has been described as a park of magical zoological encounters from the imaginations of Jules Verne mixed with the mechanized creations of Leonardo da Vinci animated on the grounds and shipyards of Nantes’ 19th century maritime industry. I have to agree. The Machines of the Isle of Nantes, in western France are marvels to behold and will certainly be part of my next European visit.
The theme park has six separate sites and spectacles born from creators François Delarozière and Pierre Orefice. Stepping into the park returns you to a capsule of time where dreams and fantasies abound and “impossible” meant only Vernesque opportunity. As we begin our tour of Les Machines de l’île, enjoy the musical accompaniment below of Balayeurs Du Désert. Simply click the play button. They frequently provide the music for La Machine Productions, Delarozière’s theatrical company.
The Grand Éléphant
his four-story mechanical mammoth ushers visitors to and from the craftsmen’s warehouse and the park’s Carousel. Getting onto the great Elephant’s decked back under the ivory-colored elliptic umbrella, it is impossible to overlook the ornate hand-carved woodwork which make its skin. Descend into the Elephant’s torso and belly and you are surrounded by pneumatic switches clattering to-and-fro across a network of cables and tubes (the heart) setting the beast in motion. During every journey the trunk blows water over entranced spectators and laughing children followed by trumpets calling and warning — with the help of dials, pipes, horns, and clever hands of its operator — who and what is coming.
The Galerie des Machines
nderneath the large hangers lies a tropical garden called La Galerie des Machines. Here with a handtouch or move of levers various large reptiles, sea creatures, and insects come alive. There is a giant ant, sea turtle, caterpillar, crab, a ferocious anglerfish, enormous spider, serpent, and up above a wall-to-wall giant heron flying visitors in wicker-baskets from one end of the hanger to the other. Pay close attention to all the botanical plants because little distinguishes the organic from the mechanical until they catch you by surprise!
The Arbre aux Hérons
rojected to be complete in 2021 is the budding Arbre aux Hérons, or Heron Tree. This magnificent tree will extend a full 35-meters in height, 50-meters in diameter, with branches 20-meters long providing a canopy over the Gift Shop and Café below. When complete, visitors will be able to take circular flights underneath the two heron’s wings above the tree branches. Already the tree carries a variety of real plants on each finished limbs and visitors can walk atop branches reaching the bar and shop in multiple ways that would make even the Swiss Family Robinson green with envy.
Carrousel des Mondes Marins
urther outside on the grounds is the three-leveled carnival-like carousel for children under 12-years of age. The Carrousel des mondes Marins (Marine Worlds Carousel) exhibits an enchanting fauna of every oceanic creature imaginable. Rather than the traditional horses, carriages, or teacups, children may choose rides inside or atop a mechanical aquarium of bizarre crabs, shrimp, an octopus, fish such as a puffer fish, strange serpents and sea turtles. All the moving parts are enough to entrance and captivate your kids for minutes on end. On the very top of the Carousel are ornate pediments and 16 fishermen guarding the world’s precious oceans. The seabed, the abyss, and the ocean surface makeup the three-tiered marine life. A giant crab, reverse propulsion squid, a Nautilus-like diving Machine exploring the depths, the Bathyscaphe which climbs up and down the central mast, and the newest arrival the Boxy Fish comprise part of The Seabed’s 14 moving elements. Along The Abyss (middle level) one will discover the Manta Ray, Pirate-fish, and Deep-sea Lanternfish among three other creatures. Up on the Ocean Surface are the swaying boats, harnessed Flying fish, a storm boat, Nutshells and Jellyfish all swimming within a whirlpool of 24 mechanical waves.
Workshop of the Company La Machine
limbing to the top floor of the varied hangers, visitors can gaze down upon the work areas and laboratories of Company La Machine, glimpsing the park’s future spectacles. Watching these fantastic craftsmen ply their trade you see the unbelievable care and detail that goes into every new and upcoming creature. From François Delarozière’s mind, to these worker’s hands and tools, come the mechanical inventions of Da Vinci and Verne reincarnated. New wacky unusual machines and rides are designed and fabricated every year keeping the theme park virtually newfangled.
“At the heart of the artistic process of the company La Machine, motion is interpreted as a language, as a source of emotion. Through each of its living architectures, it is about dreaming tomorrow’s cities and transforming the look we take at our cities.”
— François Delarozière
The Café de la Branche
ne of the delights of the park is the total freedom to explore every site and nook at your own pace. The Café de la Branche offers different beverages, snacks, sandwiches, and tasty pastries to enjoy underneath The Heron Tree’s foliage. Your appetite can be appeased with the chef’s Back From the Market menu which includes a choice of fish, a traditional dish or grilled meat, as well as homemade pies. Over weekends, depending on the season, patrons can enjoy: homemade quiche, fresh vegetable soup, meal-sized salads, as well as homemade sandwiches. Hot dogs and panini sandwiches are available in the summer. For a four o’clock coffee break, muffins, brownies, shortbread, or donuts are on the menu. Regional and locally crafted specialities of beer, wines, and ciders can be purchased too.
The Gift-shop is as thoughtfully laid out for visitors as the park. There are various specialized spaces for the passionate reader to get lost in their pages. In the bookshop, a variety of book themes covering oceanic and nature conservation, animal-life, architecture and development ideas for sustainable protective energy, the art of gardening orchids and flowers, historical machines used in theatre and film, and choices of travel adventures and novels. There is also a children’s section inspiring their taste for art, drawing books, many of them exclusively original Les Machines de l’ile creations. You and or your family could easily lose 2-3 hours in this magnificent theme park. If traveling western France, do not miss this Steampunk gem.
For further information about event dates, times, hours of operation, prices, group-rates and contact info, visit the Les Machines de l’ile website.
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