If you've never been to Nantes before, here are some fantastic reasons why you should add it to the top of your list of places to visit this year...
1. An historic city
Nantes wears its history on its buildings and you'll find it dates all the way back to the Middle Ages. The narrow streets by the Place du Bouffay and timber frame houses speak of medieval times whilst the Graslin Quarter showcases the best of 18th and 19th century urban planning in the town with its chic boutiques, terraces and monuments.
Castle of the Dukes of Brittany
Nantes was formerly the capital of Brittany and this elegant 15th century chateau was the heart of the city. Built from tuffeau stone, it is a spectacular sight as you enter the inner courtyard. Today, the castle houses the fascinating Nantes History Museum where 32 rooms are filled with pieces highlighting Nantes' history from the Breton Duchy up to WW2.
Unique in Europe, this 19th century shopping arcade has inspired many artists with its neo-classicism and eclecticism - including the surrealists. The staged staircase is lit by a glass skylight as you ascend to the mezzanine walkways filled with beautiful boutiques and sculptures.
One of the top opera venues in France, this 18th century building is a wonderful example of neo-classicism and its gardens are often compared to the Royal Palace in Paris.
2. A vibrant city
Île de Nantes
At Île de Nantes you'll discover some of Nantes' industrial past and also its redevelopment. Areas along the banks of the Loire have been redesigned with modern architecture and artworks revitalising what was once the home of shipyards. Today, it is also the home of the famous Machines de l'île and their mechanical masterpieces.
Quartier de la Création
Constantly evolving, this creative quarter of Nantes is a playground for imaginative architects! Jean Nouvel, Lacaton & Vassal, De Portzamparc and others have all left their stamp on the Île de Nantes in the buildings they have created here, transforming the area into a hub for the arts and culture.
Les Machines de l'Île
At the Machines de l'Île the imagination of Jules Verne meets the technological mind of Leonardo da Vinci to create truly spectacular mechanical creations. Visit the workshop inside one of the former shipyards and see the Grand Elephant as it strides up and down the quayside squirting passers-by with water! You can even hop on board for a ride.
3. An artistic city
La Voyage à Nantes - 1 July to 27 August 2017
Every summer, Nantes celebrates the arts with the Voyage à Nantes festival and it is always sure to draw in the crowds. There's a 10km itinerary to follow that's lined with surprising arts installations and great exhibitions. And its not just local artists - the city invites artistic talents from all over the world to make Nantes a playground for their creativity.
Estuaire Nantes <> Saint-Nazaire
In Nantes, Saint-Nazaire and along the shores of the Loire river are a collection of 30 artworks created by renowned artists for an open-air museum called Estuaire Nantes <> Saint-Nazaire. Each art installation is at a remarkable location along the estuary and can be seen all year long.
4. A green city
Awarded the title of European Green Capital in 2013, Nantes' dedication to protecting its environment has been ongoing for the past 20 years. Encompassing urban development and transport as well as preserving the natural heritage of the Loire estuary, this effort makes Nantes a truly green city.
With over 100,000 trees and around a hundred parks and squares, the city is picturesque. And in the Greater Nantes area, 61% of the land is unspoilt or agricultural land - aided by the fact the Loire, Erdre and Sèvre all flow through the area.
Nantes is one of the most cycle-friendly cities in Europe and has 485km of cycle paths inlcuding protected pathways and adapted tracks along the banks of the Loire. The Loire à vélo and Vélodyssée routes both cross through Nantes making it a perfect place for a stopover.
One of the top four botanical gardens in France, these seven hectares of stunning greenery are right in the town centre. There's over 10,000 plant species and 800m2 of greenhouses so there's much to see.
5. A gastronomic city
As an axis where the ocean meets rural countryside, Nantes' restaurants are always provided with a wealth of fresh, locally-grown produce. In fact, it's one of the most important areas of France for produce that is organically grown. No stay is complete without a tasty crêpe or galette from one of the numerous crêperies.
Find the best restaurants
Get great recommendations on where to eat out in Nantes whether you want good fast food or a gourmet feast. The Table des Nantes features 120 restuarants and is the best way to discover the local cuisine and wines of the area.
Vineyards to visit
Muscadet is the grape of choice in the Loire vineyards around Nantes. Exporting to over 93 countries, it is the third largest wine-producing area in France so head to one of the local vineyards and see what all the fuss is about!
Opened on 8 January 1937, Nantes oldest and biggest market has become something of an institution. If you like your seafood then you're particularly in luck - seafood and fish stalls covered in lobsters, prawns and crabs are very popular as well as all stalls selling market garden produce, white wines and cheeses.
Nantes has plenty of speciality dishes and delicacies for food lovers - the almond cake Gâteau Nantais, Petit Beurre Lu biscuits, Guérande "fleur de sel" salt, butter caramels and traditional Berlingot or Rigolette sweets to name a few. Or, if your taste buds are more tickled by a beverage, try Muscadet sur lie wine, a Nantillais cocktail or a blonde du Bouffay beer.