Travel review: A trip to Nantes from Bristol Airport

PUBLISHED: 11:51 16 July 2015 | UPDATED: 08:39 17 July 2015

Le Carrousel des Mondes Marins. Les Machines de l’ile. Nantes © Jean-Dominique Billaud/LVAN

Le Carrousel des Mondes Marins. Les Machines de l’ile. Nantes © Jean-Dominique Billaud/LVAN

Jean-Dominique Billaud/LVAN

An artistic new destination has been added to the list of flights now available from Bristol Airport. Airline bmi regional has begun taking passengers to Nantes this summer, and reporter BECKY PARKER took the inaugural flight to find out what the French city has to offer.

Le Grand Elephant. Les Machines de l’ile. Nantes © Jean-Dominique Billaud - Nautilus/LVANLe Grand Elephant. Les Machines de l’ile. Nantes © Jean-Dominique Billaud - Nautilus/LVAN

NANTES is clearly a city caught in the midst of a cultural revival, with an eclectic mix of old and new at every turn.

From the gorgeous and extravagant architecture of the 15th century to the derelict warehouses which have been revamped and turned into chic galleries or eateries – there really is something for everyone.

Up until the 1970s Nantes was a city best known for its shipbuilding industry. When that died away and unemployment rose, the city’s leaders decided they must do something – so they invested in the arts.

La Parade de Yodel - La nuit du Van - Le Voyage a Nantes 2014 © Martin Argyroglo / LVANLa Parade de Yodel - La nuit du Van - Le Voyage a Nantes 2014 © Martin Argyroglo / LVAN

From fine art to contemporary installations, from mechanical wonders to extravagant gardens, Nantes is a city jam-packed with art of all shapes, sizes and styles.

Nantes has adopted a brilliant and yet simple approach to guiding tourists around the city’s many artworks; a green line painted on the pavement connects all the pieces in one big trail. The line will take visitors to examples of the city’s architectural heritage to installations and other cultural sites.

For those who do not fancy the walk, there are plenty of public transport options, including the tramway, the bus and the river ferry.

The green line is 10km long and has 30 stops along the way. The trail is at its peak between July 3 and August 30, during which time a number of additional temporary sculptures are installed.

Tatzu Nishi, Villa Cheminee, Cordemais, creation perenne Estuaire 2009 © Bernard Renoux/LVAN.Tatzu Nishi, Villa Cheminee, Cordemais, creation perenne Estuaire 2009 © Bernard Renoux/LVAN.

One of Nantes’ most accessible artworks is Le Jardin Déjante, a stunning collection of sculptures set in the city’s beautiful botanical gardens. The giant benches and laughing plants are great fun, and the garden also contains a charming horticultural sculpture of a sleepy chick – the main character in a popular French children’s book.

Other pieces are littered throughout the city and can be found in the most innocuous of places, such as the Nymphéa – a video projected onto the surface of the Canal Saint-Félix, which is beautiful yet eerie, as the reflection gives the impression of a mythical underwater creature.

Even the shop signs are wooden puppets invented by artists to tell the story of the wares sold inside.

After a long day walking round the city appreciating its offerings, tourists can join the locals at the popular cocktail bar Le Nid, which stands at 144m high and offers a 360-degree view of the city – which is most stunning at night. Even the furniture is tainted with the city’s playful artistic side, as a huge white bird curls around the interior and all the seats are made from broken eggs.

Quartier Bouffay, Nantes, 2013 © Gino MaccarinelliQuartier Bouffay, Nantes, 2013 © Gino Maccarinelli

Not all the art is contemporary, and the city boasts a gorgeous 15th-century cathedral, the Cathédrale Saint Pierre et Saint Paul, and the castle-turned-museum, the Château Des Ducs De Bretagne, is also well worth a look.

In my opinion the most staggering piece of art to be discovered in Nantes is the 49-tonne mechanical elephant living at the Machines De L’île. Visitors can ride the creature as it screams and showers people below in water.

Also at the same museum is the Carrousel des Mondes Marins – a 25m-high carousel with marine creatures made from wood and metal on three levels. It offers stunning panoramic views of the city.

