Once a stronghold for French shipbuilding, Nantes was in dire need of reinvention when its last shipyards closed in the late 1980s. Then-Mayor Jean-Marc Ayrault and entrepreneur/artistic director Jean Blaise launched a radical revitalization project to transform the sleepy city into a hub for the arts, innovation, and environmental practices. In the mid-2000s, the Île de Nantes in the middle of the city became home to a fleet of mechanical marvels in the quirky, theme-park-like Les Machines de l’Île, which includes a hybrid motorized 40-foot-high mechanical elephant as well as other homages to Jules Verne, the city’s most famous former resident. In 2012, the city began celebrating its rebirth with Voyage à Nantes, an annual culture festival and surrealist art trail that threads through the city.
The effects of the experiment in urban regeneration continue to play out surrounding the park: new housing developments, restaurants, wine bars, and specialty coffee shops, all helping propel Nantes from tourism desert to destination. Under current environmentalist Mayor Johanna Rolland, the city has cemented its reputation as a smart, forward-looking metropolis, quickly attracting new residents from all across France, including many from Paris. The city lost much of its historic architecture during World War II (save for the old quarter dotted with Haussmannian and art nouveau buildings), but it makes up for it with quirky, modern architecture, eco-development, tons of green space, and a flourishing creative community.
The mix of stellar quality of life and business opportunity in Nantes has drawn food entrepreneurs and chefs from more established dining cities such as Paris, Marseille, and Lyon. Restaurants tend to focus on local and largely organic producers, and they maintain a palpable commitment to sustainable food practices in keeping with Nantes’s green credentials. As you make your own Voyage à Nantes, here are 15 spots, from bistros to bakeries, to stop along the way.
Health experts consider dining out to be a high-risk activity for the unvaccinated; it may pose a risk for the vaccinated, especially in areas with substantial COVID transmission.
Prices per person, excluding alcohol:
$ = Less than 20 euros (Less than $22 USD)
$$ = 20 - 50 euros ($22 - $56 USD)
$$$ = 51 - 100 euros ($57 - $113 USD)
$$$$ = 101 euros and up ($114 USD and up)
Lindsey Tramuta is a Paris-based writer and the author of The New Paris and The New Parisienne: The Women & Ideas Shaping Paris.Read More