I always save Saint-Nazaire for cloudy or rainy days. The city sits at the mouth of the Loire River where it flows into the Atlantic Ocean, so technically, there’s a beach and sunbathing opportunities. But Saint-Nazare isn’t a cool destination for beach bums—it’s a place where people come for a week, a month or a few years to weld hull plates, fit pipes, install electric equipment, lift heavy structures, hammer, wire and fuse what will eventually turn into the next giant ship to be set afloat and take passengers to exotic places around the world.
In La Baule, just a few kilometres away, people pay hundreds of euros for sailing lessons, thousands of euros for docking fees and much more for their own recreational boat. In Saint-Nazaire, workers are paid too little money to build giant ships in one of the world’s largest shipyards, the “Chantiers de l’Atlantique”.
La Baule is full of expensive bars and restaurants, fancy clothing shops and trendy stores. In Saint-Nazaire, you’ll find dozens of staffing agencies, cheap rent, discount grocery shops and gritty bars (including the kind where you can get a bottle of champagne and a lap dance).
These two worlds rarely meet.
Strangely enough, last Sunday, for a brief moment, they did.
When we arrived, we headed straight to the harbour. Saint-Nazaire is not a pretty city with picturesque cobblestone-paved streets. It was bombed and pretty much destroyed during WWII, and the newer version of the city was built with efficiency in mind—think long, straight street and a Stalinist feel.
The waterfront was busier than expected for a rainy Sunday, and the crowd was very… well, very “La Baule”, posh families dressed in white and blue.
It turned out that they were watching the start of the Solitaire du Figaro, a major boat race. The mix between old fishermen (most of them probably former shipyard workers) and bourgeois was pretty entertaining.
We spent the day exploring the parts of the shipyards we could access before taking the train to Nantes when it got too rainy.