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Forget Paris! Art heaven is in Nantes.

Byline: KATIE GRANT

YOU can forget that weekend break to Paris for another year.

The Louvre and Eiffel Tower aren't going anywhere.

Come 2012, it's the unlikely French city of Nantes that's a must-see for the arts enthusiasts among us.

Next year sees the finale of ambitious cultural project, Estuaire, in which the Western city has been transformed into a cutting-edge centre for contemporary art. The best time to visit is June to August, 2012, when a special programme of public art and music performances will celebrate the finale.

Visitors are invited on an artistic adventure along the line of the River Loire which can be seen for free by foot, bike or car.

Alternatively, a pass for EUR30 (EUR20 under 18s) means you can access seven participating venues such as the Museum of Fine Arts in Nantes as well as a three-hour river cruise.

Since 2007, installations have been springing up along the river banks between Nantes and St Nazaire - with work by 40 international artists including Anish Kapoor.

It's an exciting evolution for this gritty and edgy city which has replaced its lost maritime industry with the cutting-edge contemporary arts.

One of Estuaire's most striking and popular works is 'Les Anneaux' by Daniel Buren in which the artist attempts to link the naval past of the town with its contemporary urban architecture. Buren has sited a series of 18 rings facing the river - each with its own vantage point of the urban and river landscape. In the evenings they light up the sky beautifully - glowing green, red and blue in the night sky.

On the south of the estuary a yacht slumps over the riverbank as if reaching for the water, in a piece called Misconceivable by Erwin Wurm.

While on the waters of the Saint-Felix canal -which flows into the Loire - a nymph appears like an apparition in Ange Leccia's video projection piece. Families with children shouldn't miss the world-famous Les Machines de l'ile - public performance art at its best. From the metalworking shops of the old shipyards a mysterious poetic universe has grown and extraordinary machines now emerge.

Crowds can watch the Great Elephant as it walks majestically from its warehouse - trumpeting and squirting water from its trunk.

Or they can climb aboard the 12-metre-high pachyderm for a magical journey. Inside the gallery workshops you can even become your own machinist - pulling levers and cranking handles to work sea creatures like deep-sea lanternfish, giant crab, pirate fish and squid.

All this culture can be thirsty work but no need to worry as the vibrant city has plenty of cafes, bars and restaurants. Highly recommended - and continuing down the arty theme - is a breakfast of croissants and coffee at the famous 1895 art deco gem, La Cigale brasserie. Or why not try a glass of the local white wine muscadet which goes well with a plate of fresh seafood at Le Square in the city's new business quarter.

Or back to the river - this time the River Erdre which flows into the Loire - for a romantic meal afloat the Bateaux Nantais which sends you gliding past impressive French chateaux. Carry on the artistic theme with a stay at the quirky contemporary boutique Htel Pommeraye.

Travel FACTS . Katie stayed at Contemporary boutique Htel Pommeraye on 0033 2 4048 7879, hotel-pommeraye.

com.? Flights go direct from Leeds Bradford International Airport with Ryanair.

Vwww.visitnantes.comisit www.visitnantes.com for more details on the city.

CAPTION(S):

* CROWD-PULLER: Above, the Grand Elephant has become emblematic of the French city. In the metalworking shops (right) engineers work on the Machines de l'ile while pictured (below, right) is Misconceivable by Erwin Wurm * FORGET PARIS!: Nantes is the place for art lovers. Daniel Buren has sited a series of 18 rings facing the river in this work entitled 'Les Anneaux' - each with its own vantage point of the urban and river landscape. ZZ101111NANTES-1.JPG/ZZ101111NANTES-2.JPG
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Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Nov 26, 2011
Words:653
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