On first impressions, Nantes is probably not the city you would expect one of history’s most visionary science fiction writers to originate from.

That’s not to say it’s dull or short on inspiration, just that on the surface it has a quiet charm which makes it difficult to differentiate from so many other cities – until you know what you’re looking for.

While Nantes bangs on about being the birthplace of Jules Verne, who wrote Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea and Around The World In Eighty Days, it’s the city’s ability to move on from the past which makes it a good spot to stop on any tour of France. The city made its name internationally as an important port in the 18th century when trade with the West Indies exploded. While its maritime role has decreased markedly ever since, an emphasis on education and industry has maintained its mark on the map.

Get shopping

It might not have the reputation of the Champs-Élysées, but you’d be crazy not to pay a visit to the Passage Pommeraye. You’re not just going here to take a look at the fashion boutiques and the jewellery stores, you’re going to have a look at the building itself. Opened in 1843, the Passage Pommeraye was the outcome of one man’s dream, and it’s hard to believe the finished product didn’t live up to it. It has a monumental staircase connecting three levels under an elegant glass roof. The entire building is beautifully decorated and even the stairs are ornately designed. It’s a great place to feed a passion for architecture and shopping.


Being so close to the coast, seafood lovers will find no shortage of quality produce here, but if you’re after a place with a more tropical feel (you’ll have to forget about the weather during the cooler parts of the year), head to Trentemoult. It’s a village on the left bank of the Loire, opposite the port of Nantes, and feels decidedly coastal. The houses are brightly painted, the alleys are narrow and the cafés are well placed to take advantage of the river. What is strange, but inviting, is the presence of the out-of-place palm trees dotted in many front yards. The trees were gifts which many sailors brought home for their wives during the port’s heyday.

Getting out and about

Once you’ve had a look around town, head into the countryside. You’re not going for the wonderful country feel, you’re going for the good stuff. The Loire Valley is famous for a variety of wines, but it’s the Musdcadet sur Lie which grabs most of the attention. Chateau du Cleray-Sauvion is a beautiful cellar door with charming hosts in Jean-Ernest and Yves Sauvion. Open throughout the week and by appointment on the weekends, this is a beautiful spot to discover the joys of this dry and fruity white wine.

Worth a look

Le Lieu Unique
This is the city’s wonderful industrial-chic-style concert venue, occupying the one-time Lu biscuit factory. This unique former artists’ squat offers dance and theatre preformances, eclectic and electronic music, philosophical sessions and contemporary art. It also has a bar, restaurant and library. It’s exactly the kind of place everyone wishes was just around the corner from their house.

Bonus points for: Quality seafood and wine
Loses marks for: Being a little predictable
Check out: www.nantes-tourisme.com

Additional information supplied by Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com). The fifth edition of Lonely Planet France is out now.