French Summer Trip #4 - Exploring Brittany and the city of Nantes with Elise Goujon
Elise Goujon was born in Normandy and grew up in Nantes. After travelling a lot for work, she decided to move to New York City in 2012. Within months of moving, she turned into a tour guide for family and friends who were visiting… She explored atypical neighborhoods, learned their history, discovered their secret corners, sniffed out the best spots in the Big Apple, and eventually decided to quit her job and start her own company, New York Off Road. Energized by this success in New York, she dreamed big and created Miami Off Road in 2017; after seven years in New York, she has now taken off with her family to the West Coast, and Los Angeles Off Road was born in January 2019. She loves the city for its energy but especially how original its neighborhoods and inhabitants are.
French Wink: What was it like to grow up in Nantes?
Elise Goujon: I loved spending my childhood in Nantes. It’s a very dynamic and livable city. I remember spending all my spring weekends camping at Guérande, facing the beach, and wondering at the street theatre company Royal de Luxe that put on gigantic puppet shows through the streets of the city.
Why do we call it Nantes, City of Dukes? Should we assume that there are pretty castles to visit?
Anne de Bretagne’s castle in the center of the city traces Nantes’s history. It’s a legendary place that hosts many cultural activities. My favorite is the concert series all summer long in the castle’s moats.
What is Breton culture like in Nantes?
Historically, Nantes was part of Brittany, but now it’s not very striking. In Breton, Nantes translates to “Naoned,” and that’s written on lots of signs; but otherwise, we are not very shaped by Breton culture.
What are your favorite spots in the region for a cultural outing?
The slavery memorial traces the entire history of the triangular trade — it’s a big part of Nantes’s history. The fine arts museum near the train station is also wonderful.
What’s your favorite stroll through Nantes, or the one you always like to take?
Each time I come home, I always visit the island machines (inspired by Jules Verne’s works). They’re on Nantes Island, which is where the shipyards used to be. It’s always magical to see this gigantic elephant appear, made of wood and steel. Everyone turns into a child all over again! Afterwards, you must ride the marine animal carrousel; it’s interactive for young and old. A little farther, accessible on foot, there’s the banana hangar. It’s quite lively in the summer with restaurants and decks facing Buren’s rings. To finish the outing, I recommend swinging by Trentemoult, an old fishing village, to wander through the streets bordered with colorful houses. If you’re in Nantes during the summer, don’t miss Le voyage à Nantes — it’s a kind of treasure hunt through the city featuring ephemeral art installations (normally in July and August, but this year it’s August-September due to COVID-19).
Nantes is known to be a green city. What are the “green” spots that you enjoy in the city and nearby?
Indeed, Nantes is a very green city with numerous parks. My favorites are the botanical garden, around the hippodrome, along the Loire and the Erdre, and the Versailles Island. There used to be a lot of water — it could have been the “Venice of the West” if they hadn’t filled in the Loire’s arms. There were six at one point!
There is one especially famous sweet culinary speciality from Nantes: the Petit LU. Can you tell us about it?
I grew up with the Petit LU, of course :) However, you have to know how to eat them properly: it’s a whole ceremony! ;) We start with the four corners, which are the crispiest. You must also try Petits écoliers, which have chocolate on top! “LU” is an acronym for their founder, Lefevre Utile, which is well-established in Nantes. The LU tower across from the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany has been transformed into an artistic, creative, and culinary space named “Lieu Unique” (Unique Space) where I have spent many evenings!
What cakes must one taste in the region?
Nantais cake (with rum) comes from the West Indies and is a speciality in the region, but I’ve never been a fan. I much prefer the Breton specialty that one can also find in Nantes: the kouign amann.
The Nantais vineyard is the largest viticultural area in the Loire Valley. Which wines do you recommend we taste?
Muscadet sur Lie is the best — enjoy it with oysters if possible!
What do you bring back from Nantes to your American friends?
I bring rillettes, pâtés, and other succulent savory fish-based treats from Conserverie Belle-Iloise. I also bring sel de Guérande (salt flower) and berlingots, the triangular-shaped hard candies!
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