Because I lived in Nantes for 5 years as a student but also because I spent a lot of my school holidays with my cousins there as a young girl, I am very familiar with my surroundings, the streets and the various landmarks there.
However, now that I live abroad and do not get to see it evolving on a daily basis, I am constantly amazed by all the changes the city encounters.
I was also joined by E. on my last few days in Nantes so we got to discover a lot of those great places together. I hope the following visits, food and drink, and shopping ideas make you want to visit this beautiful city.
Ile de Versailles would have been included in the walk if it had not been closed for renovations. This little Japanese garden on an island in the middle of the river is so pretty and calming. It was always a favourite place of mine as a student when I needed to step somewhere else to relax in the middle of exams.
The day after E. joined me in Nantes for a few days, we took a walk to Marché Talensac. If I lived in Nantes, I would love to be near this food market so I could often pop by to get delicious things to cook with or to eat on my way home. Every single food counter had incredibly fresh ingredients, each of them more appetising than the other.
The only time I had visited Musée d’Histoire Naturelle (12 rue Voltaire), I was only a little girl and everything had seemed really impressive to me. I always had fond memories of it and every time I visit a museum of natural history, I am reminded of the one in Nantes. This time, I obviously had a different perspective but a lot of the things I remembered well came back to me, like the whale skeleton, the piece of meteorite and the vivarium (real live snakes!).
There was an exhibition about taste and flavours while we were there. It was interesting to take part in some of the experiments like tasting fruit juice with our eyes closed and noses blocked and trying to guess the flavour. Or getting fooled by apricot jam with added blue colouring and thinking it was some type of berry jam. This museum is as interesting to visit for children as it is for adults.
Whether you are more interested in certain art periods than others (ancient, 19th century, modern, contemporary), there is definitely something for you to see in Musée d’Arts (10 rue Georges Clémenceau). You can bypass an entire section that you are not interested in and still spend a great deal of time admiring beautiful paintings and sculptures there. We certainly did and it was great for me to revisit this museum after its renovation (I used to visit a lot on school trips since I was studying arts in high school).
Did you know Jules Verne was born in Nantes? It is no surprise then that you will find out the city has a museum dedicated to this incredible writer. Musée Jules Verne (3 rue de l’Hermitage) is located in the adorable area of Butte Sainte-Anne with a view on the Loire river. As far as museums go, this one is rather small and focuses especially on the writer’s life in Nantes and on the idea of travel that is reflected throughout a lot of his work. We happened to walk into the tiny video room just as the book ‘P’tit Bonhomme’ was explained and it turns out it all happens in Ireland, between Westport and Dublin. It was interesting for us to know one of his books takes place in the country we live in.
Since my cousin lives nearby and we were invited for l’apéritif and dinner later that day, we took our time to walk around Butte Sainte-Anne and the nearby Parc des Oblates. The area is really pretty and quiet. It was a sunny day and to me, it looked like the perfect place to bring a picnic, as we could see from the number of people sitting at wooden tables or on blankets on the grass around the parc. Walking around made you feel like you were really far away from the noises of a big city.
When E. was with me the following week, we stopped for refreshments at their second location in Chantenay. We had walked a bit in the sun around Butte Sainte-Anne and spent some time enjoying a beer and diabolo menthe (mint cordial with lemonade) on the terrace. Again, the staff there was really friendly (they even offered to keep a bag of chocolates we were carrying inside so it would not melt in the sunshine).
If you love eating choux as much as I do, you should really pay a visit to Emma (12 rue Scribe). This beautiful patisserie sells the most delicious petits choux I have had in a while. They are not just pretty to look at, they are also wonderful little things to eat. The flavours are so interesting that it is really hard to make a choice at first.
So trust your instinct and pick something you like, your favourite flavours and something that you know others will like if you are sharing. I bought a selection to bring for after dinner when staying with my aunt and uncle. When everybody took a bite of their choux, the silence while savouring was immediately followed by comments about how the flavours were so fresh and perfect, and questions about where to get those.
