Coffee with a local in Nantes

Wednesday, 28 March 2012 9:51 AM

IdealShortBreaks.co.uk heads over the English Channel for a short break in the French city of Nantes, located close to the Loire Valley. We chat with local Benjamin Bellet to find out all the city’s secrets.

So, you’ve brought me to your favourite cafe - tell me about it.
La Cigale - it’s an old 19th century brasserie with beautiful colourful tiled walls, mosaics and wood panels. You can choose to sit outside in the salon de thé; the brasserie’s grand hall, elegant filled and tropical palms; or the cosy booths in the cafe. The motto of La Cigale is that ‘it’s not just a brewery, it’s an institution of happiness’.

Mmm... this is good, what are we drinking?
A cool glass of Muscadet - a dry white wine, which is unique to this region and one of the most popular wines here. It is made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape.

What are your favourite local dishes?
It has to be poisson sandre, pike fish from the Loire River, with the famous Nantes beurre blanc (white butter) sauce. This is a creamy light tangy sauce with shallots and vinegar, infused with Muscadet wine.

I also really like Curé Nantais cheese, invented in the 19th century by a parish priest. It sometimes served over apples and pears or made into an ice cream. Another favourite desert is the traditional Gateau Nantais a sweet cake made with rum and almonds and covered in a white icing glaze. It has been popular here since the 18th century when ships first brought rum and almonds back from the Caribbean.

And where would you suggest I go to find these?
For dinner or lunch you should go to the modern Le 1 restaurant, which is located close to the river. It’s light and airy and had has a good a selection of food. Some dishes are a fusion of Thai and French cuisine.

For desert you should head back to La Cigale where they have a mouth watering array of homemade local cakes and pastries that they're famous for. 

The sky is blue and the sun is shining, what’s the best thing to do on a day like today?
Everyone has to see Les Machines de I’lle at least once when in Nantes, a fascinating artistic project that blends the imagination of the worlds of Jules Verne and the mechanical world of Leonardo d Vinci. It features a range of giant mechanical animals and urban sculptures, set up in the industrial warehouses of the old shipyards. The highlight of the attraction is The Great Elephant - a 12 by 8 metre gigantic mechanical elephant that moves like a steel cathedral. Visitors can actually ride on the elephant to get a very unique tour of our city. 

And if it rains?
Go to the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany, an elegant Loire Chateau set in the historic heart of the city. Here you can discover and learn about the history of Nantes in the old 15th century palace within its walls and through the 850 objects displayed in its museum. Walk the ramparts and the moat gardens for spectacular views across the city.

If there’s one thing I should do while I’m here, what is it?
Simply stroll around the streets around the city centre, getting to know the real Nantes and its people.

Give me a local tip that other tourists wouldn’t usually know...
Visit the small fishing village of Trentemoult located just across the river from the city, easily accessible by boat. Here you’ll find lots of great seafood restaurants, bars and terraces to sit out on in the sun during the summer.
 

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