Why I Chose to Live in Nantes
My journey moving abroad, as turbulent and stressful as it may have been, has allowed me to explore, visit and live in several different French cities. Like most European clichés, it all started in Paris. In fact, when living in Paris, I never pictured myself in any other French city. How crazy is that?! You may not know this (yet), but France is a country with tons of amazing, unique and picturesque cities. But, for some reason, we often minimize the country down to Paris. Actually, many of my American friends and family members seem to forget that Paris is just a city and not a whole country, itself. I can say, from experience, that many of the smaller cities are worth visiting and might even capture your heart more than Paris, if I dare say it! From Paris to Poitiers to Nantes, I have had the chance to discover life as a resident and not just a tourist. And, let me tell you, Nantes has been a city I won’t soon regret calling my home. There are so many factors that go into choosing a city to actually live in for more than a few months. If you’re like me a few years ago, you may not know where to start!
Well, let me break it down for you with my top reasons to live in Nantes!
THE ARTS & CULTURE SCENE
One of the first things that drew me to Nantes was the art and music scene. I had heard about it from numerous French friends and colleagues, who told me about the plethora of events that occurred all year round in the city. Having lived a year in the very small but quaint city of Poitiers, I felt ready to take on a bigger city with more to offer. I thought about Paris and Bordeaux, both of which were out of my price range, at the time. I did some more research and found out that Nantes was home to many open air music festivals, theatres and other outdoor festivities throughout the year. To name a few…
- Les Rendez-Vous de l’Erdre (Free Jazz Festival)
- Hellfest Open Air Summer (Rock & Metal Festival)
- Goûtez Électronique (Free Summer Electro Festival)
- The Nantes Marathon
- La Compagnie du Café Théatre (a small local theatre)
- Le West Side Comedy Club (free entry)
- The Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne (a beautiful castle in the downtown)
- Le Marché de Noël (Christmas Market)
- & More!
I had already visited Nantes for a weekend with friends in 2017 and loved the semi-hipster vibe, cute winding roads lined with cafés, bars and crêpe shops, the lively streets, breathing music and chatter into the autumn night sky. I had applied to obtain my second Masters at the universités of Poitiers, Bordeaux, Lyon and Nantes. I was accepted to all but one, and in 2019 after several weeks of reflexion, I decided… Nantes, it is!
THE PRICE TAG
The bougie-fancy-expensive-bitch-urge to choose Paris or Bordeaux, am I right? Let’s just say price was, of course, one of the principle factors in my decision. I had spent time living on and off in Paris from 2018-2019 and loved it. It wasn’t just the clichés that made the city so magical for me. It was the memories I had made there, the sense of ease in the madness, the ability to get lost or delightfully distracted on a simple, routine trip to the corner bakery. When I started applying for schools, Paris was my top choice, so I began looking into the logistics and… YIKES. I had grown accustomed to having my own space, my own apartment, but my research was showing three less-than-attractive options:
- A medium-sized apartment with 3-5 roommates I never met for €600-€900/month.
- A shoe-box-sized apartment (that is, 10-13 square meters) in a less-than-secure neighborhood for €700-€900/month).
- A smallish apartment (around 18 square meters) located 1-2 hours outside of the city for… To be honest, I didn’t even consider this option so I don’t remember the price, but it wasn’t much cheaper!)
I recall going over the details, tirelessly searching on sketchy websites for independent renters, etc., in order to make it work. But, alas, I had to count Paris out for this one. Not only was it too expensive just for the lodging, alone, but I also had to consider the other elevated expenses that come with living in a big city: more expensive groceries, water bills, public transportation, etc…
Once I cut my losses and crossed my beloved Paris of my list of contenders, I turned to Bordeaux for comfort in my time of mourning. Another well-known, yet smaller, city located in the southern region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, I figured I would save money and find a similar, bougie-bitch ambiance. And BOUGIE it was. To my dismay, the prices weren’t much different. I thought about scholarships and government aid, but I was too late to apply for most of them (rookie mistake), and I feared the aid provided would still not be enough.
Hopelessly, I crossed my second choice, Bordeaux, off the list. Just as I thought my dreams were being crushed by the piles of money I did not have, I remembered a long weekend trip to Nantes in 2017. The memories were some of my favorites. The town was big and full of life. The Airbnb was reasonably-priced…
I began researching apartments in the city and was pleased to find several affordable options that didn’t require a long commute or 45 roommates (a necessary exaggeration). And so it was that Nantes became my new first choice, as I soon after received my acceptance into the Université de Nantes and snagged a newly-renovated studio apartment in the city center for €550/month.
P.S. : If you’re anything like me, you will be shocked to know that many French people actually cannot stand Paris. I think, at the end of the day, it comes down to the high-ticket price tag, the huge tourist population and the ever dreaded hours-long commute in the Paris Metro.
THE PERFECT PROXIMITY
My sites now set on Nantes for its arts and culture scene and my cute, new (AFFORDABLE) studio apartment, I set out on my moving journey. During m research, I was pleased to find out that Nantes had both an airport and a direct train line to Paris! However, it wasn’t until I arrived in the city, made a few friends and studied the area more that I realized I had accidentally chosen one of the most perfectly located cities in France.
- A 2-hour train ride to Paris: Yes, that means cheap (as low as €10) and easy trips to Paris every day! I wasn’t forced to give up my bougie dreams, after all.
