Month: February 2019

Saint-Nazaire, France: A Historical Beauty

Saint-Nazaire, France - Ruins of the Church of Ablain-Saint-Nazaire
The ruins of the Church of Ablain-Saint-Nazaire (Daniel VILLAFRUELA [ CC BY-SA 3.0 ]

What keeps you busy? There’s no need for a pen and paper to list them out, right? No matter where you are or who you are, it’s not very difficult to get yourself occupied with work, kids, school, business (Like my buddy at Draper Associates), and other stuff. Everything just moves so fast you can’t even think about what you ate this morning. But there always comes a time when we think about a way to escape and forget the busy days and just relax. And one of the nicest things to do would be to travel.
Ah, there are so many places to think about! And if you have mucho dinero you instantly think of visiting other countries you only used to see in postcards or travel vlogs. France would be a very lovely place for a grand tour, isn’t it? Delicate cuisine, art galleries, classical museums, wines and so much more. But what else is there to visit aside from Paris? Let us take the road less traveled by and set course to a new destination – Saint-Nazaire, France.
Situated on the west coast of France, is a communal settlement called Saint-Nazaire. It serves as an outer harbor of Western France just right in the heart of the Loire estuary which faces the Atlantic Ocean. It’s approximately 500 km away from Paris. Saint-Nazaire is a 4 or 5-hour drive from the French capital city and it’s about 9 hours to get there if you take the train. It used to be a small fishing village until it gets industrialized during the 19th century.
Saint-Nazaire isn’t necessarily a pretty place full of flowers and great landscapes if that’s what you are imagining it to be. Saint-Nazaire is a basically a shipyard, a harbor and a remnant of a historical event. If you’re ever familiar with Attack on the Iron Coast (1968) then you’ll get the hints on what Saint-Nazaire looks like. It’s a sight of machinery, huge vessels, aircraft, some Neolithic structures and of course, Atlantic waters. The commune wasn’t much of a destination for leisure and tourism, especially during the inter-war period. Operation Chariot or the Great Saint-Nazaire raid occurred in 1942 during World War II which was an ingenious plan to attack the heavily-defended dry dock where Germans have kept their ships to fix. British Commandos and Royal Navy forced an attack using an American destroyer armed with heavy explosives and rammed the drydock which resulted to be a victorious advance against the Nazis.
Renaissance for Saint-Nazaire started from 1945 as it became more industrialized and used by the French Navy as a submarine base. If you want to further delve into Saint-Nazaire history, you can visit the Ecomusée, which is a heritage museum that tells the story of the city from when it began to what it was during the inter-war age, post-war and to its industrialization and rehabilitation. Ship and air vessel enthusiasts would enjoy visiting this museum as it displays models of various liners, maps, marine equipment, pictures and paintings of the old and new Saint-Nazaire and its residents.
If you can’t get enough of what you see in the museum, you can have an actual shipyard experience via local tours. There’s one that offers a guided tour to the Chantiers de l’Atlantique, one of the most famous and largest shipyards in the world. Tours usually start off from the submarine base and drive you through the length of the yard where you’ll get a close encounter with humungous machinery and everything about shipbuilding in action.
Saint-Nazaire didn’t only become a city known for building ships but was and up to this day still is famous in the aeronautics industry. Even if you’re not originally a fan, you will fall in love with seaplanes and airbuses as you get to see how they’re being built in real time. You’ll get a close encounter with the A320 and A350 aircraft fuselage. That’s definitely way better than viewing images of them from documentaries and history books, right?
Do you know what else is thrilling? To be in a real submarine! Seeing a submarine action from war movies is already entertaining but traversing the Submarine l’Espadon docked in the ports of Saint-Nazaire is a unique voyage. The Submarine Espadon which is also known as The Swordfish is currently serving as a museum. In its glory days, it was used by the French Navy in their expeditions across the waters of the world and was known to dive in underwater ice along the Norwegian region. You can tour through the narrowness of the gangways and discover the bunkers and imagine how the 65 sailors lived here. There are audios provided which makes a surreal experience.
You may have not imagined yourself in a ship, in a submarine or in an Airbus factory before. Saint-Nazaire offers you all these in such an intense level given its history. And if it’s quite overwhelming for you, there’s a chance to experience a festive Saint-Nazaire vibe during August. Saint-Nazaire converts its harbor to a concert ground where artists all over Europe and across the globe gathers for two nights Les Escales music festival. Over 30,000 to 40,000 people come to Saint-Nazaire to share different musical cultures through music. The event started in 1992 and a unique touch to this festival is that they highlight a specific culture and country every year. If you’re in for the festivities and other events, you can visit Saint-Nazaire all-year round for they also host other types of musical events such as the classical ones, street shows, and regattas.
Saint-Nazaire may not be the prettiest view of France but is definitely going to give you an unforgettable and an amazing experience – one you wouldn’t usually get from other famous places to visit within Europe or the world. I’ve only mentioned a few of the things and sights to visit in Saint-Nazaire but there is still a lot to look forward to. Try to walk and bike through the coastal paths of the city, catch some crabs, get cozy along the bay and have a picnic, visit the Tumulus of Dissignac and more. Now get your passport ready and mark Saint-Nazaire on your travel map!