Saint-Nazaire could have been my kind of place.
It’s the biggest harbour on the French Atlantic coast and a working-class city with a long tradition of fishing and shipbuilding. In fact, the Chantiers de l’Atlantique is one of the largest shipyards in the world—this is where superliners like RMS Queen Mary 2 and MS Symphony of the Seas were built.
It’s not a pretentious beach resort, you can find streets named after Frédéric Engels. Locals tend to wear PPE rather than top fashion trends and you’re most likely to catch a whiff of gasoline than Chanel No. 5.
The thing is, Saint-Nazaire is a bit… ahem, bland. It’s not its fault, really. The town was one of the most damaged in France during World War II. As a major submarine base for the Kriegsmarine, it was heavily bombed by the Allies until 1945 and it was one the last place to be liberated from Nazi Germany. When it was rebuilt after the war, the keyword was “functional.” As a result, the architecture isn’t exactly inspiring and the town looks almost fake. In a way, it reminds me of artificially posh Viña del Mar. As for the beaches, they remind me of Santos—they look clean enough but don’t forget the shipyards metres away… so probably not.
So why did we go to Saint-Nazaire? Pure masochism?
Well, it’s an easy 50-minute trip by train from Nantes and the beachfront is still lovely.
In fact, it feels timeless. For a moment, I thought we were in a time capsule back in the 1950s or the 1960s. I can’t really explain why—maybe the way people were dressed or the lack of small businesses and major brands around.
Saint-Nazaire isn’t doing great these days. Shipbuilding isn’t exactly booming during the pandemic. Earlier this year, the Chantiers de l’Atlantique were planning 20 more cruise liner launches between now and 2030. What’s going to happen now? I can’t really see the town transitioning seamlessly to a plan B…