Nantes; for model-loving fathers and creative kids

Letting dads act like kids might just be the secret of a perfect family destination.

I have to admit that I love having childish fun, but it can be tough being the only one with a receding hairline in the queue for the waterslide, or building sandcastles alone when the kids would rather be in the water. Most ‘interactive’ activities like those put by museums are intended to involve our kids, but we dads all know that we’d much rather be the ones pushing buttons. That’s why Nantes was such fun.

Nantes itself is beautiful; open boulevards and pretty side-streets full of nightlife, excellent local foods (oysters, cheese, sausages and of course, crepes), bright white stone buildings, easy transport links and many activities, but it seems that Nantes has decided to put its industrial engineering past centre-stage in the most spectacular way.

For a start, even the public parks and kids playgrounds have exciting art and engineering creations, such as this wooden dragon climbing-frame that blasts smoke every few minutes.

Dragon Park

Dragon Park

Safely quarantined on l’Ile de Nantes, like some modern-day Jurassic Park, however, is the “Machines de L’Ile” attraction, filled with the most incredible animatronic creations.  The best known, and now symbol of Nantes, is the Elephant; a 12 metre tall, wood & steel construction that roams the attraction, spouts water and carries tourists on its top platform and in its core.

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Head into the main attraction, however, for the best toys! In the converted industrial ship-building warehouses you’ll find the prototypes of all sorts of creatures, models that look like the results of a Scrapheap Challenge involving Jules Verne, Jim Henson and Tony Stark.

Giant ants that take four adults to sit on and ‘drive’. Fire-breathing Dragons. Caterpillars. Levers aplenty! Huge storks flying across the ceiling, delivering several full-grown adults. Moles. Venus-fly-traps that could trap a bear. And all needing willing ADULT volunteers to demonstrate (check out the gallery below).

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On the far side of the lot is the €10 million, multi-storey, ocean-themed, merry-go-round. Three levels of lever-pulling, button-pushing, smoke-belching, laughter-inducing fun. If they have their way, they will also build a HUGE steel ‘tree’ to host even more spectacular rides in future.

If you always loved building things, seeing models of things come to life, and want to spark the imagination of your kids in new ways – where science is fun, creative and industrial, not future fiction, this is a great destination.

If you are looking for a short break, or a stop-off when driving through France, put Nantes on your itinerary. It is less than an hour flight from London (either EasyJet from Gatwick or CityJet from London City Airport), and maybe a good place to stop after a day’s driving if heading through to Western France.

Of course, Nantes conveniently happens to be the home of Muscadet white wines, and Anjou reds, and a great place to start your discovery of the wines of the Loire valley.

If you are in town, I suggest checking out the eclectic Le Vin Vivant restaurant for some home-cooking and delicious wines that highlight the more artisanal and personal styles of local wines.

I was in Nantes for a business event, with the support of Nantes tourism. I enjoyed the visit so much I am planning on bringing back the whole family as soon as I can – after seeing the photos, my daughter will not let me hear the end of it if she does not get a ride on the Elephant.

See you in the queue for the Elephant, … or maybe the waterslide!

Here’s a Gallery of the Machines de L’Ile

Here’s a Gallery of some photos of Nantes

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