Inspirational Destination: Nantes

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City of Jules Verne, Lu and creative art

Nantes is a city on the Loire in the west of France. The city, once flourished by industry and shipbuilding, fell into disrepair from the end of the 1980s due to the closure of shipyards. A new focus on art and culture provided a new impulse to the city and a special development of the city. Last week a long-awaited trip to this city had finally arrived and, to be honest, the city is living up to its high expectations.

The city of Nantes

Nantes has had maritime activities since the 13th century, but from the beginning of the 18th century the city developed into an important maritime center. Shipbuilding soon became one of the most important economic factors in the city and the “Chantiers de l’Atlantique” developed into the largest shipyard in France. With the construction of ships such as the “Normandie” and the “Queen Elizabeth II”, the yard gained international fame.

But in the second half of the 20th century, shipbuilding activities in France shifted more and more seawards. The shipyards at “île de Nantes” managed to maintain their position through mergers until 1987, but then the curtain fell. More than 10,000 residents lost their jobs. In addition to the maritime sector, the food industry also had an important role in the city. One of the largest factories was that of LU, but after this company was taken over, this factory also became vacant.

When Jean-Marc Ayrault was elected mayor in 1989, he decided that the city should be revitalized through art and culture. This decision was inspired by Bilbao. A port city in Spain, which was revived by the architectural Guggenheim Museum. Thanks to the strengthening of the cultural climate, the city has increased student attraction (40% of the population is under 30 years of age), employment has been steadily falling and the number of tourists has grown significantly (to 3.3 million overnight stays in 2018).

Art can be seen everywhere in the city. This extends to the Atlantic Ocean, because various art locations have also been developed along the Loire River. The route along the Loire ends at the seaside resort of Saint-Brévin-les-Pins. Here a huge metal sea snake snakes out of the ocean.

The city has been inspired by the creativity of Jules Verne (known from the fantasy books from Nantes) and Claude Ponti (a children’s writer and illustrator) in a few city areas. The highlight was the development of the former shipyards on “île de Nantes” into a bastion of art and creativity. In addition to all the artistry, the city also has some beautiful historic sites that are worth a visit.

Below five reasons why Nantes inspires:

#1: Île de Nantes

Île de Nantes is the artificial heart of the city. This is where Jules Verne, Leonardo da Vinci and the industrial history of the city come together. The highlight is undoubtedly Les Machines de l’île (island of machines). This project, which opened its doors in July 2007, aims to promote the image of the city and to build an identity as a creative hub of dreams and fantasy.

The Grand Éléphant is a huge steel (wood-clad) elephant measuring 12 by 8 meters. The elephant makes 30-minute trips around the site, so you can view the former shipyard in a different way. No fewer than 49 passengers can ride on this elephant, who can even spray water on unsuspecting spectators with his trunk. An attraction that has amazed young and old and has become a walking landmark for the city.

In the “Carousel des Mondes Marins” the imaginative deep sea life from the stories of Jules Verne comes to life. Visitors can ride on mechanical deep-sea creations in a huge carousel (22 meters in diameter) of three floors.

Nantes is currently working on a new ambitious project that will open in 2022: l’Arbre aux Hérons (the heron tree). This will be a huge steel tree (32 meters high), the branches of which give a maximum of 300 visitors access to hanging gardens. The visitor walks from branch to branch via walkways to discover this “city”, which is populated by a whole collection of mechanical animals. There will be two giant herons at the top that will take visitors up on their backs. The first prototypes can already be found in Les Galerie des Machines, such as a mechanical sloth, a spider, an ant and a hummingbird. A scale model of the heron tree can also be found here.

#2: Green ambition

With more than 100 parks and gardens (with a total area of 1050 hectares), Nantes is truly a green city. The area of green space has doubled in recent decades and the city now claims that every resident lives within 500 meters of a green space.

A climate plan was adopted in 2007 and in 2013 the city was named European Green Capital. The city has developed a sustainable transport policy, with a focus on public transport and bicycle policy. Between 2010 and 2014, more than 40 million was invested in bicycle policy.

Nantes was also the first city to successfully re-introduce the electric tram. There has been a demonstrable reduction in CO2 emissions in the city since the climate plan was implemented in 2007, which should rise to a reduction of 30% per inhabitant in 2020 and a halving in 2030.

#3: Re-use of buildings

Nantes has 121 protected buildings, 23 of which are of a historical nature. With the departure of the LU factory and the shipyards, many of these buildings became vacant. These are being redeveloped step by step into office space, homes and recreational destinations. In this way there are trendy places.

A good example is the Hangar a Bananas, a former storage of imported bananas. You will now find bars, restaurants, a nightclub and theater where the old atmosphere of the past was tried to preserve. Another example is Le Lieu Unique, the old cookie factory of LU. This place has become a creative gathering place with a theater, a bar, a hammam, a bookstore, a cinema and a gallery.

You will find a special combination of old and new in various places. A special example of this is the Trempolino music campus, where a bus seems to have driven into the third floor. Another great example is the historic Chateau des ducs de Bretagne, where you can go down with a modern slide on the outside of the castle from 2020 onwards.

#4: Integration in public spaces and with entrepreneurs

With an integral identity, this is also integrated into everyday policy and that is exactly what Nantes does. The art is not limited to a few attractions, but is also applied in everyday matters. A good example is the application in playground equipment or sports elements.

In the heart of Square Mercoeur Park, for example, a special playground has been created that was designed by Japanese architect and artist Kinya Maruyama. A landmark in itself. Another example is Dépodépo where you imagine yourself in a giant’s back garden with garden tools and large empty flower pots that together form a nice playground. In another place, four basketball boards have been fused into a tree or a hemisphere soccer field has been laid.

But entrepreneurs also capitalize on art. Various entrepreneurs have applied creative forms of signing to their premises and several hotels have applied an art aspect.

#5: La Ligne Verte (Green Line)

How do you connect all those artistic locations in the city and make them easily visible and findable for tourists? They must have thought that in Nantes when they developed the green line. A continuous green line on the road that runs through the city. You can pick up this 16-kilometer line at any location and in this way you will pass almost 60 artistic locations. At the tourist office or online you can also find a map on which the line and locations are indicated.

The city has been revived with a clear long-term strategy. The historical places have been transformed into creative places or into a fusion of history and modern architecture. With Jules Verne as a well-known resident, the bizarre mechanical creations do not come out of the blue and it is a good example of identity-related development. The application in policy, public space, with entrepreneurs, in marketing, architecture, transport, etc. makes Nantes an inspiring example of a destination that works integrally on its identity, marketing and development.