Here it is! My travel/food blog on a week in Nantes. My husband and I love to travel. Before having our first born we were living in Australia and we’d take every opportunity to have a long weekend somewhere, hire a campervan for a few weeks, or go wine tasting in the Hunter Valley. My husband is a Professor at a university and does a good job of lining up conferences and guest seminars in different countries. I used to tag along regularly, but with 2 kids in tow and now school terms to abide by this is less easy. In May the stars aligned and we all headed off to Nantes for the half term week. My husband to work and myself and the kids for a jolly!
We’d passed through Nantes for a night before on our way down to Île de Ré one summer and clocked it as being a fun city – we had an adults long weekend in mind, but returning with the kids in tow, I soon realised that the city had so much to do for families.
Here’s what we got up to, with deliciousness thrown in as much as possible!
Day 1: Food!
We got off on a bad foot when it came to food…after having to change our ferry to arrive on a Sunday, we completely forgot that France still respects Sunday as a day of rest and that no supermarkets would be open after midday. After promising the kids a crêpe we found all the local crêperies fully booked for a large group exiting the local church. We picked up some crêpes from the supermarket which the kids enjoyed plain, but then after driving the rest of the way to our accommodation, we realised that by the time we got there the supermarkets were all closed. Whoops!
Thankfully, I tend to be over prepared when it comes to packing food, so we had plenty of supplies for a mock up dinner (see photo), plus cereal and UHT milk for breakfast, so we were sorted until the next morning. Look out for my future blog on food for travelling!
Day 2: Local market in Rezé and swimming at Jules Verne piscine plus boating from Ile de Versailles and the Japanese gardens.
Oh, how I love a French market! The abundance of quality, local produce makes me feel like a kid in a sweet shop and it’s hard not to want to buy it all. Unfortunately, as I was there for less than a week, I had to choose! The kids immediately spotted the ripest cherries and my son requested apricots too. We were drawn to some local honey too which the seller explained where from bees harvesting pollen from different plants…this was however all in French and way above my understanding, so we bought 2 for taste testing J We then headed to the olives and I picked up some fresh anchovies and an enormous fennel plus a lemon (the three of which combine perfectly). Swinging buy the local boulangerie on the way home for a boule de campagne and lunch was sorted!
The kids agreed on the way home that shopping outdoors in the market won hands down to our local supermarket at home. It’s such a great way to get the kids involved with food too. All the different produce laid out so enticingly draws them in and allowing them to choose what they liked the look of gets them interested in eating it later.
After this we headed to the pool for the kids to let off steam. Here again I was thwarted by opening times and could only swim between 12pm and 1.30pm, but we made it happened and the pool had a lazy river, bubbles, a slide plus two shallow pools suitable for kids. We had a lot of fun and spent all the time available there. There was also a fun looking flume, but sadly this was only for 8 years plus.
(There is an outdoor pool in Nantes, but it is only open from mid-June).
In the evening we went to meet my husband on the Ile de Versailles. The kids had a play in the playground and explored the gardens including the stepping stones and waterfall whilst we waited. This Japanese style garden is beautifully designed and fun for kids, but I did think it had an inner city feel and I wouldn’t plan to spend more than an hour here.
We had booked a little electric boat online and took it for a little tootle up the river and back for an hour. The kids got to drive and it was very relaxing to be on the water.
Day 3: Crazy golf at Nantes Camping and Parc de La Moriniere, plus another park after dinner!
We headed here on route to my husband’s place of work, so it was a fun place to spend an hour before he had to head off, but I wouldn’t go out of your way, unless you or the kids are obsessed with crazy golf of course. It is written about quite grandly on the tourism website, but it wasn’t that unusual. Our two had fun though and it was quite challenging even for us adults, so it got quite competitive.
We then headed to one of the parks near where we were staying (see photo) and spent a very relaxed afternoon playing and watching the frogs creep up the bank and then leap back into the water when we walked past. As we sat and read Esio Trot (by Roald Dahl!) they all hopped onto the grass to sun themselves and then the kids would stand up and watch them leaping back in. Late May is a good time for frogs and the chorus of mating calls was amazing to hear.
After dinner we headed to the other park local to us, this time for a play in the playground, which is in the middle of the most amazing allotments. Another opportunity to spot different veggies and flowers with the kids!