Although many of the installations are amusing in their quirkiness and capture the childlike joy of the city, some are much more sombre. By the river at the Quai De La Fosse is a memorial to the abolition of slavery, a nod to the role Nantes played in shipping thousands of slaves from Africa to the West.

Croisiere Estuaire Nantes<>Saint-Nazaire - La Maison dans la Loire, 2013 © Bernard RenouxCroisiere Estuaire Nantes<>Saint-Nazaire - La Maison dans la Loire, 2013 © Bernard Renoux

Above ground, 2,000 plaques are planted in the pavement depicting the names of the slave ships which passed through the city while underground there is a chilling monument carved into the wall. This is a must-see, and is a sobering reminder of the grim not-so-distant past for many European ports.

There are too many artworks in the city of Nantes to be able to list them all, and to simply list them would be doing them an injustice. The art, like the city, must be seen to be appreciated.

If you are feeling more adventurous and want to venture out of the city, some impressive installations are to be found nestled along the Loire river on the Estuaire trail.

In the 60km between Saint-Nazaire and Nantes there are 29 artworks to discover, either by cruise, by car or by bike – but only for the very fit.

Erwin Wurm, Misconceivable, Canal de la Martiniere, Le Pellerin, creation perenne Estuaire 2007 © Gino Maccarinelli/LVAN.Erwin Wurm, Misconceivable, Canal de la Martiniere, Le Pellerin, creation perenne Estuaire 2007 © Gino Maccarinelli/LVAN.

Internationally-renowned artists have been adding to the collection along the Loire since 2007, including a piece of art called Misconceivable on the Canal de la Martinière – a bent sailboat which looks as though it is irresistibly drawn to the river.

Another stunning piece of art is the Villa Cheminée, a chic French hotel nestled on a lighthouse, and La Maison Dans La Loire – a house which appears to be floating in the river – is another noteworthy installation, but there really are too many to mention.

But Nantes is not ‘all style and no substance’, as there is also an abundance of local produce which can be found in the markets, restaurants and bars in the area.

The region boasts a wealth of shellfish and fish from the sea and the Loire, while Nantes itself is the capital of Muscadet wine, which is served in abundance across the city.

Like the art, there are too many eateries to mention, but visitors must try the local speciality – sandres in beurre blanc sauce, which is a beautifully fresh white fish cooked in locally-made butter.

Nantes is less expensive than Paris and with just as much to offer, so is a perfect weekend break for a young couple or a group of friends. The short flight from Bristol of just an hour is not at all taxing and there is a huge variety of accommodation in the city, from camping to high-end hotels.

With so much culture packed into a small radius, you will certainly be getting value for money.

About Bristol Airport:

• A total of 6.3 million passengers used Bristol Airport in 2014, making it the ninth busiest airport in the UK and the fifth largest outside London. Planning permission is in place for facilities to handle millions of extra passengers every year.

• Flights operate to 116 destinations across 30 countries, including 16 capital cities. Earlier this year Bristol was named the world’s most punctual airport in a league table measuring on-time performance compiled by leading global aviation provider OAG based on more than 43 million flight records.

• Bristol Airport is owned by Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan.

Where we stayed:

• L’Hotel à Nantes.

• Based in the city centre with easy tram access.

• Prices from 65 euros per night when paid in advance.

• More information at www.nanteshotel.com

About bmi:

• One-way prices from £79 per person.

• bmi regional flies from Bristol to Nantes twice a week on Tuesday and Saturday, departing Bristol on Tuesdays at 12.20pm, and arriving in Nantes at 2.30pm. The return flight will depart Nantes at 3pm arriving back in Bristol at 3.10pm. On Saturdays, the flight will depart Bristol at 2pm, arriving in Nantes at 4.10pm. The Saturday return flight will depart Nantes at 4.40pm, arriving back in Bristol at 5.50pm. The first Nantes flight took place on July 4, with the final flight on September 12.

• All flights include complimentary food and drink on board, free 20kg hold baggage allowance, 30-minute check-in and an all jet Embraer fleet.

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