Nantes and The Loire
The legendary Loire meanders through the imagination, confettied with castles, cathedrals and long lazy miles of medieval villages and vineyards, rolling hills and exquisite gardens. That’s all there in real life, too, along with a scatter of dynamic cities and a plentiful supply of LGBT hangouts and gay-run hotels dotted about the region, with a particular concentration in the port city of Nantes (Naoned in the Breton language), UNESCO-venerated Orléans, cosmopolitan Tours, regal Blois and stately Amboise.
France’s longest river rises in the eastern Massif Central mountains in south-central France and runs 1,000 kilometres, north to Orléans, west through Tours, Angers and Nantes, finally reaching the Atlantic Ocean at St-Nazaire on France’s rugged west coast. The 800-kilometre Loire bike route traces the river from central Nevers (easily reached by train from Paris’s Gare de Bercy train station) to the Loire estuary. You can catch a train to various towns along the route, or there are international airports at Nantes and Tours.
Whether you want to drive it, bike it, drink it or simply drink it in, the Loire offers some stunning vineyard stops and more castles per kilometre than pretty much anywhere else on the planet. The areas surrounding Orléans and Angers are château-central, with hundreds to choose from. Many of the castles and their ornate gardens date back to the 14th century, and more than 100 châteaux are open to the public. Architectural highlights that you mustn’t miss include the fairy-tale turrets of gargantuan Chambord, the imposing Château Amboise in Ambois — very much the Downton Abbey of the Loire — and Chenonceau, the domain of a duo of powerful women, Diane de Poitiers and the mighty Catherine de’ Medici. For sheer fairy-tale fancy, the 16th-century Château d’Azay-le-Rideau in Touraine is the picture-perfect storybook castle.
If it’s gardens you go for, the Château & Jardins Villandry and Chaumont-sur-Loire are among the most elaborate. Summer sees many of these landscaped lawns illuminated by evening light shows. Fans of the vine should set a course for Chinon, Saumur and Sancerre. Famed for their cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc wines, the three ancient towns are all great launch points for a vineyard vacation. Don’t miss the narrow winding streets of the gorgeous medieval town La Charité if visiting nearby Sancerre.
The towns and cities of the main stretch of the river are a vibrant bunch. Jules Verne’s birthplace, Nantes, pays homage to its most famous son in the reborn river-island docklands district, now home to an enormous mechanical elephant and a carousel of giant sea creatures. This redeveloped, five-kilometre-long island kickstarted Nantes’s transformation from staid provincial spot to hip weekend destination. Now sidewalk cafés hem cobbled streets, and hip bars and bistros dot the docks. It’s a city with something of a split personality: Nantes was the capital of Brittany until the Second World War, and this once proudly Breton burgh has a unique air. It’s the sixth-largest city in France and is home to more than 800,000 people. It’s famed for its crêpes; its Museum of Fine Arts and Musée Dobrée; its elegant covered shopping area, the Passage Pommeraye; and a slew of quirky art installations. There are also a couple of castles, of course: the fine Château des Ducs de Bretagne and the orderly Château de Goulaine.
Orléans, birthplace of France’s first and foremost feminist, Joan of Arc, offers the neo-Gothic Ste-Croix cathedral and a great base for chateaux visits. Tours, a city with a metropolitan population of more than half a million, dates back to the fourth century but is particularly known for its 12-century cathedral. Angers is famed for its medieval château, founded in the ninth century and expanded in the 13th. It’s in this palatial pad that you’ll find the 700-year-old Apocalypse Tapestry, which was presumably a more popular decorative theme in the 1300s than it is today.
Nantes Atlantique Airport, 8 km (5 miles) south-west of city center, is the biggest airport in western France, linking with several French and European cities, Montreal, Canada and some northern Africa cities. A larger, and very controversial new airport, Aéroport du Grand Ouest, after many delays, is scheduled to open in 2017.
Tan Ter shuttles make the trip between airport Hall 1 and the central railway station in just 20 minutes, connecting with 3 tram lines, the Busway line 4 and Chronobus C2. Departures every 20-30 minutes until 11pm, cost 7.50 € (July 1, 2014), and are valid for one hour throughout the city transport network, and Tan Ter trains of Nantes.
Nantes is connected by TGV (high speed train) to Lyon, Marseille, Lille, Strasbourg, and Paris - taking just over 2 hours from the capital city via the LGV Atlantique from Gare Montparnasse. See SNCF, the French National Railway, for more information.
Nantes is said to have had the first organized city omnibus transit system beginning in 1826. The first Nantes Tramway was opened in 1879, closed in 1958, then re-introduced in 1985. TAN is now among the largest and most efficient of such systems in France, with three lines, one Busway line, two Navibus lines, 56 bus lines, night buses, and the Navette Aéroport airport shuttle. TAN passengers may ride SNCF suburban trains within the urban area limits. Long distance Loire-Atlantique département travel is operated by Lila with inter-urban buses. All except Lila share common ticketing within the Nantes Métrople.
Tickets are good for one hour. There are also 10 tickets booklets (14 €) and 24-hour tickets (4.60 €), valid for 24 hours after first being punched. Purchase these at at most Tramway or Busway stops, from thei Tan boutique website or phone apps, on the Bus (single tickets only) or at Tan transport agencies.
