France: Metz & Nancy

Metz

Metz is located in the northeastern corner of France about 15 miles from Luxembourg and Germany and 25 miles from Belgium. Metz is famous for its enormous gothic cathedral crowning the town, a lovely juxtaposition near the Moselle River, as well as its Christmas markets! We decided to visit on our way south to the Alsace region, and we were so glad to get a feel for the city! We had a more difficult time than usual finding a reasonable place to stay that wasn’t too far from downtown. (I don’t recommend where we stayed.) If you decide not to stay in Metz, just plan it as a stop along the way and you can still get a good feel for it. We parked on the street next to a meter, but we arrived quite early. If you can’t find street parking, there is plenty of parking near the train station.

Points of Interest: Metz has some picturesque spots including the Metz Cathedral (obviously), Porte des Allemands, Place St Louis, the Covered Market (just in front of the Cathedral that sometimes becomes an open air market too – last time I checked on Fridays, but double check before you go), the Moselle canal, Temple Neuf, the river walk (All des Moulins), Place de la Comédie, Moyen Point, and Gare de Metz Ville (it’s a bit out of the way, but nice to see if you’re taking the train).

The Metz Cathedral is impressive, with the world’s largest display of stained glass across the centuries at (6,500 m²). Because of this, it has earned the nickname “The Good Lord’s Lantern.” It may not be as famous as Notre Dame in Paris or as impressive as the Chartres Cathedral (2,600 m²) and Sainte Chappelle windows (600 m²), but it is by far the world’s largest collection of stained glass. Other cathedrals can claim they have “the most” stained glass from one particular time period, but Metz Cathedral just has the most stained glass, period.

Incredibly, there were Catholic churches in Metz from the mid 300’s AD in the Holy Roman Empire, but the construction for this cathedral began in the late 900’s and was worked and reworked (including a lull in construction for nearly a century) until it was finally consecrated in the year 1522. Over 500 years to build one cathedral? Remarkable! The nave is so tall (3rd tallest in France at 136 ft) that the kids got overwhelmed and a little scared with how high it was! I took note of the intricate detail in the entryway facade as well as the especially tall and grand flying buttresses.

We loved visiting the covered market but there was also an open air market when we went, and we loved all the local products (honey!) and fresh food items (breads!) that were available. Metz is a fantastic place to visit during the holidays for the Christmas markets. Here is a list from the official tourism website on where the markets are this year – covid and all! There are five spots, and all of them require a “pass sanitaire” or Covid-safe QR code.

  • Place de la Comédie: the gourmand’s square, with chalets and carousel.
  • Place Saint Louis: village of traditions, with chalets and rides.
  • Place de la République-Esplanade: between ice and light, with Christmas pyramid, the Quality MOSL chalet, chalets, ice rink/ice road, toboggan run, big Christmas tree ans creche, big rides.
  • Place d’Armes J-F Blondel: lights seen from the sky, with chalets and big wheel.
  • Place Saint Jacques: colours and flavours, with chalets and rides.

NANCY

Nearby, less than an hour south of Metz is historic Nancy. I think we were charmed most by the incredible main square that was the first square to be designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site! Place Stanislas, as the square is called, is 125x106m large. In the mid 20th century it was used as a parking area in Nancy, but was later restored and designated for pedestrian traffic only. The city of Nancy has many stunning examples of renaissance architecture including the Arc Héré, Porte Saint-Georges, and Porte Désilles, both built by the French in the 1700’s. The Place de la Carrière is not to be missed, with its impressive Palais du Gouvernement de Nancy that was intended to be the “next Louvre.”

There is plenty of parking in the Parking Place Carnot, and everything is walkable in the old part of town. You will walk by the Palace of the Dukes of Lorraine, Nancy Cathedral, Église Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours, Basilique Saint-Epvre, and La Porte de la Craffe. Be sure to walk down the Grand Rue! Just off the main square area is Place d’Alliance, also created by the infamous Stanislas. Public restrooms are located in the corner of Place Stanislas and in several other places around the old town.

The streets are so cute to wander, with lots of shops and eateries with outside seating (if you have your pass sanitaire!). When in town be sure to try quiche Lorraine, made famous in this Lorraine region of France! Other popular things to try here are Kir (a drink made with creme de cassis liqueur and white wine), Lorraine hotpot (similar to a boiled dinner or stew), macarons, candies made with bergamot (a citrus like orange), and of course regional cheeses and wines!

The entire Lorraine region of France has great character and is definitely worth the visit! Other towns of note in Lorraine are Verdun (especially if you are interested in seeing the WWII historic sites from the battle here) and Gérardmer for skiing!

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