As we are always working to improve our tours and looking for new places of interest to include, we decided to pay a visit to the city of Nantes, at the border between Pays de la Loire and Brittany, to see ‘Les Machines de l’île’, a unique and ever-growing world of mechanical animals. Engineering enthusiasts will be fascinated by this place, developed by artists François Delarozière and Pierre Orefice. It evokes both the imaginary, invented world of Jules Verne and the mechanical universe of Leonardo da Vinci, and is a tribute to the industrial history of Nantes.
L'ile of Nantes, not Lille city in the North of France
It is located in the city’s former shipyards and is called ‘Les Machines de “l’Ile”’ (‘the machines of the island’) because the shipyards were on an island in the Loire River. Be sure not to confuse it with city of ‘Lille’ in northern France! This is a common mistake and those who arrive in Lille hoping to find the machines will be left disappointed!
Inspired by Jules Verne
Inspired by Jules Verne classics such as Journey to the Center of the Earth and Around the World in Eighty Days, this mechanical menagerie was initially built to breathe new life into the old shipyards. Its attractions now include the Marine Worlds Carrousel, containing 27 interactive sea creatures across three levels; a giant spider; and its most famous piece, the Elephant. All these machines also function as rides for visitors to enjoy.
You can take a tour on the huge elephant: the machinery is impressive - it also blows water.
You can also visit the gallery where the artists and engineers work on upcoming projects and new machines. From the initial sketches to the fully functioning machines, the entire creative process is on display, so you can see how the machinists bring these magnificent creations to life.
Some of the machines are part of the traveling exhibition, and are exhibited all over the world. The horse-dragon, named Long Ma, was built as a gift from France to China, marking 50 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Long Ma performed in a show at the Beijing Olympic stadium in 2014, and again this summer in Ottawa, Canada with his colleague, the giant spider Kumo, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Canada’s Confederation.
A sea lamprey at the Marine Worlds Carousel...not for children only...
The Gigantic Heron Tree
The next big project is the gigantic Heron Tree, a monumental structure 50m (164ft) in diameter and 35m (115ft) high.
The tree will consist of 22 branches with ants and spiders for visitors to ride up into the tree, and footbridges decorated with real plants. Two giant herons will fly above the tree, carrying about 15 visitors in each basket underneath them.
The tree’s branches will hang over the main square and will lead visitors toward the bar and gift shop at the end of their visit. This new attraction is scheduled to open in 2021.
Spider prototype to carry visitors on the gigantic tree
Les Machines de l’Ile is a feat of art and engineering and has been at the heart of a regeneration project in what has been a deprived area of Nantes. The increase in tourism that the project is generating will continue to help develop the area and improve infrastructure. So if you are interested in innovation with a touch of eccentricity, or if you’re traveling with kids, a trip to see Les Machines de L’Ile is a great day out for all the family.
A day to Nantes can be included in a trip to the Loire Valley or Normandy areas.