Nantes Métropole offers 790 bicycles at 89 self-service Bicloo stations in central Nantes and Velocampus has over 300 student rental bikes. Vélo bike rentals are also now available at seven new stations. The Loire Valley by bike has 240 km (149 mi) of continuous cycle routes in the Pays-de-la-Loire region.
Media & Resources
Gay Viking website covers a number of cities in France, including Nantes and throughout Normandy, plus a guide to the area's gay beaches.
Wag! is a regional gay & lesbian every-other-month bar rag giveaway, with business listings and events for Nantes, Tours, Orleans, and other south-west towns and cities from Le Mans to Bordeaux. Each year they publish a Guide with city maps. See current and back issues online.
Gays Randonneurs Nantais is a gay hikers group sponsoring trips to the coast, national parks and other local wonders of nature, plus visits to area chateaux, barbeque pool parties and social events.
Bears & Compagnie is an association of/for bears, cubs and friends, with activities and events in Bretagne and the Pays-de-la-Loire regions.
Les Armateurs (8 quai Turenne, Nantes; 33-6-3386-3794), urban guesthouse/ furnished studio apartment for two nights, a week or the month; reasonable prices; in Aqua Sauna building, next to the university.
Nantes has a clutch of good design hotels, such as Sozo (16 rue Frédéric Cailliaud; 33-2-5182-4000 ), a super stylish 4-star boutique hotel situated in a former 19th-century chapel, with 28 rooms, breakfast, bar/lounge, secure parking, free WiFi and a business corner.
See some more city center hotel suggestions at our Nantes map and listings page.
You’ll find a perfectly manicured handful of queer-friendly properties in nearby Amboise and Orelans too.
Manoir les Minimes (34 Quai Charles Guinot, Amboise; 33-2-4730-4040 ), gay-owned, 18th-century mansion guesthouse, six rooms and suites with bathrooms, satellite TV, guest Lllaundry services, entertainment systems, and Loire River views.
Orléans’s LGBT-welcoming Hôtel de L’Abeille (64 rue Alsace-Lorraine, Orléans; 33-2-3853-5487), in town center, run by a friendly brother-and-sister team, has 19 rooms and suties, breakfast, internet, terrace roof garden with cathedral views.
Nantes and the departmental capitals Orléans and Tours are the best bets for bar life.
Nantes Bars & Clubs
Block Men (3, rue Ogée), men-only hard-sex cruise bar, porn vidéos, cabins, sling and glory-holes, open nightly 10pm-4am; naked, jockstrap and boxer nights, bears' events, military theme nights.
CO2 Origin (3 rue Cale de Crucy), 11pm-7am Thursday-Saturday (+ holiday Sundays) gay/lesbian dance club, theme nights, shower dancer and drag shows.
L’Autre Quai (68, quai de la Fosse), men-only sex/cruise bar, cabins, backroom, porn videos, sling and glory hole, maze, house music; hard sex, blackout, sneaks and naked nights, Mr Leather contest.
Le Ferry (15, rue Bâtonnier Yves Guinaudeau), bar/cafe, with terrace seatings, ambience gay bretonne, theme nights; open daily 4pm-2am.
Le Montecito (6 rue St Nicolas), gay-friendly cocktail bar and cafe, with terrace seatings.
Le Petit Marais (15, rue Kervegan), long-time local favorite gay and lesbian bar, open daily 6pm-4am, Friday-Saturday DJs, Sunday buffet.
Le Plein Sud (2, rue Prémion), 5pm-2am nightly men's cruise bar, bears, theme nights.
Les Fées Maison Bar (3, rue du près Nian), gay-friendly neighborhood bar, old-time ambience and decor.
Le Night L (11 allée du Port Maillard), lesbian bar, open to all, theme nights, live music, weekend DJs.
QJ Club (14 rue Alexandre Fourny), Wednesday-Sunday, midnight to 7am gay/lesbian disco/dance club; stage shows, vocalist entertainment, "feathers & glitter" cabaret featuring Queen Juliana, drag star of renown, plus special theme nights including Délice parties.
See some restaurant suggestions at our Nantes city map and listings pages.
Nantes Saunas & Sex
Aqua Sauna (8, allée/quai de Turenne), large sauna, hammam/ sauna, Jacuzzi, solarium, cabins, backroom, sling, vidéo room, reading room, bar, Open every day from 2pm, mixed men/women Mondays and Fridays otherwise men-only; massage, naked nights.
Le Steamer (4Bis rue Baron), men's bathhouse/ hammam, pool, Jacuzzi, uv cabin, private cabins, bar; naked and blackout nights.
System X Nantes (37 rue de Richebourg), sex shop DVDs, lubes, accessories; sex club cinema, cabins, sling and backroom.
Orléans’ hottest homo haunt is Le Sweet & Co cocktail bar.
Tours' top LGBT addresses include Vieux Murier (11, place Plumereau), popular bar/cafe, with retro décor, winter warm and cozy in winter and summer plterrace; very popular, good prices.
Even in unexpected, seemingly off-radar spots, you’ll find family. Try L’Escale, a diminutive bar-restaurant with a charming patio garden in tiny St-Bouize, in the Centre départment near Nevers. A bar, restaurant, épicérie and dépôt de pain, it’s the centre of village life and is run by a charming gay couple named Stefan and Gael.