The perfect France weekender: six hot tips for Nantes

Short on time but big on ambition? Amanda Statham reveals how to get the most out of a quick trip to the chic French city of Nantes

As a travel writer (and therefore frequent flier), I’m always keen to start exploring a new destination straight off the plane. That’s why I think Nantes, which is just a short flight from the UK, makes an ideal weekend break destination. Here’s how to maximise your time there, from touchdown to takeoff.

Ensure a smooth arrival

Nantes airport is located in Bouguenais, a small town about six miles from the city, so you’ll need a taxi or bus ride into the centre. Taxis from Bouguenais cost around €30, while the shuttle bus (€9) departs every 20 minutes and takes only half an hour to arrive in Nantes. Rather drive? Car hire companies are located in a building opposite the main terminal. There’s a self-service fuel station by the entrance to the rental return – essential info if you’ve ever driven around France shouting “why are there no service stations?” when you’re desperate to fill your tank and return your car.

Make drinks the first stop

There’s nothing like wheeling your suitcase out of the office doors and knowing you’ll be miles away in just a couple of hours. Catch the 3pm flight from Gatwick and you’ll be landing by 5:25pm, with plenty of time to find a suitable bistro for drinks. Check out Café de l’Orangerie – hidden behind a park near the bus drop-off point, it’s a convenient and pretty place to sample local beers and wines.

Tick off the main attraction

When you get to the city centre, make a beeline for Machines de L’île (External link) , Nantes’ most famous attraction. Hop on a tram (line 1) from the centre of town and you’ll soon be marvelling at mechanical spiders the size of a car and giant ants, plus hitching a 30-minute ride on a four-storey steel elephant. Next, hit the Jules Verne Museum (External link) , which overlooks the Loire River and reveals fascinating insights into the life of the author and playwright who penned Around the World in Eighty Days and Journey to the Center of the Earth. Be sure to book tickets online before you go to avoid lengthy queues.

Take a river cruise

Nantes is the gateway to the Loire, and what better way to explore it than by river? Book a two-and-a-half-hour afternoon tour on a traditional flat-bottomed fishing boat with La Toue de Nantes (External link) and enjoy a guided cruise from the heart of the city into the countryside along the beautiful Erdre River, spotting chateaux with river-edge gardens and stock-still herons as you go. Local wine, salads and homemade cakes are thoughtfully provided on board, for those wanting a feast for the stomach as well as the eyes.

Head to the coast

Making the most of your holiday doesn’t have to mean non-stop action – you need some time to chill, too. And what better place to relax than the beach? Nantes isn’t far from France’s glorious west coast (less than 40 minutes by car or just over an hour by train), and the best place to feel the sand in your toes is Pornic, a picturesque seaside resort with beautiful beaches and a 13th-century castle. Hike the coastal trail, be awed by the megalithic cairn of Mousseaux and snap the pretty harbour, before stopping at the legendary La Fraiseraie (External link) for gourmet ice-cream overlooking the Atlantic.

Go on a wine tour

Keen to squeeze in one last activity? Well, no weekend to the Loire would be complete without a trip to a vineyard. Set your sights on the Muscadet vines close to the medieval city of Clisson, nestled in the Pays Nantais area. On a four-hour, half-day tour (External link) from Nantes you’ll get to visit the vines, learn about the winemaking process from grape to bottle and, best of all, get to sample various vintages in a tasting cellar (from €78, minimum two people). Don’t forget: you’ll need to check in a bag if you want to take any of that wine home.

Getting there

EasyJet flies to Nantes from Gatwick and Luton airports, as well as Liverpool and Bristol. If you’re travelling a long way before flying from London, you might want to book a hotel: Japanese-style Yotelair (External link) is the best spot to stay at Gatwick, with its 24-hour reception, bargain capsule rooms, monsoon showers and south terminal location, meaning you can roll out of bed and into the security queue without even stepping outside. At Luton, book the Courtyard (External link) by Marriott, just a four-minute complimentary shuttle transfer from departures.

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