- Less than an hour by car to the beach: You can easily rent one for the day for around €40 or find friends who have a car and head to Pornic & La Baule, two beautiful beaches of the Atlantic Ocean Bay of Biscay. The towns are quaint with a lot of Briton culture and cute shops and the beaches and promenades are picturesque. A must-visit when in Nantes!
- Minutes away from Loire-Valley Vineyards by bike, car & train: And, of course, for the wine lovers, you can even take a bike escapade to Gorges, Clisson and many other quaint medieval towns, stopping at wineries and organic restaurants on the way. Some of my favorite memories including picnicking at the Chateau de Clisson with friends or driving through the vineyards with my mom, tasting wine and even seeing it made by hand.
- An hour’s drive to Guérande: The cutest, fortified city you’ve ever seen, known for its salt marshes where you can watch the miners practice their craft and even buy fine salt from local vendors! Truly, a hidden crystal (pun intended).
- Less than 4 hours by bus to Bordeaux: If you don’t mind a little extra distance, you can take a 3.5 hour bus ride for €10 to Bordeaux. It’s really worth it for a weekend girls trip or summer visit to the Fête du Vin (wine festival). I recommend grabbing an early train and sleeping the whole way there. Wake up in a beautiful city!
- Less than 30 minutes to the Nantes Airport: The Nantes airport is centrally located, accessible by public transportation and offers hundreds of cheap round-trip flights to cities like London, Dublin, Athens, Barcelona, Strasbourg & many more. To relativize the word “cheap”, I recently bought a round-trip to Dublin for €50 and saw flights to Barcelona and back this summer for €29. Yes, it’s that cheap.
The perfect city doesn’t exis-… Yes, girlfriend, it does. We really can have it all in this city, and this is just the short list of places to explore around Nantes, thanks to its perfect proximity!
THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY
One of the things I loved about Paris was the intercultural vibe of the big city. Not even just the multi-cultured tourists, but the inhabitants that come from around the world to live and work in international companies. I never thought Nantes would compare to this massive, multi-cultural giant of a city, until I arrived and quickly met international students from Europe, Africa, Australia and even North America. Throughout my time here, I’ve had the pleasure of befriending several Americans to partake in USA-inspired festivities like Halloween. It can be hard to be away from home, even for those, like myself, who flourish in cultures and lifestyles different from those in America. I have to admit that meeting one or two really nice, open-minded Americans helps you feel at home. You may be wondering, “Yes, but how do I meet other internationals in the city?” Well, here are a few things that helped me out:
- Joining international or expat Facebook pages: For example, the page Knowing Nantes is a great place to find other internationals looking to meet new people. You might even find a job on this page, as it functions as a personal and professional network for expats in Nantes.
- Participating in international meet-ups and events (also on Facebook): You can simply research international meet-ups and outings online, on Facebook or other applications!
- Simply, being a student: Coming to any country as a student opens a lot of doors, because you’re likely not the only international/new student in town!
- English Tutoring at an Institute or School: What better way to meet some English-speakers than a side job at a language institute! Two birds, one stone, am i right?
- Listening for other English-speakers!: This might sound slightly odd, but listen to what languages people are speaking when you go out! If you hear a group of people speaking English, don’t be shy! Introduce yourself, ask where they’re from!
- Look for English-speaking events, classes, etc.: Outside of Facebook and online events, you can also find flyers and posters around town, especially around holidays!
You might be surprised at how quickly you meet and get to know other internationals or expats, no matter what city you’re in! While students often have a leg up on the international communities, it’s not entirely closed off to non-students, trust me! I met some of my best friends outside of school in yoga classes, English Café Meet-Ups and Thanksgiving celebrations. You just have to be open-minded and have some courage to get out there and talk to people! For me here in Nantes, I was pleasantly surprised by the diverse international community. It might not be one of my initial reasons for choosing to come to Nantes, but it is one of the reasons that made me stay!
THE COUNTRY-CITY FEEL
A city-girl, at heart, I always knew the “big” city was where I belonged. I love the fast pace; the endless amount of opportunities and activities at my fingertips; the fact that every day is an adventure when you step out the door! But, in the past few years I’ve realized that the peace and fresh air of the countryside can sometimes be necessary for your sanity. The escape, especially in times of a global pandemic, for example, makes all the difference to the psyche. One of the best parts of living in Nantes is the pleasant paradox of a big city feel with greenery and calm always waiting, just a bridge away. Nantes is home to numerous large parks and well-known rivers. These are a MUST for walkers, runners and bikers who prefer to exercise without choking on car fumes or waiting at traffic lights.
- L’Erdre River
- La Loire River
- La Sèvre River
- Parc de Procé
- Le Jardin des Plantes
- Les Jardins Île de Versailles
- Parc Chêne Gala
- La Chézine
- Parc du Grand Blottereau
- Parc de la Gaudinière
- Forêt Touffou
- & many more.
Some of these parks are so big you forget there are cars and buses travelling just meters away. The rivers, especially my favorite one, the Sèvre, carry on for miles and miles. You can rent a boat or a paddle board down the river. Or, take the tree-covered path all the way to the town of Clisson, over 30 km away. After several months of on and off quarantine, the Sèvre was the perfect escape from the confines of my apartment in the city. Perhaps it’s not something I would’ve considered important before, but I will now and forever add the accessibility of nature to my criteria when it comes to choosing a city.
I’m living the “broké”-bitch-life (abroad). A twenty something-year-old optimistic cynic, lover of new cultures and self-care addict, I’m here to teach you that “doing it all” (and then some) really is possible!
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