Nantes is a 3 hour drive from Bordeaux (six hours in the car is probably our limit in one day) but it is yet another lovely city that we vowed to return to. Les machines de l'ile de Nantes is a strange museum / theme park inspired by the works of Jules Verne and Leonardo da Vinci. The creators wanted to make machines that are beautiful works of art mimicking nature. The whole thing has a 'steam-punk' feel as the hinges and working parts are exposed. They are planning to create a huge tree with moving fauna. There is already a heron which flies across the room, a ride-on caterpillar and a giant mechanical ant.
We rode in a three-storey high mechanical elephant which drives around the block, squirting water from its trunk at the crowds of people that inevitably come to stare. The elephant ride was the highlight for the kids, and the view of Nantes and the Loire river wasn't bad from up there either.
Another day trip we had on our list was to the Castle at Castelnaud. It is hailed as one of the best castles to visit in France. Rolling through the lush Dordogne valley to Perigord, you could be forgiven for thinking you had gone back in time. This region follows the Dordogne river between limestone cliffs and low hills. Chateaux loom up on the horizon, sleepy villages clustered around them. This area is extremely busy in summer so the opportunity to have a look around with hardly another tourist is pretty valuable.
We visited the chateau, which is an imposing and well fortified castle containing a museum of warfare and weapons. The kids loved opening the heavy doors and exploring the passageways. Master 7 was fascinated by the trebuchets, which are shown on video flinging heavy stones. Walking through the village, we stopped to watch a man in period costume demonstrate wood-turning by making a spinning top.
We also went to have a look at the Zoo de Pessac. The habitats were much smaller than zoos we are used to, which also means that you get to see more of the animals. There were some different animals there like the long-nosed tapir and the flamingo. Hyperactive gibbons, cute otters and playful tiger cubs amazed both kids. The much-advertised raptor discovery experience turned out to a be a clever mind trick. The trail had videos and bones of raptors to increase the kids' excitement. In the final 'reveal', we stepped outside into the dinosaur cage only to be looking at ourselves amongst the raptors... on a computer screen.