In recent years, Nantes has been gaining quite a reputation for its modern art and design. But don’t overlook the historic centre of this port city: it still has a hypnotic pull on visitors. Visit the architectural treasures of the 18th-century neighbourhood Île Feydeau, a former island in the tributary of the Loire.
In the past, Île Feydeau would have been the Beverly Hills of Nantes. Half way through the 18th century, in the days when the port city was profiting greatly from its trade with the French colonies, its rich merchants built a very luxurious neighbourhood. They chose a very exclusive location: a small island in a tributary of the Loire. Even today pedestrians admire the splendour of these mansions, with white façades that light up in the sunshine. Tilt back your head to see the most beautiful sculptures and to admire the ubiquitous ornamental wrought iron of the French balconies.
Some buildings in Île Feydeau seem to lean forward and that is not an optical illusion. Because of its sandy soil, the neighbourhood began to subside a hundred years after it was built. Although Feydeau is still called île, it hasn’t been an island for a long time. In the 1930s the tributary of the Loire was filled in and the former suburb was incorporated into the city.
The island feel has been somewhat preserved by the greenbelts that were planted in the former river bed. This can be clearly seen at Quai Turenne, where the houses look out over fake quays and a sunken lawn. After dark it almost feels as if the water is still flowing. In summer the lawn becomes a green beach where students read in the sun. Parallel to the quay is the Rue Kervégan, a lovely cobblestone street. This was the birthplace of one of Nantes’ most famous residents: Jules Verne.