One of the best “playgrounds” in Nantes is free—it’s the Château des Ducs de Bretagne, the former Castle of the Dukes of Brittany.
By French castle standards, it’s fairly big and it was restored a few years ago so it’s not falling apart. There are hundreds of castles in France, especially in the Loire Valley, and there are also hundreds of stories of bankrupt French aristocrats forced to leave their ancestral homes because guess what, it takes more than a quick trip to IKEA to renovate a castle.
Life in a castle sounds like a fairy tale until you actually visit one. Most are damp, dark and cold and you can’t help shuddering at the thoughts of all the things that happened in dungeons and in these underground rooms aptly and bluntly named “torture chambers.” Ballrooms and fancy mazes were very optional.
I mean, if I had the opportunity to travel back in time, I would not pick the Middle Ages.
But for an hour or two, the Château des Ducs de Bretagne is fun to explore. You have to buy tickets to visit the History Museum housed inside the castle—we never do—but the 500-metre round walk on the fortified ramparts is free. Many locals also like to hang out in the big courtyard or in the moat gardens.
“Let’s go to the castle, guys,” I suggested tonight. “I haven’t been there yet.”
“You’ve NEVER been to the castle mommy?”
“… I meant not this year…”
“MOMMY HAS NEVER BEEN TO THE CASTLE! WE GOTTA GO! I’LL SHOW YOU THE WAY! THERE MAY BE DEAD PEOPLE IN THERE TOO, MOMMY!”
So Mark “took me” to the castle, you know, that place where I spent hours as a kid.