Keeping busy, enjoying yourself, having fun... it’s quite a simple thing. In Saint-Nazaire, there is an embarrassment of cultural riches: multiplex, art house and experimental cinemas catering for everyone; a festival of music from all over the world; contemporary art exhibitions at the LiFE or the Grand Café national contemporary art centre; modern music concerts at the VIP; the Grande Marée Street Arts Festival; a film festival; December fairs and more. It’s a long list.
In a coastal town, however, the main activity is boating. The town encourages children to take up water sports and activities from a very young age. There are many events to brighten up the sea front all year round: the Women’s Cup (biggest 100% female national competition); the French Open Match Racing Championship (the 12 best French competitors); the Atlantic Grand Prix; the 100% Nautic; the SNSM Record, etc. And in July and August, Saint-Nazaire Côté Plages offers hundreds of coastal activities aimed at the general public.
The Bridge, the centenary race
A first! The Bridge was the sailing event of the century. The transatlantic liner Queen Mary 2 returned to her birthplace in June 2017 to start a brand new race pitting a fleet of giant trimarans against one another between Saint-Nazaire bridge and Verrazano bridge in New York. The widely followed event formed part of Saint-Nazaire’s American Year (exhibitions, lectures, entertainment and concerts), attracting more than 300,000 people.
A 19th-century new town, Saint-Nazaire underwent urban and population expansion like nowhere else in France before it was buried beneath the rubble of Second World War bombing and then rebuilt in the 1950s under modernist principles. This is the image that often remains in the memory. Everything changed, but did the reconstruction turn its back on the sea? Since the end of the nineties, priority has been given to the port area and seafront, with a desire to turn the town’s face back towards the sea.
For more than 20 years, architects and town planners have been redesigning a new urban landscape with pure lines and pale colours inspired by industrial activity and maritime architecture. Now, the town is being reborn around the sea front, the beaches and the harbour, with development and entertainment choices offering a good way of life.
Dive into 20th-century architecture
“La Soucoupe” (the saucer), a sports centre that looks better suited to intergalactic journeys; the grand Town Hall; the disconcerting Moulin du Pé water tower; the impressive submarine base and great Joubert dry dock and lock, imposing its rhythm on the giants of the seas... There are many notable monuments in Saint-Nazaire that have been classed as 20th Century Heritage either for their original architecture or remarkable technical achievement involved in building them. Saint-Nazaire has also been awarded the status of Town of Art and History. A new town shot through with history, Saint-Nazaire is also a town of heritage.
This is THE project that tells the story of Saint-Nazaire today. The development that has recreated the relationship between the town and its port was drawn up under the code name "Ville-Port", with culture and leisure as the theme.
The submarine base has become the cultural and tourism focus of the town, including a museum, exhibition hall (the LiFE) and concert hall (the VIP, with an audience of 15,000 a year) and, soon, a hall for very big events.
Very nearby are the multiplex Cinéville and the Theatre – a branch of the national theatre in a building with notable contemporary embossed concrete architecture (an audience of 30,000 people a year).
And, finally, towards the sea, there is the Petit Maroc district which, every summer, welcomes the 40,000 Les Escales festival-goers. It also has a large exhibition hall, the Ecomuseum, the submarine Espadon, and a panoramic terrace overlooking the harbour basins which will soon become a marina.
Since the mid-2000s, Saint-Nazaire has once again become the seaside town it used to be. Between the 19th century and the Second World War, its beaches were famous. Today, thanks to new facilities and developments, the beaches have become attractive once more.
First came the sea front. This elegant 3-km promenade with its discreet, modern facilities welcomes pedestrians and cyclists, skateboarders and rollerbladers. In couples, families or groups of friends, they feel the benefit of the shade of the trees and the facades of stylish Belle Epoque houses that still remain intact.
In the spring of 2018, La Place du Commando will complete the scheme to open the town to the harbour, the estuary and the sea. A place for having fun and enjoying the seaside, this square will have bars, ice-cream parlours and restaurants as well as entertainment and big events. A place connected directly to the town centre.
Projects on every street corner
Beyond the Place du Commando project, the town is on the move and its heart is full of life. Many projects are under way or will begin to appear in the coming years:
- A more pleasant, redesigned entrance to the town, with more plants (2019)
- A new events venue at the submarine base, very near the town centre (2018)
- The renovation of one of the town centre shopping centres, “Le Paquebot” (2018)
- The modernisation and restructuring of the railway station at the entrance to the town centre (2018)
- The construction of almost 200 new homes in the town centre (handover: 2020-2021)
- A big aid programme to renovate co-owned buildings in the town centre: €1.8 million in aid (2017-2020)
- The creation of a centre for young people in the middle of the town (2018)
- The establishment of a digital campus in the heart of the town (2020)