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385km (239 miles) W of Paris; 325km (202 miles) N of Bordeaux

Technically, Nantes (pop. 288,000) is outside of Brittany. In 1941, the Vichy Government transferred it from the region into a newly-created one, the Pays de la Loire. This administrative action did nothing to change Nantes’ deeply Breton soul, however, and no guide to Brittany would be complete without its inclusion.

The capital of Brittany is Rennes (pop. 208,000), but when comparing the two cities, many agree that Nantes is more vibrant. It’s best known for its busy port, which suffered great damage in World War II, and for the 1598 Edict of Nantes, which guaranteed religious freedom to Protestants (this was later revoked). During the Middle Ages, Nantes expanded from an island in the Loire to the northern edge of the river, where its center lies today. Many famous people, from Molière to Stendhal, have lived here.

 

Despite a lackluster reputation, Nantes is becoming a kind of Atlantic Coast Parisian annex for young bobos and families tired of the capital’s rat race. Impressive revitalization is changing the city, as once-dreary industrial suburbs are being transformed into places you’d actually like to visit.