Loire cruise – first stop, beautiful Nantes with CroisiEurope

Michael Edwards cruises the Loire on a paddle-powered riverboat
St Nazaire bridge - loire cruise
Sailing under Le pont de Saint-Nazaire at the start of the Loire cruise.

Purpose built for shallow waters, The Loire Princess is the only riverboat to offer cruises along France’s longest river. It is a gourmet Loire cruise through one of France’s most historic and scenic regions.

Along the banks of the wide Loire, where white waders dip, centuries of French history have been written. The chateaux with their grey slate roofs and mirror moats tell tales of intrigue, plotting and assassinations.

Though we begin in Nantes, a slightly reluctant capital of the Loire – Atlantic region. In 1941, Marshall Petain’s government, collaborating with the occupying Nazis, transferred Nantes from Brittany to the Loire-Atlantic region. Throughout the city there is a nostalgia for Brittany: cider and galettes as well as the black-and-white stripped Breton flag.

Place Graslin in Nantes - Loire cruise
The Opera House at Place Graslin in Nantes.

After a welcome cocktail, almost all drinks are included on this CroisiEurope cruise, we settle into our spacious upper deck cabin. From the beds facing the picture window, or from the chairs on our balcony, we look out across prosperous Nantes.

Our city tour takes us past the classical columns of the 18th century Opera House, across the Place de Graslin which is Nantes’ artistic hub, and through the grand houses of merchants who grew rich on river trade.

Passage Pommeraye - Loire cruise
Passage Pommeraye shames today’s tacky shopping malls.

In the 1840s, the Passage Pommeraye with its classical sculptures was built, possibly the most beautiful shopping gallery in the world. Linking downturn commercial Nantes with the upper arty quarter, it provided opportunities for decadent retail indulgence.

CroisiEurope’s tour of the chateau tells Nantes’ story from the 15th century when Anne of Brittany, first betrothed at 14, twice became Queen of France. The contract for her first marriage to Charles Vlll stipulated that she should marry Louis Xll if her first husband died. When Charles, who was little over 4 feet tall, fatally bashed his head on a beam, rushing to watch a game of tennis, Anne had to marry Louis Xll.

Nantes’ conscience is struggling with its leading role in the slave trade as  43% of French slaver ships departing from France sailed from Nantes. Exhibits show the horror of the passage from Africa to the Caribbean with around 10% of Africans dying en-route. Even after slavery had been outlawed, Napoleon overruled previous legislation in 1802. When slavery was finally abolished, Nantes needed a new source of wealth. An exhibition shows how sugar from the New World combined with local wheat to create a flourishing biscuit industry.

Nantes Les Machines de l'île- Loire cruise

In the 1980s, Nantes suffered another blow, the shipyards relocated to St Nazaire. The Loire Princess moors up close to part of Nantes’ response: the Isle de Machines. A collection of fantasy models are both steam punk and Jules Verne retro as the sci-fi author was born in Nantes. A mechanical elephant that can carry up to 35 passengers has become a motif for the new Nantes.

As the Loire Princess sails through the estuary from Nantes to St Nazaire, passengers look out for sculptures along the estuary art trail. Meanwhile, dinner is served. Perhaps a hake fillet on linguini or a pork fillet with lentils. There is a choice of wines. Red, rose, white or sparkling offered with both lunch and dinner.

CroisiEurope-Plat-Dos-de-cabillaud-emuslsion-de-carotte-a-l-ail-doux-288526© Oliver Asmussen
Plat dos de cabillaud emulsion de carotte a l’ail doux. ©Oliver Asmussen

At Saint Nazaire guests tour the Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard which has its cruise ships’ order books full for the next eight years. The 22 deck Europa, costing over €1bn, is scheduled to carry 6,700 passengers, served by 2,100 crew. A visit to the dry dock shows how the ships, constructed in sections, are assembled. It then takes 24 hours to flood the dry dock before floating a ship for sea trials. Adjacent to the shipyards, the Escal’Atlantic museum recalls the glamorous era before air travel when ships competed for the fastest and most luxurious crossing from Europe to the USA.

MS Loire Princesse - CroisiEurope - Loire Cruise
The Loire cruise begins as Loire Princesse heads towards chateau country.

Then the Loire Princess sails upstream, back through Nantes to explore the fairy-tale castles of the Loire, the Muscadet route, and the history of Angers’ famed Tapestry of the Apocalypse.

Loire cruise fact file

CroisiEurope’s six-day Loire cruise onboard the MS Loire Princesse runs from April to October with prices from £1,487 per person for the cruise with all meals, drinks and port taxes included.

To find out more about things to do and see in Nantes see Le Voyage a Nantes.

For information about visiting Les Machines de l’île.

Michael Edwards is a regular travel reviewer for 50connect, if you enjoyed Loire cruise – first stop, beautiful Nantes with CroisiEurope, you’ll like his Provence Cruise review.

Tags: , , , , Last modified: July 11, 2022

Written by 1:18 pm Cruising, Travel