On an overnight stop in Nantes (France), we discovered Le Grand Elephant de L’Ile.
Built of wood and steel, this huge mechanical beast stands 12 metres high with balconies and galleries giving its passengers an astoundingly unique experience of what was once the Nantes shipyards.
It promenades around the parc des chantiers, creating its own moving festival with observers dancing and cheering as it comes to life, trumpeting, eyes opening, ears flapping and spraying passersby from its constantly moving trunk.
It is beautiful. It is majestic. It is awesome. It is steampunk made real.
The elephant is one of the major attractions of Les Machines de L’Ile, the concept come-to-life of Francoise Delaroziere and Pierre Orefice, bringing a waft of Jules Verne mixed with Leonardo Da Vinci to the city.
A fantastical carousel Le Manege d’Andrea stands before the entrance to the galleries. This is astounding enough with its mythical beasts that children can choose to ride or fly, but no – there’s a bigger one (that grown ups can go on too!), Le Carrousel des Mondes Marins, which is apparently a whole other experience although unfortunately we did not have time to check it out.
Nor did we have time to explore La Galerie des Machines where a heron with an 8 metre wingspan flies overhead and mechanical creatures and plants exist side by side with real plants.
One day I hope to return to this steampunk made real world tucked away in its corner of a city’s industrial history.
Meantime, I wanted to let you know that it’s there.
And before I go, I’ll leave you with the kid’s impressions of it:
Jason (age 5): It was really good and I want to go on it. (Advice – book ahead, we didn’t manage to get tickets)
Frankie (age 8): I want one in the Co-op car park and use it to wash the car.
It was amazing, really fun. I would have thought it impossible to make and never would have thought it could have existed.
Jason: It wasn’t magical.
Frankie: Yes it was. How the eyes opened and the trunk moved and how it walked and everything.
Jason: That’s because it’s electric.