Saint-Nazaire's "Belle Epoque" by the seaside

Saint-Nazaire's casino only existed between 1897 and 1914.
An oasis of calm: the "Jardin des Plantes", or botanical garden.
Some street names are reminders of the city's transatlantic past...

What happened to the casino?

Turn right, avenue de Santander, and you will see the botanical garden, or Jardin des Plantes. It was inaugurated in 1887, on land given to the City of Saint-Nazaire by an aristocrat, Prince de Béarn, who stipulated a park to be created (the city council voted 50,000 francs for the planting of rare tree species). After the Jardin des Plantes, continue along the seaside promenade until you arrive at a huge complex of buildings and sports fields, the Catholic Saint-Louis secondary school.

This is the very place where, in 1897, Saint-Nazaire proudly opened its casino, surnamed the “casino of the thousand pillars”. It boasted theatre and concert halls, gambling rooms, fencing halls, a grand restaurant, tennis courts and a shooting gallery. And of course “baths for hydrotherapy”, decorated in the fashionable Moorish style! Alas, the casino never really took off, so it was closed in 1914. Ten years later, both the buildings and the huge plot of land were sold to the Catholic bishopric of Nantes…

With its promenade, beaches, casino, botanical garden and villas, Saint-Nazaire must have had a certain air of a seaside resort in the early 1900’s. But the town definitely had other priorities, its activities mainly linked to the port activities and the shipbuilding industry. At the same time, neighbouring resorts sprang into existence, and Saint-Nazaire’s history took another course. But never mind, the beaches are still there for everybody to enjoy!

If you decide now to walk back towards your starting point, you will have spent a calm hour and a half or so exploring one of the most charming and historical parts of Saint-Nazaire, with lovely views of the sea practically at every street corner! But you may also want to continue your walk, along the recently redeveloped seaside promenade, on boulevard Albert 1er, until the fishing cabins you see further on. At the big traffic roundabout which lies ahead of you, turn left, following the shore.