Nantes is the regional capital of Pays de la Loire and one of France's largest cities. Situated some miles inland from the Atlantic, on the banks of the Loire, it was one of France's most important ports and shipbuilding towns for centuries. Today, Nantes' chief industry may have changed but it certainly hasn't suffered - the city has recently been voted as one of Europe's most liveable cities and its growing young population has contributed to a vibrant cultural scene.
Nantes was the former capital of Brittany and though it's officially no longer a part of the Celtic region, the city's strong Breton roots are difficult to ignore. The Château des Ducs de Bretagne is the true historic centre of Brittany and its stoic ramparts protect a pleasant and spacious interior, home to the Musée d'Histoire de Nantes and a spattering of shaded spots popular with picnickers in summertime. Other highlights include the Cathédrale de St-Pierre-et-St-Paul, the Musée des Beaux-Arts and Les Machines de Île, an imaginative arts project where visitors can ride a 12-metre high mechanical elephant.