The unexpected side of France: an elephant ride in the heart of Nantes


This article is in English. Click here to read it in French.

The French city of Nantes is bursting with quirky places to explore. Amongst them is the elephant ride from the Machines de l’Ile, which is one of the most unusual attractions of the city.

In a 12-metre-high metal frame, the passenger can not only discover the structure of the machinery from the inside but also feel each vibration and hear the elephant’s trumpeting sounds, all while taking in the stunning view of Nantes.

Be “ele-fan-t”

Experience Nantes -

If Jules Verne were alive today, the famous French author of ‘Voyages Extraordinaires’ would have reason to be proud of the technological and cultural achievements of his hometown.

You’re a British tourist and you chose to spend a few days in France, far from the traffic jams, the monotony and the crowded places that too often fill your everyday life. So make sure not to miss a ride on the incredible Great Elephant of Nantes. It will take you to the crossroads between the worlds of Jules Verne and the mechanical universe of Leonardo da Vinci.

It’s an activity that is fun yet educational, awe-inspiring for both adults and children alike. During the ride, the elephant operators give life to the machine and its deliberately visible mechanisms, as well as explain the project’s history, and how it works.

Thus, you have the chance to appreciate the talents of French inventors who are perhaps still unknown across the Atlantic – a perfect balance between ingenuity and outrageousness to give even more power and realism to the project.

Experience Nantes -

The characteristics of the elephant

An elephant not quite like the others… with wooden skin (made from the wood of the tulip tree), a metallic skeleton and hydraulic mechanical joints, it is driven by a 450 horsepower motor and stands 12 metres high. Its design is unusual as well – on board, you can find an interior lounge and a terrace accessible by stairs.

“The Great Elephant lives in the central street of the Nefs. When the majestic animal goes for a walk, it’s true architecture in motion walking out of a warehouse.”¹

From where does the elephant depart?

Go to the famous Machines de l’Ile, situated on the Ile de Nantes (five minutes from Nantes city centre). It is located at the site of old disused shipyards. The elephant ride will cost you eight euros.

During the 30-minute trip, you will be able to take advantage of the view of the old shipyards or simply be amused watching the crowd get sprayed by the elephant as it passes by. Flowing to the rhythm of the giant’s movements – his cruising speed does not exceed 3kmph – will also offer you a unique opportunity to forget the turmoil in which the modern world buries us.

What are the Machines de l’Ile?


The Machines de l’Ile (Island of Machines) is an exhibition and educational centre created by Francois Delaroziere and Pierre Orefice. Along with the Great Elephant, you can discover the Heron Tree, the Marine Worlds Carousel, and a merry-go-round.

The elephant ride may not offer you the charm of great desert stretches, nor that of Indian roads, but you can be guaranteed to leave with unforgettable memories… even if the weather forecast sometimes seems unpredictable near the ocean, you’ll leave the Machines de l’Ile with plenty of sunshine.

Have you experienced Nantes? Such an unexpected side to France. Please share your comments below.

Translation by Kenaira Inot
1. Les Machines de l’Île.
All photographs by Isabelle Bernard.

This popular article has been refreshed and republished in 2021

About the Contributor

Isabelle Bernard

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