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When I first arrived in Nantes as an Erasmus exchange student I had not the slightest idea of what my new host city would look like.
Four hours after my arrival, I was staring in astonishment at a giant wooden elephant taking a walk on the edges of the Loire river. Some twenty people were being transported in the elephant and enjoying the sunset, while overlooking and waving down at us, small and amazed Erasmus students down there on the ground.
The Great Elephant, or Le Grand Éléphant, looks like a creature come to life from the most fantastic of Jules Verne’s book. And it kind of is: Jules Verne, a native Nantais, has been the main inspiration for French artists collective La Machine in building the Great Elephant and the rest of the magical world of the Machines of The Isle of Nantes (or, as a Nantais would say, Les Machines de l’île).
In the island that faces the city centre, a former harbour converted into a cultural and artistic area in the eighties, you can find such things as a giant carousel of 20 metres height with underwater creatures instead of the classical horses, the Carousel des Mondes Marins, and, in a couple years, you will be able to actually fly in a giant mechanical heron nest around L’Arbre Aux Herons, a huge “tree” of some thirty meters in diameter (“The Heron Tree”, delivery expected in 2017).
This zone of the city really looks like a children’s dream come true.
After a walk on the elephant and a tour in the carousel, you can walk down the Loire to have a very French apéro in the former commercial hangars Le Hangar a Bananes, that have been converted into a succession of the most stylish bars of the city, which makes the Isle of Nantes one of the most vibrant zones of the city.
While you enjoy sipping your glass of wine, or verre de vin, and peeping the last sunbeams through Les Anneaux (“The Rings”, the colourful artwork by artists Daniel Buren and Patrick Bouchain, composed of a series of 18 neon rings of 4 meters diameter), you can really tell yourself that you had the most Nantaise experience ever.
[Also read] My Favourite Corner of France – Ile de Ré
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Marina ORACOLO completed Master Degree in Culture Management from University of Nantes, France, and has a Degree in French and English Languages from University of Padua, Italy. She worked in marketing and PR in a Paris based independent cinema company Blaq Out, and festival programming, social media management and cultural event organisation. In May 2015 Marina joined AFCork as Cultural Coordinator and Cork French Film Festival Coordinator.