Nantes: Pack your trunk for an art safari

Kate Simon walks the pink line that leads to classic sights and contemporary installations

Life is art in Nantes this summer as Estuaire, an ambitious five-year project to create a cultural route from the city along the Loire estuary to the sea at Saint-Nazaire, heads towards its conclusion. And now a temporary trail, Le Voyage à Nantes, has opened, challenging locals and visitors to take a fresh perspective on this French city in the west of the Pays de la Loire. A pink line painted on the ground leads to classic cultural sights, many of which provide the context for contemporary art installations. On 19 August, many of these new works will vanish, but the pink line will remain as a permanent cultural tour. This walk picks out just some of the highlights of this free trail.

Start at Le Lieu Unique (00 33 2 40 12 14 34; www.lelieuunique.com; free), a former biscuit factory that recalls Nantes' industrial past, now a national arts centre. It's currently hosting "Playgrounds", a sequence of fun installations by young local architects, such as "You Always Win", where visitors are equipped with 3D glasses and a basketball to shoot through a virtual hoop.

Turn left and pick up the pink line over the tram tracks to Rue Henri IV. Where the pink line turns right again, head left into the gardens of the 15th-century Cathédrale Saint Pierre et Saint Paul (admission free). Step within its bright limestone walls to see the Tomb of King François II, on which lie life-size marble images of the Duke of Brittany and his wife, Marguerite de Foix.

Go left out of the cathedral entrance and pick up the pink line along the Rue Mathelin Rodier, following it briefly into the heart of the medieval quarter to the west entrance of the Château des Ducs de Bretagne (00 33 2 40 48 62 81; www.chateau-nantes.fr; free), an impressive granite fortification, that recalls the importance of this city to the powerful Dukes of Brittany in medieval times. Enter the courtyard to discover a huddle of buildings, dating from the 15th to 18th century, hewn from more of that white limestone. They house the Nantes History Museum (€5), where you can explore the city's story.

At the west entrance, turn left and then right on to Allée du Port-Maillard. Continue forward to the Place du Bouffay. At the centre of this square, a prime example of the grand designs of the architects who expanded the city to the west in the 18th and 19th centuries, is the audacious "Monte-Meubles L'Ultime Déménagement". For this bizarre installation, artist Leandro Erlich has created a section of a grand house that appears to float 30 feet in the air, with a motionless electric staircase, bearing a pile of furniture, attached to its open window.

Follow the tram tracks west to Place du Commerce, then head north through the square to Place Royale. "Outdoor Playground Mont Royal(e)", a humorous take on Mont Gerbier des Joncs, the source of the Loire, envelops the central fountain. Use the footholds on its walls to scramble to its summit or go "caving" within to find the spring at its core.

Exit the from square onto Rue de la Fosse, following the pink line to the Passage Pommeraye. Take the central staircase and rise through this most graceful of 19th-century arcades, with its galleries of shops. Stop by "Des Chambres en Ville", a recreation of the television shop once owned by the film director Jacques Demy, which also featured in his film, Une Chambre en Ville.

Leave the arcade and follow the pink line along Rue Crébillon to Place Graslin. Check out La Cigale (00 33 2 51 84 94 94; www.lacigale.com), a 19th-century restaurant with extravagant Art Nouveau interiors, which serves some of the freshest seafood in town – a good lunch stop. The main sight in this square is the 18th-century Théâtre Graslin, but its glorious façade of Corinthian columns, topped with statues of the muses, is currently obscured by scaffolding.

Follow the pink line out of the square along Rue Piron to Quai de la Fosse. Turn right, continuing until you spot "Plateformes Points de Vue", a walkway suspended above the pavement covered in shards of Perspex, which you can explore via a staircase. Cross the road to the Mémorial de l'abolition de l'esclavage (00 33 2 51 17 49 48; memorial.nantes.fr; admission free). Take the steps down to this moving exhibition, which reveals the city's role as France's main slave port.

Continue west along the line and cross the Loire at Pont Anne de Bretagne to the Ile de Nantes – these disused docks are fast becoming the city's avant-garde neighbourhood. Many of the most unusual artworks of the trail are on this island, just follow the pink line to find them. But for the final call, turn right as you leave the bridge into the Parc des Chantiers.

This is the home of Les Machines de L'Ile (00 33 2 51 17 49 89; lesmachines-nantes.fr), where nature is explored through astonishing feats of engineering. Most magnificent is The Great Elephant, a 45ft-high mechanical wooden pachyderm that takes up to 49 passengers a time around the park, spraying water from its trunk (€7). After all that walking, it's a great way to take the weight off your feet.

Fresh cuts

Check in to Sozo Hotel (00 33 2 51 82 40 00; sozo hotel.fr), a new boutique stopover set in a 19th-century chapel, next to the city's botanic gardens. The original fabric of the building – stone walls, vaulted ceilings and stained-glass windows – provides an attractive historic frame for sharp minimalist styling in the 28 comfortable bedrooms. From €143 (£115) per room per night in July.

Red and black are the bold choice of colours at flamboyant new restaurant and skybar Vertigo (00 33 2 51 82 70 44; vertigo-restaurant.com). Located at the top of a modern tower block in the Ile de Nantes, diners enjoy panoramic views, and dressy dishes such as braised John Dory with carrot and fennel purée and turmeric emulsion. Mains from around €19 (£15).

Travel essentials

Getting there

Kate Simon visited Nantes as a guest of Nantes Tourisme (00 33 892 464 044; nantes-tourisme.com). She flew from London City airport to Nantes courtesy of Air France (0871 66 33 777; airfrance.co.uk), which has return flights from £217 in July. Nantes Atlantique airport is also served direct from the UK by Air France from Southampton; easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyjet.com) from Gatwick; and Flybe (0871 700 2000; flybe.com) from Gatwick and Manchester. The airport is a 15-minute drive from the city centre. The taxi fare costs €25-€35. Alternatively, the Tan Air Shuttle operates every 30 minutes between 5.30am and 11.15pm, Mondays to Saturdays, and 6.15am- 11.15pm on Sundays. The journey takes around 20 minutes and it costs €7.50 (£6). By rail, Eurostar runs from London St Pancras, Ashford and Ebbsfleet via Paris (where a change of station is required) or Lille, to Nantes in around six hours, with typical return fares in July around £199.

More information

The city is easy to walk around and has a good tram service. Fares from €1.50 (£1.20) for one hour payable at ticket machines at the stops. A Pass Nantes (00 33 2 72 64 04 79; nantes-tourisme.com) costs from €25 (£20) a day and includes travel on public transport, entry to 30 top attractions, and discounts on shopping and leisure. Le Voyage à Nantes (00 33 892 464 044; www.levoyageanantes.fr) Estuaire (00 33 2 40 75 75 07; www.estuaire.info).

Sport
football This was Kane’s night, even if he played just a small part of it
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
News
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
news
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss