Nantes Upside Down
By Claude Bédard
Bike, drive, sail or simply walk… For this adventure, imagination is the only rule.
Nantes, intrepid city of Western France, has been growing ever more self-confident in character in recent years, and is not at risk of crawling back into its shell any time soon.
Last June 15th, it launched an 8.5-kilometer urban trail on both sides of the Loire estuary to Saint-Nazare. The “Voyage à Nantes” trail, designated by a pink line along the ground, passed through some 30 unique sectors often featuring silly (playful?) installations. For two months, locals and visitors were invited to put aside all reason and stroll through a city turned upside down by art.
“Voyage à Nantes,” a lighthearted, innovative and downright eccentric concept, was fleshed out with performances, exhibits and other artistic adventures. The event will be repeated in summer 2013, as more than 600,000 visitors flocked to the Pays de la Loire capital to partake in this artsy expedition.
One of the organizers’ creations was Crêpetown, the biggest crêperie in the world, housed in an abandoned building known for its late-night gatherings. Convivial barbecues were also set up along the river, and impromptu concerts lured curious onlookers into joining the festivities.
In the city center’s covered Passage Pommeraye, an area designated as a historical monument, filmmaker Agnès Varda recreated Michel Piccoli’s boutique in “Une chambre en ville.” Meanwhile, in a nearby squat, Varda invited beggars and the homeless to speak their minds in a highly original fashion. The famous fountain at Place Royale, one of Nantes’ most popular attractions, disappeared under a ‘royal mount’ erected to inspire climbing and exploration among the young and young at heart. Another unusual but surefire crowd pleaser was the daily Lucky Luke-style western rodeo that took over the interior courtyard of the Château des ducs de Bretagne.
On the renovated site of an old shipyard on Nantes Island, a four-story, 50-ton elephant could be seen parading along the island with nearly 50 passengers on its back, spraying passersby with its trunk. Hats off to the crazy craftsmen who built the gigantesque machine! And, in gentle mocking of a vast construction site at Place du Bouffay, a portion of a facade seemed to be defying the laws of gravity, hanging 10 meters up in the air. On the outskirts of Couëron village, a three-story stone house was seen floating in the river…
Finally, the public was invited to board a gastronomic cruise to contemplate the curiosities lining the Loire and prolong the discovery to Trentemoult, a traditional fishing village renowned for its organic market and crooked, colored houses. With this impressive series of events, Nantes is propelling itself into the ranks of must-see destinations. Far from eclipsing the heritage of this great French city, “Voyage à Nantes” highlights its heritage with an aura of artistic freedom and characteristic French joie de vivre. Stay tuned for 2013 programming to prepare your own awe-inspiring journey to Nantes.