Although it is quite full of visitors, we love to travel to Alsace again and again. Of course I always want to know what’s around the places. I also often travel to Saarland and always wanted to see what it looks like behind the nearby French border. That’s just how I am. In addition, I like the French way of living and I want to keep my French up to date. Lorraine is a good place for it, because unlike Alsace, knowledge of the German language cannot be taken for granted. So we planned a weekend in Lorraine. I knew almost nothing about Lorraine, apart from its history between France and Germany. Inspired by tips we decided to visit the two cities Nancy and Metz.
Lorraine: First impressions
We drove to Lorraine from Saarbrucken, Germany. From there, the French region, which is rich in regards to history, is very easy to reach. Actually we had planned a train journey, but since the overhead lines in this part of France were just broken, we organised a rental car to avoid the resulting chaos. The French border is only a few kilometres away from the capital of Saarland. Directly behind the city begins another country, even if no “different world”. In fact, after a turbulent history, Lorraine got back to France only in 1944/1945. Although Lorraine (originally the German-speaking part being under Franconian influence) and Alsace (under Alemannic influence) have different cultural roots, the two regions were put together to form Alsace-Lorraine in the 19th century. At first, the landscape across the border looked similar to Saarland. It’s obvious that the area was industrially shaped by coal mining and heavy industry. Mining museums can be visited in this part of Lorraine. Behind Metz the landscape looks more idyllic. Green pastures with many cows characterize the landscape. Between Metz and Nancy, you drive through the Regional Natural Park of Lorraine. It would have been interesting to search for hidden gems in the small villages of Lorraine. And a hike in the northern Vosges would also have been nice, as I had enjoyed earlier outdoor activities in the southern Vosges before. Unfortunately, there was no time for those activities in the two days we had, because the cities Nancy and Metz filled our time completely. We were rewarded with a wealth of architecture and French savoir vivre, which make a visit to France complete for me. Nancy and Metz are very different. I will describe in the next two chapters, what the differences and their respective advantages are.
Nancy: Beautiful UNESCO World Heritage City
Love at first sight
Nancy had been highly recommended to me. So I expected quite a lot from the city. In fact, my expectations were exceeded. Chris also liked Nancy very much. Our enthusiasm was not only due to the sensational architecture of the city, but also to the typical French flair. We love to stay in cafés for hours both on our travels and in Munich. The street cafés of Nancy are a great place for that. Already our first impression of the city was very nice. We parked the car near the imposing “Porte de la Craffe” Gate and enjoyed lunch in front of this scenery. Even as a vegan, I never had a bad meal in France.
Magnificent city centre
With regards to architecture Nancy is known for Baroque and Art Nouveau. The city reveils an unbelievable wealth of beautiful buildings, which has to do with the past as the headquarters of the Duchy of Lorraine. Baroque architecture concentrates around the large and representative square “Place Stanislas”, which is also on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The big square is really breathtaking. I loved the many golden gates, which can also be found on the nearby square Place de la Carrière, as well as the Arc Héré triumphal arch. By the way, we met a Polish travel group in Nancy. We wondered what would bring them to this place where you even meet only a few Germans, although Germany is so much closer than Poland. I thought that the Slavic-sounding name “Stanislas” might have something to do with it. I read that Stanislas I. Leszczyynski was a duke of Lorraine who was in fact born in Poland in the 18th century.
Beyond Stanislas Square
You can find Art Nouveau particularly in the side streets. A walk and having delicious ice cream in the “Parc de la Pepinière” were also things we really enjoyed. In the afternoon we strolled a little bit through the Shopping district. I always prefer to do this when traveling, because in comparison with Munich shops are less busy almost everywhere in the world. Afterwards we enjoyed the view of the neo-gothic basilica “Saint-Epvre” from a street café. I had this “typically French” feeling, which I love so much. We completed this beautiful day with a dinner in a Lebanese restaurant. That’s also something I love about France: the many small oriental restaurants, where it always tastes very good and which often come with great exotic interiors.
Metz: Charming Variety at the Moselle River
At first rather disappointing
Unlike Nancy, I expected even more from Metz than I found at first. However, Metz is a city that takes some time. Because of its very different faces, Metz reveals its charms more slowly, even if it is only a little bigger than Nancy. Both are small cities. In the end I also found this one very beautiful and I was absolutely happy that I had explored it quite deeply. Metz owns a great architectural diversity. This is not surprising, as the city looks back on an impressive history of 3,000 years. I also must say that we had bad weather luck on Sunday. In my opinion, Sundays can make cities a bit less attractive, when the shops are closed. Unless, of course, the cities tend to be overcrowded. Then closed stores can be a blessing.
Love at second sight
A great thing about Metz is that it is home to one of the most impressive cathedrals in France. The Gothic bishop’s church creates a great atmosphere and a visit should not be missed during a Metz stay. The old town is very large. I liked the atmosphere at the Moselle and the ensemble with the Protestant church “Temple Neuf” at the river bank made me think of the Île de la Cité and the cathedral Notre Dame in Paris. Later we walked through the pretty little park “Jardin Boufflers” above the Moselle, where a independent music festival took place. Definitely our cup of tea. Next to it we found the tiny church “Saint-Pierre-aux-Nonnains”, which is by the way the oldest church of France. Its cloister ruin and a miniature maze make beautiful photo scenes. At this point I thought that Metz really is a gem of a city.
Absolutely worth seeing: Imperial Quarter of Metz
Literally speaking the crowning glory of our Metz visit was the Imperial Quarter (French: Quartier Impérial). As the name suggests, this district has been influenced by the German Empire. Lorraine was directly ruled by the German Emperor at the end of the 19th century. The magnificent streets with typical French plane trees and representative Wilhelminian buildings form a beautiful complex. You can find many kinds of historicist architecture in this area. This district is also home to the neo-Romanesque-Wilhelminian style Metz-Ville station, which is well worth a visit due to its monumentality. In the Imperial Quarter I had no doubt anymore that Metz is indeed a wonderful destination. Returning to our car, which we had parked in the old town, I realized once again how incredibly large the historical centre of Lorraine’s most important city is. Even though the old town is picturesque, it captivated me less than the one in Nancy.
Lorraine – Conclusion: Worth a trip?
Yes, a visit is definitely worth it, because both Nancy and Metz are cities full of cultural treasures and the typical French way of life. Lorraine still receives relatively little attention, although this is probably changing at the moment. So now is the best time to get to know the north-eastern edge of France. I find Nancy personally more attractive as a base for an overnight stay. I think it offers even more French flair than Metz, which is closer to the German border.
Recommended: Both cities and a side trip to Saarbrücken
In any case, I recommend visiting both cities, as they are very different, each offering architectural gems from very different eras. Both cities can be easily reached by train from the Saarland. It may be necessary to change trains, but Nancy and Metz are still within a day trip distance to Germany. If you head directly for Lorraine, I recommend a day trip to Saarbrucken, which, like Nancy, impresses with baroque jewels such as snow-white houses and magnificent churches.
More travel inspiration from Hiddentraces
If you liked my blog post about Lorraine, you might also be interested in my articles about Basel with its beautiful old town or about the fabulous baroque Schleissheim Castle with its authentic garden near Munich.
Transparency: The naming of destinations is based on my voluntary decision. We paid for the costs of our trips completely ourselves.
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