As for the ones I tried, I had a milk chocolate and tonka one first. It’s no surprise I chose something with tonka at this stage and it fully met my expectations. The second I had was mandarin and yuzu. A beautiful flavour combination with this delicate Japanese citrus.
We went back with E. and got some petits choux with coffee and tea to take away. Not far from the patisserie, you can walk to Théâtre Graslin. Sit on the steps there and you can admire the view while eating your delicious little sweet things.
We had lunch at Le Petit Boucot (3 rue Lekain) the day after E. arrived in Nantes. I had had this little restaurant on my list for the past year and was keen to eat there. We chose to have the formule du midi where you can choose a starter and main course, or main course and dessert for €18 (you can get the three courses for €21, we had our eyes on choux at Emma’s for dessert so we skipped that third course). My starter was a poached egg with sauteed mushrooms and potato espuma (foam). The flavours were well balanced and delicate. E. had the cream of carrots soup topped with pink curry and raw smoked haddock. He gave me a taste and it was so incredible that I nearly fetched his plate to eat it all. For main I had duck breast fillet with mango sauce and E. had the pollock with satay emulsion. Both were served with a variety of seasonal root vegetables. Both dishes were tasty. I really liked the use of seasonal ingredients and balance of flavours for all the courses we had. The restaurant itself is nicely decorated, well located and the staff friendly.
That evening, all we wanted to do was find a nice little wine bar where we could enjoy a glass of red with cheeses and charcuterie. After a quick search, we decided to go to La Comédie des Vins (4 rue de Suffren). We were seated in the back room with all the locals having an after work drink with colleagues and/or friends. Our waiter was really helpful and recommended a lovely red wine by a local producer. We also ordered a small basket of sliced saucisson, a platter with a variety of amazing cheeses, pork rillettes and a whole lot of bread. As far as wine bars go, this one was just perfect and exactly what we were expecting to find for an evening drink with delicious little things to eat.
The next day was E.’s birthday and since we do not gift each other material gifts for this occasion, I had booked two places where to eat that day. We started with lunch at Lamaccotte (63 rue de Bel Air) which was not only in the paper city guide but also often highly recommended by the writer on Instagram. To be honest, every time I saw photos of meals she had there, I wanted to go to this restaurant even more.
The idea behind Lamaccotte itself is very attractive: a choice of organic, local and seasonal ingredients from producers who are very respectful of the environment. And then, the menu is a surprise. You show up to the restaurant without knowing what you will be eating. The only option is whether you will have meat or fish as a main course.
We were first given snacks consisting of small parcels made with thinly sliced beetroot filled with a spiced blood orange sauce. Those were tasty and a great way to get us excited for what was to come next. We had starters of chargrilled pieces of cauliflowers topped with cockles and a light and creamy emulsion. I chose the meat for main course and I had pork filet mignon rolled in sage leaves and bacon served with swiss chard, thinly sliced radishes and pieces of roasted leek. It was really succulent with flavours that went really well together. E. had a fillet of sea bream served with bulgur and a blood orange sauce. The fish was perfectly cooked and again, the flavours were nicely balanced. We then had a dessert of pear tartare, poached pear, chocolate cream, crumble and ice cream. It was really pretty and a delicious way to end our meal at Lamaccotte.
I loved the concept of the unique menu and this is a restaurant I would definitely go back to on my next visits to Nantes.
