Just like the time we were there before Christmas last year, we stayed at Hotel La Pérouse which is a very central base when you like walking around rather than taking public transports. It is also very relaxing and just like last time, we really enjoyed our stay in this hotel.
Are you ready for another mini visit of Nantes? It's definitely warmer and sunnier than on the previous occasion. Here we go:
We went on the carousel since we had three little boys with us and they were keen to go on the storm boat on the third level. We were quite happy going along since the structure is beautiful with intricate mechanical sea creatures and machines on every level.
We followed our visit indoors to see the machines gallery where other creatures are displayed. We took part in the guided visit where some of them are set in motion and visitors can even participate. We were also told about the company's next project that will launch in 2022: the Herons Tree. To be honest, it sounds absolutely amazing and I really look forward to seeing it finished and in action.
We went to the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre et Saint-Paul de Nantes which I admit I had never visited before despite having lived in Nantes for 5 years as a student. The restoration of the cathedral was finished in 2008 and was quite needed after its history the past century (hit by bombs in 1944 and then badly damaged by a fire in 1972). The building itself is very impressive, the cathedral imposing its presence in the centre of Nantes. It has an interesting history and a mix of architecture, roman and gothic, worth checking out.
Since we had visited during Winter the last time and days were short, we made our way back to bar Le Nid so we could get a view of Nantes from the top of Tour de Bretagne. You can walk all around the bar on the outside which gives you many different view points of the city (just make sure you mention it at the bar so they give you appropriate drinking cups as glasses are not allowed outside). The names of the different areas are even written on the walls so it is very handy to know what you are looking at. I have walked around Nantes a lot over the years and know many of its streets very well but seeing it from there was a great way to discover the city with a different perspective.
We did not have time to go this time but one of my favourite places to go to in Nantes is Ile de Versailles. If you prefer outdoor activities when visiting a city, this Japanese garden is a perfect place to walk around and relax. It is located on a small island on the Erdre river not far from the city centre.
On the day we arrived, we had to first drop our rental car at the airport and then check-in at the hotel. By the time we had dropped our luggage in our room, we were in the middle of lunch time so we quickly made our way to the first address I had in mind. By the way, you will find out a lot of places in France are strict about their lunch hours so you might want to stick to those or else you will miss out. That first restaurant being closed, we walked around a little bit back towards Place Graslin and decided to have lunch at Le Bouche à Oreille (14 rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau). It turns out this is a bit of a food institution in Nantes (I vaguely remember a friend of mine from college used to work there). We really enjoyed the overall atmosphere of this bistrot style restaurant. We both chose to have the 'formule gourmande' with starter, main course and dessert. I had a terrine to start then moved on to spicy beef with delicious frites. E. had a starter of mackerel followed by a pork chop served on a bed of peas, green beans and mushrooms in creamy sauce. His main was really tasty and the vegetables very flavoursome. I finished with a simple dessert of fromage blanc with seasonal fruit compote. I find it hard to explain what is fromage blanc but it basically has a creamy consistency between cream cheese and dessert and we eat it swirled with sweet things (sugar, jam, honey, fruit compote). E. had the nicest of thin apple tarts for dessert. I obviously had to taste it just to make sure he was saying the truth and I can confirm it was delicious (I even had a couple more spoonfuls to double check). The freshness of the ingredients in all dishes and the service were absolutely on point. I would not hesitate to go back, maybe for dinner this time to try the A La Carte menu.
The next day, we met some of our family members at a restaurant my cousin had picked: Une Sage Idée (15 rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau; right across from where we were the day before). A few of us went for a lunch menu that included starter, main and dessert. My cousin and I both had the tuna tartare on the A la Carte menu. It was served with avocado, pieces of granny smith apples and little yuzu beads. It was packed with flavours and the fish was incredibly fresh and tasty. The restaurant chooses its ingredients carefully and this is something we could really appreciate both in the fact that the menu changes often with what is in season and in the flavour of the dishes we had. We had three children with us and they also had really tasty options. I then had a tiramisu made with Petit Lu biscuit for dessert. When in Nantes... Our waitress was really friendly and the atmosphere was so relaxed that we ended up having a true long French lunch that lasted about three hours.
