When we planned our trip to France this summer we knew we wanted to make it a holiday of two halves. The first part (where we are now) would be a relaxing week in a gites in the Dordogne region. Time to reconnect as a family after a hectic few months, swim in the lakes and rivers, wander around French markets. The second part (where we’re heading next) would be a bit more lively, in a chalet on a Yelloh! holiday park with multiple water slides, kids’ clubs and a bar. The problem was, though, that we needed a stopover point to glue the holiday together. This is why we ended up spending 18 hours in Nantes and visiting Les Machines de I’ile.
Nantes is about a three to four hour drive from the port of Roscoff, where we got the ferry from Plymouth. It’s pretty much halfway to where we are now in the Dordogne and seemed like an obvious place to stay the night. We stayed in a self-catering apartment in a little complex of apartments on the outskirts of the city. Not great if you want to be able to walk to restaurants, but perfect for us as we wanted to be able to sort out our own breakfast and cater for ourselves plus, by the time we’d arrived, it was too late to take the kids’ out to eat anyway.
In the centre of Nantes, just by the river, the museum of robots (or Les Machines de L’ile) is just waiting to be explored. With a few hours to kill in the morning and the weather less than perfect we thought this would be a great place to visit before we hit the road again. We were right.
The building itself is beautiful – a huge atrium style industrial type of building with plenty of greenery, palm trees and birds flying about. Inside, it’s like stepping into the mind of a mad professor. Huge robotic animals sit alongside robotic bugs and fantastical creations. But the jewel in the crown – the thing we really wanted to see – was the giant robotic elephant. This thing was something else. You can ride on the elephant (tip: pre-book online if this is something you want to do – we didn’t and all the tickets for the morning rides had sold out by the time we arrived) but, to be honest, it’s an immense thing to look at just from the ground.
It was pouring with rain when we stumbled across the elephant wandering around the square outside the museum, so my photos are a bit blurry, but you get the idea – it’s huge and sprays water. Surreal.
Inside the museum you can also get a glimpse of the workshops where the robots are made. Cameras are banned from this part of the building as they want their future creations to remain secret until they’re ready to be unveiled to the world, but I did manage to get some good photos outside the workshop on a brilliant platform which gives you amazing views across Nantes.
I’m so glad we had this 18 hour stopover to start off our trip, even if the weather on the morning was pretty rubbish. I’d love to go back to visit the rest of the city another time and, because it’s so perfectly situated on the way down south, I expect we will return one day.
If you’re interested in seeing a behind the scenes view of the first leg of our trip then here’s a little vlog I made. I’m doing a Vlogcation series over on my YouTube and uploading multiple videos about the trip while we’re away (internet permitting). The first couple are live now if you want a look!