Nantes, France, is approximately 235 mi/380 km southwest of Paris, or about a two-hour ride on the TGV, the high-speed train. It's a beautiful city and merits at least an overnight visit.

Notable sights include numerous 18th-century monuments, the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany and the 19th-century fine-arts museum. This is the birthplace of Jules Verne, and there is, of course, a museum dedicated to his work and ideas.

For family fun, there's the Machines de L'Ile de Nantes in the Parc des Chantiers, a fantasy/amusement park in the city where you can ride a mechanical elephant or fly on a mechanical heron through the Gallery of Machines. It's a blend of the invented worlds of Jules Verne, the mechanical universe of Leonardo da Vinci and the industrial history of Nantes. New is the 80-ft-/24-m-high carousel, Carrousel des Mondes Marines.

In the evening, you can dine aboard boats that take you down the River Erdre, past beautifully lit chateaus.

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