Last Updated on 10th August 2019 by Sophie Nadeau
Once upon a time, Clisson would have been the last frontier of the Kingdom of Brittany. Now under a half-hour train ride away from Nantes, the town is easily one of the best day trips from the Western French city where the Ducal Palace can still be enjoyed. Here’s your ultimate guide to the best things to do in Clisson, as well as things to know before you go!
An abundance of quaint shuttered cafés overlook a ruinous château and a sparkling river. Clisson is a pretty French town in the Pays de la Loire. Lying alongside the place where the Sèvre Nantaise river meets the Moine River, and set over both sides of the trickling water, this time-warp of the Loire-Atlantique is the perfect place to relax and unwind from the hustle and bustle of busy modern life.
Why you should visit Clisson on your next French trip
Quaint and a little off the beaten path, though still close enough to Nantes to be an easy day trip from the vibrant city, Clisson is the kind of town where you’ll discover an enjoyable pace of life and plenty of history. Take the time to stroll over the medieval bridge, sip on a glass of wine while overlooking the crumbling ruins of the château, or explore the ancient Italianate estate that can be found on the fringes of town.
For those who enjoy their travels served with a side of history, there’s plenty of historic houses to be discovered, a stunning church with painted frescoes, and a winding street you’ll love to stroll along. Otherwise, the 15th-century market hall is one of the best-preserved covered markets in France.
A very brief history of Clisson
The story of Clisson dates as far back as Antiquity, though the settlement did not rise to any true prominence until the Middle Ages. At that time, Clisson would have been at the intersection of three important and ancient Provinces, Anjou, Poitou, and Brittany, with Clisson itself being part of the Duchy of the latter.
During this period, Clisson was at the edge of the Brittany Duchy and was an epicentre of power. Notable people to have lived in the town include Constable Francis II, father of Anne of Brittany (the woman whose statue now sits close to the ramparts of the Ducal Palace in Nantes) and the brothers Frederick and Cacault Lemot, who brought an Italian feel to the town in the 19th-century.
10+ Best Things to do in Clisson
Clisson City Gate (Porte de la Ville)
Once upon a time, the main way in and out of the medieval city would have been its grand gateway. Today, the granite entryway is the only that survives of three entrances and the Porte de la Ville can be found at Place Lemot, where you’ll also find parking facilities and public toilets.
Château de Clisson
If you make it your mission to enjoy just one of Clisson’s many attractions, make it the crumbling ruins of the once-grand Château. Available to visit for just a few euros (or for free if you’re already using the Nantes pass- full details here), this Château can be spied from all across the town, including from both medieval bridges.
The history of Clisson Château dates all the way back to the 11th-century, though many additions were made over time, including in the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries. Now, the Château is open every day of the week with the exception of Tuesday.
Domaine de la Garenne Lemot & La Villa Lemot & La Maison du Jardinier
It may well surprise you, but there’s Italianate architecture to be admired on the grounds of a former mansion house on the fringes of town. Walk away from the Château and cross the medieval bridge. Wander through the boutiques and brasseries that line the other side of the river and head to the right.
Carry on across a further bridge and you’ll soon reach the gates to the impressive and grandiose Domaine de la Garenne Lemot. Now an expansive parkland of 13 hectares filled with secret grottoes and hidden follies, the crown jewel of the estate is a Palladian like mansion surrounded by swathes of forest which is otherwise known as La Villa Lemot.
Constructed in an Italianate neo-Palladian style, the Villa is reminiscent of those of Italy and features a row of collonades marking the entrance to the building which overlooks the River Sèvre. Nearby ‘La Maison du Jardinier’ (gardener’s house) is a replica of farms found in Tuscany and Umbria and is the first of the Italianate buildings found throughout the Nantes vineyard region. Today, the farm is also home to public toilets.
Les Halles of Clisson
Dating all the way back to the 14th-century, the wooden marketplace is situated steps away from the Clisson Château and is a timber-framed structure in the heart of town. During the War in the Vendée, the marketplace housed troops.
Unfortunately, Les Hall is also where a devastating fire that destroyed much of the town was started during the 18th-century. Though the wooden beams and stone structure was largely rebuilt following the war, visit on market day and you’ll soon discover traditional vendors selling everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to locally caught fish. Nearby, the tourism office offers free Clisson travel advice and maps of the town and nearby region.
