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A weekend in Nantes, Brittany

They say there was a particularly progressive law that came from this part of France in 1598.

Called the Edict of Nantes, it allowed unheard of religious freedoms to the Protestant minority living in Catholic France at the time. It was a law that upheld their rights and allowed them to live by their faith. The internet tells me this controversial edict signed into law by King Henry IV was one of the first decrees granting religious tolerance in Europe.

I had no idea.

We took a weekend trip to Nantes in order to catch up with friends from Sydney. We had been planning to meet for three years and were finally able to do so that weekend.


Blue skies and sunshine at the Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne

We walked and talked the weekend away. There was a lot of catching up to do.

The Chateau was where we started our Saturday. A giant fortified castle that saw eight centuries of history pass through its doors. Just outside the moat is a statue to Anne of Brittany, twice Queen of France.

The Statue of Anne of Brittany by the sculptor Jean Fréhour

Her first husband was King Charles VIII. Her second was his cousin, Louis XII, who took the throne because Anne and Charles had no heir. They say Louis XII loved Anne very much. She died in 1514.

We walked further on and came to Le Jardain des plantes. It’s been a botanical garden for a long time. 300 years.

You’d expect tradition and some formality. But we were delighted to find these modern colourful sculptures in unexpected places. It’s the work of graphic designer Jean Jullien. The local guide book says they have come to life from his sketchbooks.

This was a pretty spot. There was a café just around the corner and a playground nearby. Our friends could let their three-year-old son roam free for a little while. We rested here for a bit before walking on to the heart of Nantes.

This is the Basilique Saint-Nicolas. It was destroyed in WWII and rebuilt in 2002. Apparently it has an amazing organ inside. But we didn’t know.

We walked past it on our way to the Museum d’Histoire Naturelle.

I took a moment to take a photo though. It looked amazing.

Not too far from there is this beautiful square – Place Royale. We sat and cooled our heels near this fountain in the middle of the square before heading off again.

It was a lovely day. The sun was shining. The sky was blue. And people were out, sitting and enjoying the warm day. It all felt very French. And very pleasant.

The natural history museum was small but delightful. We walked along a charming unassuming road and there it was.

It looked like an interesting treasure box waiting to be opened. The staff told us there would be an event for children from 6 o’clock, with refreshments and entertainment. Entry would also be free.

So we walked on to the Memorial de l’Abolition de l’Esclavage vowing to come back later.

The memorial to the slave trade that made Nantes wealthy and its abolition is right near the Loire river. It was a somber modern space. Beautiful with its straight simple lines.

Artistic and political, the memorial reminded us that it’s not very long ago that the world vowed to abolish slavery in all its forms.

Close to 6 pm we headed back to the Natural History Museum and watched on in tired enjoyment as our teenage son and our friend’s toddler looked on, fascinated by the exhibits. The free banana and strawberry smoothies were delicious too!

We had dinner at a restaurant specialising in West African fare – La Table Ébène. It seems people take their time to eat here. We spent a relaxing and delicious hour and a half in the evening sunlight, talking and eating. Et voilà, as they say, soon it was the end of our first day in Nantes.


Sunday. It was our last day in Nantes. We didn’t eat breakfast at our hotel. Instead we grabbed some pastries near Place du Bouffay. I washed it down with a café au lait. My almond croissant was sweet and my coffee creamy. It was delicious and cheap!

At the Place du Bouffay, you’ll see this sculpture. It’s an ode to sidestepping. A giant bronze sculpture of a suited man looking out to the horizon with only one foot on the plinth. It’s by artist Philippe Remette and celebrates an attitude that inspires one to think outside the box.

From there we took the tram to the Pont Anne de Bretagne and walked across it to Ile de Nantes to experience Machine de l’Ile.

Giant machines made from wood and steel. They were beautiful works of art that moved. Our son loved the steampunk aesthetic and it was lovely to see him engage with what he was seeing.

It really was a giant elephant
A young girl riding a huge caterpillar
This is us in the skeleton of a giant flying fish

Soon it was time for a leisurely lunch. Close to 3 pm we headed back to our hotel to catch our flight to London.

We said our goodbyes. I got the sweetest hug and a kiss on the cheek from a three-year-old boy. And we left our friends and Nantes.

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May 2022
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