Situated right on the tranquil Loire river, the beautiful town of Nantes offers a brilliant array of activities, dining and inviting French atmosphere making it a perfect family escape. I was invited for a quick weekend break to sample the delights of the area by the local tourism board, and stayed at the very swanky Sozo hotel, built into an old chapel and decked out with all the latest gadgets in comfortable, modern rooms.
Nantes is packed with activities for families, like the towering Nantes History Museum in the Chateau De Bretagne, located on the edge of the old town with a giant courtyard ideal for picnics, perhaps stopping at the Talensac market to stock up on local delicacies first. Maybe go 30 storeys up to Le Nid (The Nest), a high-rise bar with panoramic views over the city that children love for its interior decoration. Have a hot chocolate at the wonderfully decorated La Cigalle, done up in art nouveau style.
Afterwards, take a wander through the Botanical Gardens with over 11,000 species, greenhouses from the 19th century and a petting zoo. Plus, if you make it before mid-October 2014 you can enjoy art from Claude Ponti, a children's illustrator who'll be making imaginative artworks from plants. We stayed just around the corner from the gardens, in the trendily decorated Sozo hotel, built into an old chapel.
Absolutely don't miss the Les Machines de l'île - incredible oversized works of mechanical art. In particular, the Great Elephant can carry up to 50 people and is truly a scene to behold, as is the three-storey high Carrousel Des Mondes Marins, based on the works of Jules Vernes.
We were also able to catch a bit of the Royal De Luxe, a breathtaking street theatre performance that happens every few years, where the giants 'walk' through the town , resulting in a busy festival atmosphere as the town turns out to see them.