Mon week-end Nantais- A weekend in Nantes

© Jessie Kanelos Weiner

Every now and then, I get to see another side of France by tagging along on one of mon mari’s business trips. And this time around Nantes was my oyster! With 48 hours to kill on my own, Nantes was a revelation of arts, culture, and open spaces. And just a little over two hours away from Paris by train, Nantes is an unexpectedly vibrant weekend trip.

Driving into Nantes late from the last leg of our vacation on Brittany’s remote Belle-Ile-En-Mer, we checked into the très design La Perouse Hotel (3 Allée Duquesne, 44000 Nantes). Considering our last hotel’s walls were plastered with seahorses, this ecologically responsible boutique hotel requires a little bit more than my humble liberal arts education to navigate. There is no line that defines where the shower begins and where the wet floor ends. And before I hopped out of bed in anticipation for the organic continental breakfast, I pondered “Why is there an ice-cube tray on the wall?” It was just a fancy design lamp. It’s never too late to sign up for grad school. After circling a few sights on my map with a complimentary biodegradable pen, I was off.

© Jessie Kanelos Weiner

The first thing circled on my map was Les Machines de l’île. Since 1999, La Machine, a monumental collaborative production company has evolved with the urbanization of île de Nantes, an island surrounded by the Loire River, just South of the city center. And Les Machines de l’île, the fantasyland of enormous puppets and installations create a surreal participatory amusement park. Le Carrousel de Mondes Marins, a three-story carrousel christened in July, takes La Machine’s ingenuity under the sea. Crab claws can pinch, fins can flap, boats can steam, no detail is spared on this mesmerizing whirlwind for all ages. After a week in Brittany, although I was not able to stomach another plateau de fruit de mer, I certainly could not resist a ride on a conch shell carried by flying fish. What Nantes lacks in a skyline, La Machine’s ubiquitous animatronic elephant has become a synonamous symbol of the city. 3 times the size of the real deal, La Machine’s elephant casts like a ship delivering passengers between the museum and the carousel, as passengers jump off and others get on. Additionally, La Machine’s workshops are open to the public where artists, designers, and technicians painstakingly collaborate and craft as they continue to urbanize

Another Nantais institution which has evolved with Nantes creative pulse is LU, the brains behind the buttery biscuits. Brittany, where all things either smell like fish or butter, depending on how the wind blows, LU is slightly responsible for the latter, with their headquarters in Nantes. In 2000, the LU biscuit factory was converted into an immense contemporary arts space, le lieu unique. A perfect peruse through the well-stocked bookshop in route for a coffee on the riverfront terrace, I spent a perfectly content rainy afternoon.

La Cigale!” was the very first thing out of everyone’s mouths when I was compiling a Nantes to-do list.  Everyone mentioned the celebrated brasserie with sparkles in their eyes. And I was instantly enamored by this powerhouse, Art Nouveau resto: the warm woodwork, the mosaic lobsters on the walls, the uniformed garçons and the overall theatrics of fine dining. It was as if mon mari and I were dining in a gilded Kilmt painting.  I was easily tempted by the complete prix fixe menu at a cool 17 euros (cold zucchini and mascarpone soup, onglet, et crème brûlée).  

© Jessie Kanelos Weiner

La Cigale’s animal mosaics had me so charmed, I penciled it in for a very luxurious breakfast service the following morning.  Caramel au beurre salé on toast was a sweet sendoff to Brittany.

What ended up being a two-day detour wrapped up into 48 hours of discoveries.  Being spoiled easily strolling Paris from Left Bank to Right, I was at the good graces of my own two feet when exploring Nantes. But the streets welcomed me with their open public gardens and the Place Graslin planted with pumpkins. I was one happy tagalong.

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Crepes! Crepes! Crepes!

© Jessie Kanelos

For those who have never been, Brittany smells like either fish or butter, depending on the direction the wind blows.  We experienced the best of both worlds last week on our last little getaway for the summer.  We were invited to the summer home of some friends on Belle-Île-en-Mer, an hour boatride off the coast of Brittany.  Monet himself eternalized its rustic rock formations at Port Coton.  But its pristine sand beaches and rugged landscapes have made it a super summer destination for sunbathers.  And surfers flock to its rough waters, too.  Personally, I was more into picking sun-warmed blackberries and avoiding a sunburn in my impromptu burkini.

But no trip to Brittany is complete without paying an edible homage to the birthplace of crêpes, especially at Crêperie “Chez Renée”.  These are not the overloaded saccharin strawberry and whipped topping crepes of IHOP fame.  They are deceptively simple.  The savory version, la galette, is traditionally a paper thin buckwheat pancake.  A thin cracker-like crispiness envelopes its fillings with an unabashed amount of butter.  I had the ultimate sweet and savory moment with my smoked bacon and prune purée crepe.  My dessert crêpe de Froment was kept simple with poached pear and local honey.  Alongside the obligatory bowl of cider or two, it was a perfect post-beach/pre-nap lunch.

Ah, les vacances!  Already so very far away.


Crêperie “Chez Renée”

21 rue Sarah Bernhardt

56360 Bangor Belle-Île-en-Mer

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