That evening, I had booked dinner at bistrot chic Le Cambronne (6 rue de l'Héronnière) for E. and I. For starter, we shared the balançoire à partager. It was served as a tray with three levels. On top were two little glasses of cucumber and melon gaspacho, then underneath two crispy little slices of toast with foie gras. The bottom level had two little melt-in-the-mouth poultry quenelles (some type of dumpling), two little stacks of veal tartare and two little stacks of sea bream tartare. This was a great choice of starter which allowed us to taste a variety of wonderful things. For main, I had the duck magret with wakame, harissa and roasted peach. The duck was really delicious and perfectly cooked to my liking. E. had the côte de boeuf medium rare and nicely executed with homemade french fries and béarnaise sauce. We were both a bit too full and really tired after a long day so we did not order any dessert. This is something I regretted the moment I saw other people having the prettiest tray of café gourmand put in front of them. I keep forgetting that in France, it is pretty common to get café or thé gourmand: coffee or tea served with a selection of little sweet things. The one at Le Cambronne looked especially extraordinary with a pretty little cloud of pale pink candy floss as one of the sweet things. I am putting this bistrot chic on a 'need to go back' list and next time I will not forget to order that beautiful looking café gourmand.
On our last day, and just before heading to the airport, we had lunch at Le Coin des Crêpes ( 2 rue Armand Brossard). If you love crêpes and galettes (the buckwheat ones), this is the place to go. The restaurant is really pretty and cosy and the service is friendly. For main, I had a Trévignon galette with scallops, creamy cider sauce and julienne of vegetables. The scallops were perfectly cooked and the ingredients altogether very flavoursome. The galette itself was delicious and buttery. E. had the Mauricette galette with bacon, tomme de Savoie cheese, potatoes and a side of crispy lettuce. We both drank dry cider with our mains which is the best accompaniment for galettes as a drink if I'm honest. We could not leave without have a sweet crêpe so E. had one flambéed with Grand Marnier and mine had apples cooked in butter drizzled with salted caramel creamy sauce. I understand the latter has all those indulgent ingredients combined together (butter, cream, salted caramel) but it was just amazing and I would not have swapped it for anything else. If anyone were to ask me where to have delicious crêpes in Nantes, this is where I would recommend without a doubt.
I was walking around a bit when I found a little shop called Charlou (23 rue du Chateau) that seemed quite cute. I walked in and immediately found the Nantes City Guide map by Julie Flamingo that I been looking for. How perfect! I also found a couple of things that are specific to Nantes (I will not go into details here since they are gifts for a friend who reads this blog. Hi R.!). This little shop has some lovely decoration ideas as well as accessories, jewellery and paper goods.
While on that same street, I walked into Saint Market (11 rue du Chateau). There, you can find some really beautifully designed items and furniture. If you are on the lookout for unusual things to decorate your home, I would say this is the place to go. The owner had a really good knowledge about her products and the people who designed them. I really value this type of care in choosing what to sell to people and being able to tell them where it comes from and how it was made.
Lastly, if you love chocolate as much as I do, make sure to go to Choc-Hola (11 rue Saint Léonard). This chocolate shop is owned by a Franco-Mexican couple who sell amazing bean to bar chocolate. Not only they make it themselves but they get the cacao directly from small producers in Mexico. The particularity of those producers is also that the cacao they make comes from sustainable agriculture and a great respect in the amount produced without overusing natural resources. The chocolate made at Choc-Hola is really pure with barely any other ingredients added apart from mascavo sugar, spices and nuts depending on what you purchase (you can buy plain chocolate at 70, 80, 90 or 100% cacao too). I was given a taste while in the shop and I was blown away. The chocolate is so intense and pure, it was a real cacao heaven for my taste buds. I am glad I made sure to pop by this shop before leaving for the airport. They also make hot chocolate which is something I will make sure to get next time I visit.
Camera used: Olympus Pen E-PL8 (image edited with Lightroom)
What I listened to on this trip: album 'Everything Now', by Arcade Fire
Book read: 'South of the Border, West of the Sun', by Haruki Murakami