Alright, so as mentioned in my first post I’ve already been here a couple months and I have a ton to talk about. So today, in an effort to describe my new city and a bit of what life is like here, I’m going to share my top places in Nantes, France. This might be a bit long.
Some background before I begin: Nantes is a mid size city in the Pays de la Loire region of France, with a history of being a port town (although it’s about 45 minutes from the Atlantic) and the primary residence of the Dukes of Brittany before they joined with France. I chose to study here because it’s smaller size and general non-Paris-ness meant there is very little English spoken, and so the language immersion is much more impactful than it would be in a more touristy region. That being said, Nantes does still welcome plenty of tourists and several things on this list are the classic, tourist-oriented attractions of the city. I still highly recommend them, as they are a part of the Nantes experience and you will see plenty of locals enjoying them too! I would also like to note that everything on this list is within a 45 minute walk of each other, and the public transportation network here is amazing, bringing everything to a roughly 20 minute commute. The city is full of things to do, but not too overwhelming, which is perfect.
- Les Restaurants Universitaires
Okay, this isn’t really a tourist attraction. But still an excellent thing to know about for IES students. With your student card (which you get over orientation) you can go to the restaurants at the University of Nantes, which provide a huge cafeteria style meal for roughly €3.30. It’s an excellent deal for lunch, the food is surprisingly good, and there’s several different restaurants at the campuses all around the city. Check them out!
- L’Ile de Versailles
This charming Japanese garden just so happens to be located about ten minutes from my house (and a ten-minute tram ride from IES). Built on a man-made island in the center of the Erdre river, this is a beautiful, free park that’s an excellent spot to wander on a nice day when you’re craving a little greenery. Nantes is known as the blue and green city; there’s three main rivers and a ton of parks and natural spaces. In fact, one of the courses I’m taking at IES is on how Nantes won the European Green Capital award in 2013, and the environmental and biodiversifying practices they implement. Fun fact: every person in Nantes lives within 300 meters from a green space. So, if you like parks, rivers, and tons of birds and flowers, Nantes is a great place for you!
- Le Musée d’Arts de Nantes
Of course, Nantes has its cultural options as well. IES students can take classes at the school of Beaux-Arts, and they have a fairly impressive art museum as well. For just €10, you can buy an unlimited year long pass. It’s a good deal, a fun way to feel very European, and a great collection of modern and classic works. I don’t know that much about art, I have to admit, but I still bought the unlimited pass and I’ve already enjoyed wandering around the exhibits a couple of times now.
- Le Château des Ducs de Bretagne
There’s a castle. In the city. Fifteen minutes by foot from IES. It has a moat. Europe is awesome. There’s a Nantes History Museum within the castle that you have to pay to access, but you can walk along the walls and into sections of it for free, and it’s just a fun experience you can check out over and over. While you’re in the neighborhood, stop in the Nantes Cathedral, built in the 1400s and just beautiful.
- Les Machines de L’Ile
This is probably the most classic tourist attraction of the city. To get a sense of it, I just recommend looking it up. Here’s a couple of pictures I’ve taken there too. It’s quite unique.
- La Jardin des Plantes
The biggest and most famous garden in Nantes, again with free access. It’s beautiful and peaceful, it has a long history and a lot of funky, quirky elements that change with the seasons. There’s not too much more to say about it, but it’s a must do for any Nantes visitor.
- Your host family’s living room
For the sake of space, I’m saving all the wonderful things I have to say about life with a host family for another post. But I had to include this in the list. For one, living rooms are free. So big bonus there. But this is also where you’re more likely to have conversations with your host family. It’s where they’ll come in and give you a blanket and turn on the radio so you can hear some French reporting. It’s where the dog will come drop a toy in your lap. It’s probably where I’ve gotten the best exposure to the language and gotten to know my host parents the most. So make sure you spend some time there too!
- Le Nid
Every place I visit, I try to get a bird’s eye view. In Nantes, they took this pretty literally, with the bar “Le Nid” or “The Nest”. It’s at the top of the Tour Bretagne, Nantes’ lone, kind of ugly skyscraper in the middle of the city center. They took the nest theme to heart, as you might be able to tell from my pictures. But there’s a great 360 degree view of the city from up there, and it’s really fun to go up (for only €1!) and orient yourself, notice the differences between the older (1400s) and newer (1800s) neighborhoods of the city, try to spot your host parent’s house, and finally figure out where the Loire is relative to IES. I highly recommend.
In short, Nantes is a really cool city, with so many things to do (this list is really only the highlights, there’s a lot going on here), and an amazing place to study abroad!
Coming up in my next posts…host families, independent travel, classes, and more!