L’Église Notre Dame (Notre Dame Church) & Place Notre Dame
Like many French churches, the main ecclesiastical building in Clisson is dedicated to Notre Dame. Constructed on the site of a church of a collegiate church that was destroyed during the wars of Vendée, the church now on location was built at the end of the 19th-century and is modelled after the church of Saint John and Saint Paul in Rome.
Free to visit and close to the marketplace, step inside and you’ll soon discover pretty frescoes and a spacious interior. Nearby, one of the prettiest (and admittedly one of the steepest) streets is the pedestrian pathway that offers stunning views of the steeple.
L’Église Saint Jacques (Church)
The other main church that Clisson has to offer is that of the Trinity Church, a pretty Romanesque chapel surrounded by a small garden on the outskirts of the French town. The roots of this church can be traced all the way back to the 10th or 11th century when the church would have been the worship place for Benedictine monks.
Unfortunately, this church is open on a much less regular basis than that of Notre Dame, though it can still be admired from the exterior. Elsewhere in Clisson, there are the ruins of a small chapel (Chapelle des Templiers) that are now used to house exhibitions and concerts.
Le Pont Saint-Antoine (bridge)
Spanning across the Moine River, during Medieval times, this bridge would have been on the route between Nantes and Poitiers. Ancient and medieval, Le Pont Saint-André is a stunning Gothic structure dating all the way back to the 15th-century, while it can be found close to the point where the River Moine meets the River Sèvre Nantaise.
Le Pont de la Vallée (bridge)
Dating all the way back to the Middle Ages, the history of the town’s main bridge has seen several renovations over the years. Originally constructed of wood, this now stone bridge traverses the River and links both sides of Clisson. Today, the impressive structure also offers one of the best views of the Château to be found anywhere in town.
Le Viaduc (the viaduct)
Modern in comparison with many of the other structures and buildings across town, the Viaduct is striking and imposing. Boasting an impressive fifteen arches, the Clisson viaduct crosses the River Moine, was constructed in 1840, and is Gothic in design.
Shop in small boutiques
Between independent clothes shops and a quaint bookstore on the very corner of the 14th-century timber-framed market place, there’s no shortage of cool and quirky shops in which to shop for souvenirs or pick up a present (or two) for yourself. Truth be told, my favourite shop is that of La Très Petite Librairie, a tiny bookshop selling all sorts of different tomes, books, and novels.
Go hiking in the Valley of Clisson
Thanks to its position in the heart of lush green woods, Clisson is a great base from which to hike the wider region. Even those who are more interested in other types of physical activity will be delighted to know that there’s a wide range of sports on offer nearby; including (but not limited to) canoeing, kayaking, and climbing.
Le Moulin à Papier du Liveau (mill)
Lying alongside the banks of the river, Clisson saw a revival in industry and trade with the construction of a mill during the 19th-century on the banks of the Sèvre Nantaise. A 16th-century building updated in the Italianate style, today the former paper mill is now a museum. Check out the full details for how to visit here.
Where to stay in Clisson
For such a small town, there are a surprising number of places to stay in Clisson. Alternatively, you could always stay in nearby Nantes and see Clisson in a day (I personally stayed at La Perouse Hotel during my time in Nantes). However, for those looking for a luxurious experience, look no further than the four-star Best Western Plus Villa Saint Antoine Hôtel & Spa, which boasts amenities such as an outdoor swimming pool and a hot tub.
How to visit Clisson as a day trip from Nantes
For those who are short on time (like I was), then it’s perfectly possible to visit this Italianate town as a day trip from Nantes. Take the fast train and you can easily reach the town from the city in just fifteen minutes. Even the ‘slower’ train from Nantes to Clisson takes under half an hour. As such, this quaint excursion remains one of the best-kept secrets of Nantes.
Otherwise, if you prefer to go on a guided tour, then you can always experience Clisson as part of this day trip from Nantes. Encompassing fantastic attractions such as a vineyard, the Château de Clisson, and the medieval town itself, this four-hour trip includes a hotel pickup and a wine tasting.