France touring holidays – From Nantes to Mont St Michel

Discover the tourist route from Nantes to Mont St Michel

If you love all things arty then head out on the Traversée moderne d'un vieux pays, a tourist route crossing Brittany from Nantes to Mont St Michel. 

The route, which translates as a 'modern journey of an old country', unites four stunning, historic and artistic cities from the south to the north coast: Nantes, Saint Nazaire, Rennes and St Malo. Along the way, you'll also visit some of Brittany's most beautiful natural environments too.

The official Traversée moderne d'un vieux pays site details potential itineraries to follow and highlights all the top spots along the way. You will find historic towns and ports, art galleries and outdoor cultural displays along the way. 

Things to do in Nantes

Brittany's former capital is a spectacular place to start off your journey. There is plenty to do and see in Nantes. Nantes is definitely the place to be for those who love creativity and innovation especially during the summer when the Voyage à Nantes really brings this vibrant city alive. The route can also be done in reverse, sailing to St Malo and starting from Mont St Michel.


Le Voyage à Nantes celebrates art all around the beautiful city. Each year sees new installations and collections of art on display across galleries, art spaces and heritage sites. There are plenty of events and art styles on display during the festival, think of it as an art trail through the city!

The giant bird artwork in Le Nid at the Tour Bretagne © LVAN

The giant bird artwork in Le Nid at the Tour Bretagne © LVAN

You can find out more about what kind of things you can see in our post about Voyage à Nantes 2018.


A great tourist attraction in Nantes is this striking chateau. A beautiful building made from the white tufa stone for which the Loire is famed, this striking chateau was the home of the Dukes of Brittany when Nantes was the regional capital.

The paysage glissé slide on the walls of the Château de Ducs de Bretagne © LVAN

The paysage glissé slide on the walls of the Château de Ducs de Bretagne © LVAN

Today, inside is the Musée d'Histoire de Nantes where you can uncover the history of the city including its ties to the slave trade, its role in the Revolution and how it coped during the world wars.


If the Voyage à Nantes wasn’t enough to get your art fix then head to Musée d’arts de Nantes! Nantes' fine arts museum has one of the largest collections in all of France. With masterpieces by de la Tour, Picasso, Chagall, Monet, Kandinsky, Ernst and many other artists, the museum has a great selection of both older and more contemporary artworks. There's something for everyone's taste.

Head to the Cube to discover the contemporary exhibitions whilst in the main building you'll find artwork from the 13th century onwards - in fact, the museum's collection is the only one in France to have such a large range of art, outside of Paris.


Where Leonardo da Vinci meets Jules Verne in an incredible mix of machinery and fantastical imagination. Nantes is Verne's hometown and his legacy lives on in the marvellous creations that come out of the Machines de l'Ile.

The Great Elephant of the Machines de l'Ile in Nantes © Shutterstock

The Great Elephant of the Machines de l'Ile in Nantes

The famous Nantes Elephant that strides up and down the quayside is just one of the wonderful mechanical creatures to emerge from its workshop.


Head down to the estuary of the Loire to spot some other fascinating artworks that have been placed permanently throughout the area. Spot a part-submerged house in the water, a Dali-esque boat dripping down a seawall and even a giant sea serpent.

Serpent d'Ocean by Huang Yong Ping at Saint-Brevin-les-Pins in the Nantes Estuary © Franck Tomps LVAN

Serpent d'Ocean by Huang Yong Ping at Saint-Brevin-les-Pins in the Nantes Estuary © Franck Tomps LVAN


Whilst there is so much to see in the towns and cities, don't miss some of the enchanting landscapes that this part of France has to offer. La Brière marshes are a beautiful area to explore so head for Saint-Malo-de-Guersac in the heart of the marshlands for a walking trail through this charming scenery.

The Brière marshes © Franck Tomps, LVAN

The Brière marshes © Franck Tomps, LVAN

Then, at the crossroads of the Nantes-Brest canal, check out a stunning 360 degree view from Fégréac where a wooden gazebo, created by Russian artist Nicolas Polissky, provides the perfect vantage point.

Visiting Saint Nazaire

Famed for its shipyard where ocean liners were built, Saint Nazaire has a remarkable history so it's well worth having a day trip here. Popular during the Belle Epoque, it was also used by the Germans as a submarine base during WW2, which you can now visit.


Escal'Atlantic is a museum to Saint Nazaire's past inside the former submarine pen of the German WW2 base in Saint Nazaire. The museum brings to life the experience of travelling, and working, on one of the grand ocean liners that made the town's name such as SS Normandie and SS France.

Places to visit in Rennes

Discover some of the best-preserved medieval half-timber buildings in the world in Rennes' old town. But it's not all about the past with modern buildings such as the Champs Libres and Le Mabilay standing high against the skyline too. The palatial Parlement de Bretagne is also an unmissable sight on your tour through France.

The medieval half-timber houses of Rennes © Shutterstock

The medieval half-timber houses of Rennes


The museum of fine arts displays an expansive collection that you can easily lose a day to. Discover masterpieces and special collections from ancient Egypt to Rubens and Picasso. There is so much art to discover in Rennes.


On your way to the next town on the tour, St Malo, stop off at Hédé-Bazouges along the Ille-et-Rance canal that links the two places together. With wooded trails along the towpath, it's a lovely area to get some fresh air and enjoy the surrounding greenery.

The canal lock at Hédé-Bazouges © Franck Tomps, LVAN

The canal lock at Hédé-Bazouges © Franck Tomps, LVAN

Bécherel is also a pleasant place to stop off. It's a quaint town with lots of character where you'll find second-hand booksellers and ateliers operating out of the former houses of nobles and merchants. A walk along the ramparts leads to gardens and hidden squares as well as a view of the surrounding countryside.

What to see in St Malo

Our port town of St Malo is perfect territory for those with a rebellious and adventurous spirit. With its history of pirates and poets, this distinctive town has been home to some enterprising and illustrious individuals including the privateer, Robert Surcouf.

View of St Malo © Shutterstock

St Malo

Travel between Dinan and St Malo by using the 'bus de mer' boat shuttle.


Before reaching St Malo on the coast, head to Dinan where the river Rance passes through this picturesque medieval town. Wander its cobbled streets like so many writers and artists before you - Chateaubriand, Hugo , Proust and Turner among them. It's like stepping back in time.

The river Rance flows through the traditional Breton town of Dinan © Shutterstock

The river Rance flows through the traditional Breton town of Dinan


You can also explore the Malouinière de la Ville-Bague in Saint Coulomb, just outside of St Malo. These types of houses grew up in the area thanks to the money to be made trading (and raiding) out of St Malo by merchants and privateers.

Mont St Michel attractions

One of France's most well-known monuments with millions of visitors every year, the Mont St Michel is a World Heritage Site. 

Concerts and other cultural events happen throughout the summer and the abbey itself looks stunning all lit up. Stay the night and enjoy a delicious evening meal at one of the mont's charming restaurants.

This is just one of the many fantastic tourist routes to be explored through France. There are also cycling routes across France perfect for the more active traveller! With ferry travel, exploring France across multiple destinations is easy as you can travel with your car. So book a holiday today and get exploring!

Feel inspired? Holiday with confidence with Brittany Ferries. Our 2021 selection of ferry-inclusive package holidays come with free Covid-19 cover and free amendments too.