Spring break to Nantes

A story on forgetting the guidebook at home.

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Myself on the hotel steps in Bourges.

We have enjoyed our first home exchange within France and been able to visit a part of France that we had planned to do for years. Our exchange partners wanted to arrive by car, so we decided to make a road trip as well.  We took the scenic option over mountain passes and did a stop at the spectacular viaduc de Millau.  Unfortunately it was pouring with rain, so not the ideal conditions for sightseeing. The viaduc itself is nothing more than a motorway bridge with a twist, but the views and the visitor’s center made it a nice break from driving.

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Viaduc de Millau

Hoping to get well over half way through our driving on the first day, we decided on an overnight stop in Bourges.  This proved to be a good choice – the historical town was delightful and had a very impressive cathedral, the chain hotel we had chosen was located in an old abbey and housed one of the best restaurants in town. What more can you want ?

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Hotel de Bourbon in Bourges.

We chose the hotel because it seemed easy to find, it had free parking, Wi-Fi and a restaurant.  Moreover, it was only a short walk into the historical center of town.  Arriving late, we did not want to wander around looking for a restaurant on a Saturday evening.  Little did we know that we would enjoy fine dining in this chain hotel.

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Restaurant L’Abbayé St-Ambroix in Bourges

The next morning we set out to explore the town of Bourges and found a very pretty town center with the most impressive cathedral.

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Bourges Cathedral

Nearly lunch and time to set off for our destination – the village of Indre on the Loire River, about 10 km outside Nantes.  We arrived without any difficulties and found a large and welcoming home with a view of the river and the weather mild enough to enjoy an aperitif on the beautiful terrace.  We also found the feline member of the family locked up in the basement – Sacha the cat. He seemed happy to find some human company again and joined us on the terrace. An orange male with a body and a character resembling a Siamese.  If you do not know a Siamese, this animated description is as good as it gets:

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The orange batcat is guarding his territory.

The first day in our home from home is dedicated to explore the immediate area.  Being a Sunday morning we head down to the river to take a look at the weekly market and the ferries crossing the river.  Next stop is finding the airport for Gunnar’s departure early Friday morning.  After lunch we take the tram to Nantes.  Having spent the winter in peace and quiet in the countryside, the big and busy city is a bit overwhelming.  After some walking we came across Jardin des Plantes – a peaceful haven with spring blooming in full splendour.  With miles and miles of camellia hedges, this must be camellia heaven for those interested in plants and gardens.

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Camellia in Jardin des Plantes – Nantes.

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La Rochelle harbour.

On our second day we wake up to fog and drizzle and we need a plan B.  Taking a look at the weather forecast it seems to be sunny to the south-west so we head for La Rochelle. We arrived  just in time for lunch and found an elegant and sunny seaside town.

We even made a detour to Ile de Re only to find the place packed with holiday makers enjoying the fine weather.  Finding no parking space at the lighthouse, we turned back rather quickly and had a coffee break before heading back across the bridge. Makes me wonder how busy the place is in the high season.

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The bridge.

On our third day we wake up to beautiful warm weather and decide to head for the seaside yet again.  The city will have to wait, it is too nice for museums and exhaust fumes.  Our destination is a little closer today – only an hour or so driving from Nantes.  Noirmoutier was recommended to us by our caretaker in Gruissan, and again we found the place packed with holiday makers – probably due to the exceptionally fine weather.  Unfortunately, there had been an accident on the road so we arrived somewhat delayed, but still in time for lunch in Noirmoutier town.  In fact, there were so many people that we had a hard time finding a table at a restaurant.  It seemed the restaurants were taken by surprise as well and that they were not yet prepared for the hordes.

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Noirmoutier.

An interesting feature of getting to the island is a road only passable at ebb tide.

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Oobs – the road has disappeared.

Thursday and the last day before Gunnar has to leave for Norway.  Again the forecast is for 25 degrees, clear skies and no wind.  We head for Pornic, the closest seaside town to Nantes and only 50 km or so from the city.  We find the charming resort town packed with people heading for the beach – in April !! Luckily we came early and were able to find a parking space by the station.

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A beach in Pornic – April 25th 2013

Friday and we have to get up at 4.30 am to get Gunnar to the airport.  Getting back to the house I decide to sleep a couple of hours more, then start preparing for the return.  As with all home exchanges there is the cleaning and tidying at the end of the stay.  The golden rule is to leave the house as you found it – or better 🙂

Saturday morning it is time to lock up poor Sacha the cat in the basement again and head for the motorway.  This time I take the quickest route via Bordeaux and is back home in late afternoon.

Conclusion:  One week is too little – we have not seen nearly enough.  Hopefully we will be able to return to the area some day.

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