Day 4: Chateau des ducs de Bretagne, Aire de Jeux de Kinya Maruyama plus crepes
The highlight this day was heading to the Chateau in the middle of Nantes and having a play before meeting up with the hubby in the early evening. The Chateau has an amazing wall which you can walk the entirety of (for free). There were also turtles in the moat and ducklings to look at.
The park nearby is a very clever sculptural design made to look like a dragon, which the kids enjoyed, but it isn’t large, so it was soon finally crêperie o’clock! The kids enjoyed and were defeated by their enormous sweet crepes, whilst my husband and I enjoyed a savoury galette each, which the kids tried and liked too.
Day 5: Ile de Nantes and the weird and wonderful world of Les Machines de l’ile plus a nice café
This is the highlight of Nantes. I felt very lucky to be visiting this place for the second time, having been here on our brief visit last time. Both kids were too young to remember the place from 3 years ago, so this time it was great to share it with them and hopefully the eldest will remember it for many years to come!
It’s hard to explain this place! It is an imaginary world of mechanical animals as well as other things and you get to ride on an enormous and beautiful elephant. There’s also the largest and strangest carousel you will have ever come across. I’ll allow the photos to explain!
This area is a vast one with lots of warehouses. The restaurants and cafes in this area are actually good value for money for food and the café we found was very child friendly, with a childrens’ corner. The warehouses mean that there is lots of space.
You can book some tickets for the elephant ride online, but if you haven’t I recommend getting there early to avoid the queues. Half an hour before opening should do it. You’ll be offered tickets for a particular ride time, but don’t worry if it’s later in the day as you can visit the gallery and the carousel in the meantime. Check the website though as opening times vary throughout the year. https://www.lesmachines-nantes.fr/en/ Tickets for the carousel are available on the gate.
The gift shop here has some beautiful things in too.
Day 6: Jardin de Plantes followed by the prettiest ice cream ever and a cool off in “the water mirror”
After a chilled morning (as the week progressed the kids were getting more and more tired), we headed to the botanical gardens. This garden has the wow factor. It is in the centre of Nantes (near the cathedral which we also ducked into), but is so relaxing. There’s a sandy playground plus some quirky things to spot as you walk round and lots of bird life and more noisy frogs! We could have spent longer, but it was hot and ice cream was calling. We walked for 20 minutes to a place I had identified on google for having good reviews and joined the long queue! Boy was it worth the wait. They had a large array of flavours including the densest, silkiest sorbert – I chose lime and basil sorbet, raspberry sorbet and black cherry and cream ice cream – just look how pretty it is! No wonder the queue was pretty long and slow! Not one for when you are in a hurray! They did a petite size for the kids which was perfect. They could still have more than one flavour and it was more than ample.
After refuelling we stopped outside the Chateau again and the kids cooled off in this clever area called the water mirror (Le Miroir d'Eau). This is a large pool of water across the paving stones only 2cm deep, with water jets jumping out of it. It’s called the mirror as when there aren’t hundreds of kids screaming and running all over it, you can see the reflection of the chateau! The kids loved it…next time I’d take their swimmers!
Where we stayed:
We stayed in an AirBnB apartment in the south of Nantes in an area called Nantes Sud. The local playground was in an amazing allotment and we were close to the river for running and walking.
The transport links are really good and run regularly in Nantes and you can plan your routes and buy tickets on an app called TAN. A single ticket is €1.70 will allow you to travel on and change between any train, bus or trams for one hour, so it’s really easy.
If you have your car the French don’t like paying for parking, so you can often find street parking for free even in the most touristy areas. The parks had some parking on site too.
What we didn’t do:
Main market Marche de Talensac – sadly the opportunity to go to another market didn’t arise. We did pass through here 3 years ago and it is massive and I remember eating the most delicious and unusual tasting strawberries I’ve ever tasted, so I’d have sought those out again!
The Hill Quai des Antilles
On Va Marcher Sur La Lune Quai Fernand Crouan
Make sure you check opening times for everything. It is all available online, but make sure you double check as an “open” status on google doesn’t necessarily mean you will be able to take part in the activity – this is usually taking place between specific hours.