy a walk around the ramparts followed by a picnic on the grassy lawn.
Nantes’ old town can be found in the maze of streets to the west of the château in the Bouffay district. As well as half-timbered houses, you’ll also discover some of the city’s best shopping including speciality food boutiques and the Galeries Lafayette department store. The Passage Pommeraye, a spectacular 19th-century glass-roofed shopping mall, is not to be missed in the newer part of town.
The city has several museums, including the newly refurbished natural history museum. Art lovers should head to the Musée des Beaux-Arts, whose works date from the 13th to the 19th century; it also has a contemporary art collection. Culture vultures are generally spoilt for choice as Nantes has a vibrant live music scene; it even has its own opera house. There is a full calendar of events including a carnival in April.
Elephants on the island
Connected to the mainland by bridges, the once-industrial Île de Nantes has undergone a makeover in recent years. The island now has some great restaurants and quirky bars as well as Les Machines de l’Île: a workshop where artists have created mechanical animals whose centrepiece is a 39ft (12m)-high elephant, which takes passengers on a tour of the surroundings.