The writer Stendhal remarked of 19th-century Nantes, "I hadn't taken 20 steps before I recognized a great city." Since then, the river that flowed around the upper-crust Ile Feydeau neighborhood has been filled in and replaced with a rushing torrent of cars on the major highways that now cut through the heart of town. Still, Nantes is more than the sum of its traffic jams, and even the bureaucratic severance of the city
from Brittany—it’s now the capital of the Pays de la Loire region—has not robbed it of its historic Breton character. Stay a spell to discover its many sights, among them an evocative 15th-century château and a cathedral from the same period that seems to float heavenward. Across the broad boulevard, Cours des 50-Otages, sits the 19th-century city.