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Nantes France French Destinations

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Nantes used to be the capital of Brittany and, although in 1996 it was lumped in with the Pays de la Loire for administrational purposes, it will always be Breton at heart. We have it here in the Atlantic Coast section because of its important links to that ocean, through the slave trade and shipbuilding industries and colonial expeditions that set out from here.

http://www.nantes tourisme.com/http://www.nantes tourisme.com/ Official tourist site for Nantes. (See top left button for English)

Nantes is France's sixth largest city and an important university town, with good museums, parks and lots of places to eat and drink. It was here that Henri IV signed the Edict of Nantes in 1598, ensuring the civils rights and freedom of French Protestants, only to have it revoked by Louis XIV in 1685 with far worse consequences.

The tourist office on the place du Commerce (02 40 20 60 00) provides invaluable free guides to the hotels and restaurants in Nantes, of which there are many. Hotels tend to be concentrated around the gare SNCF just east of the centre, or around the place Graslin. The Amiral at 26bis rue Scribe (02 40 69 20 21) is on a pedestrianized street north of place Graslin and has rooms from €30 70, or the nearby Cholet at 10 rue Gresset (02 40 73 31 04) has rooms from €40 55. Rates tend to drop at weekends, so make sure you are informed.

The two main districts in Nantes are separated by the cours des 50 Otages dual carriageway. The medieval city has the cathedral and chateau within it, whilst the 19th century town on the west of the cours des 50 Otages has the elegant places Graslin and Royale. The Chateau des Ducs has welcomed such diverse characters as Machiavelli (1498) and Bluebeard (1440), but now it is a popular picnic spot for more regular folk. The Cathédrale de St Pierre et St Paul has survived centuries of disaster and been restored to its former glory of white stone and great height. The 19th century town was laid out by Graslin, a financier, in the 1780s, and includes the fountain in place Royale, the Grand Théatre in place Graslin and the early version of a shopping centre, the Passage Pommeraye where marble cherubs hold up the gas lamps.

A sight not to miss is Le Lieu Unique, a building that used to house the LU biscuit factory but which has now been restored and houses a gallery, theatre, restaurant, bar and art shop. This is just one of the increasing number of friches industrielles in France, buildings that have been saved from ruin and used for new purposes whilst keeping the original structure. If you don't fancy eating here, you could try any of the hundreds of good restaurants in the pedestrianized old town, or the place Graslin.