There are bars everywhere in Nantes (as well as many Irish pubs it seems) but if you are more on the lookout for cocktails, Bootlegger (13 rue Kervégan) is a nice option. We stopped there for a celebratory drink before heading for dinner. The bar is cosy and serves a great selection of interesting cocktails as well as mocktails. My favourite there was La Gloire de Mon Père (title of a book by Marcel Pagnol) which had Calvados, lime, apple juice, banana liqueur and smoked thyme. The flavours reminded me of a hot Summer day in the garden when the sun hits the bushes of aromatic herbs. Since the book takes place in the Provence, I guess it was the aim of the drink and it worked well. Even though it is a little bit hidden in a back street, this bar seems to be a popular place. It was empty when we arrived but filled up very quickly. Make sure to arrive before the crowds if you want a table for drinks there.
Afterwards, we headed to L’Aménité (4 rue Fénelon) for dinner. As we arrived, it felt like walking into a modern art gallery that still had remnants of the old building with visible stone walls. L’Aménité has only opened recently but is already receiving excellent reviews. Shortly after seating, we were given a bowl of bread with hummus and thin jerusalem artichoke crisps. A lovely touch before getting to the menu. For starter, we had an egg topped with chargrilled tomme (a type of semi-soft cow’s milk cheese), thin strips of tangy apple, a creamy cider emulsion and puffed buckwheat. What an incredible way to start a meal. We knew at that stage we were not going to be disappointed at all that evening. We both had fish for our main course which was a fillet of John Dory served with risotto kasha, mushrooms and soba cha (buckwheat tea). The dish was excellent but let’s talk more about how incredibly flavoursome the risotto kasha was. I had never tasted risotto made with buckwheat before but it is definitely something I would love to eat again.
We ordered an assortment of cheeses to share before dessert and the selection was served with two delicious types of spiced fruity chutneys. To end our meal, we had little mango domes topped with sesame and matcha ice cream and little dollops of white chocolate and wasabi cream. It was surprising but the flavours were lovely together. I loved the meal from start to finish and definitely appreciated the Japanese influence that kept popping up in every dish.
The next day, we met briefly with one of my cousins in Bloom (18 avenue Sainte-Anne). This is my dream café. I loved the interior decoration, the shelves packed with books, the area where you can buy objects made by local creators, and the food of course. The lovely organic and vegetarian homemade food that felt like a hug in this super cosy café.
I had a slice of savoury thin tart with chestnuts, mimolette cheese and mushrooms. It was served with a side of crispy fresh lettuce topped with walnuts and vinaigrette. I really enjoyed it and wished more cafés were serving this type of flavoursome savoury tarts. I would order this for sure every time. I could not resist also getting some of the apple crumble. It looked like it was just out of the oven, waiting to be eaten straight from the baking dish.
This café feels like the type of place where you could spend the entire day with a good book and a cup of tea, or catching up with friends over plates of delicious things.
If you like everything that has to do with pretty stationery, make sure to stop at Les P’tits Papiers (2 place Félix Fournier). I keep going back there when I am in Nantes. This time, I found a lovely weekly list planner (as much as I know there are tons of digital apps for getting organised, I cannot part with my paper diary, weekly list and daily planner). There are also some great cards for all occasions with many interesting designs. From basic diaries to fun washi tape, you should be able to find something you like for your stationery needs.
Maison Lemaître (12 rue de la Paix) is a delicatessen where you can find many fine goods ranging from a nice selection of wines to a variety of salt and spices with tins and jars of ready made traditional dishes and many delightful sweet things in between. If you are looking for local specialties, you can also find many of those in the shop. I did not have much space to bring back food in my luggage but I did get a tiny jar of griottines (little macerated cherries - they are perfect for Manhattan cocktails for example). It would be the perfect shop to bring back something delicious for yourself or as a gift (a lot of the packaging is quite pretty).
Design shop La Cerise (1 place Félix Fournier) has a large selection of items to decorate the home. You can find many things there: elements to create your own light fixtures, unusual cleaning products and tools, handy water bottles, nicely designed posters representing Nantes, candles, wooden toys for kids, etc.
Podcast and playlist listened to: Worm Food on iTunes and Winter Hygge on Spotify
Book read: ‘Bullshit Jobs: a Theory’ by David Graeber