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Nancy, one of the top destinations of the Lorraine, is known for its late baroque and art nouveau landmarks, some dating to its days as the former capital of the Duchy of Lorraine. Its focal point is the 18th-century Place Stanislas. This grand square, decorated with gilded wrought-iron gates and rococo fountains, rests by the ornate palaces and churches filling the city’s medieval old town. It’s a riverfront town but interestingly actively avoids the river, with the central action several blocks away.

We liked our hotel quite a bit, had a good dinner, and did a lot of walking. The streets were crowded, and the tone generally lively, including a circus in town and a kid-oriented carnival in adjacent Pépinière Park. The cathedral is impressive, particularly the stained glass, of which there was a lot, in fine condition and at larger than average scale. There’s enough to fill a day (not a lot more), and the area gets rapidly run down and nondescript as you leave the central square area. To summarize: we didn’t feel that it was a destination visit, but it’s a good day on the way to somewhere else.

  • **Musée de l’École de Nancy has an especially fine Art Nouveau collection, arranged as a private home. 
  • A few blocks away, Villa Majorelle is another major destination. It was packed and booked out when we arrived – reserve well in advance.
  • The Ducal Palace is closed for renovations (a long process that has been underway for at least 4 years now). You can see the Ducal Chapel; worth a quick stop.
  • **Hotel D’Haussonville was a lovely hotel choice. It’s a beautiful 16th century building, with a limited set of rooms. Our room had a view of the cathedral, and had been elegantly touched up with a well-appointed modern bathroom and cozy sitting room. It was a quiet part of town (the area we liked most). Breakfast was excellent. Grand Hotel De La Reine would be my backup option (more central, less expensive, but looked nice).
  • Just next to the hotel **L’Arsenal was a great dinner choice – thoughtfully prepared local cuisine with some modern twists, young staff, good wine list, more hipster than classic.

Épinal

The River Moselle runs through Épinal, and it’s an easy jump from Nancy (which is how we ended up there, looking for a good lunch spot on our return trip to Switzerland). It’s a skip, with perhaps the exception of the **Basilica of St. Maurice, built between the 11th and 13th centuries, has been a place of pilgrimage for a long time. Its architecture is a blend of several styles: Gothic, Champenois and Burgundian. It’s dark, cold, and very moody – a striking experience and fairly unusual. The town itself is not very appealing.

Just south of town, the **Epinal American Cemetery is worth a stop: a somber and moving place, immaculate and with impressive murals. WWII.


Plombières-les-Bains

A very depressing and run down town with a grand history. Hidden in a fairly remote valley, this was a major spa destination in the 1850s, and there are many grand villas and belle epoque hotels in various states of disrepair or abandonment. Perhaps drive through, but don’t stay here.

The hot springs were first discovered by the Romans; in succeeding centuries, its baths were visited by Montaigne, Voltaire, the Dukes of Lorraine, Napoleon Bonaparte, Joséphine de Beauharnais, Napoléon III, Berlioz, and Lamartine. 

The “Pavilion of the Princes” at Plombières, was renamed following the meeting on 21 July 1858 between Napoleon III and Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour, who secretly negotiated the “Plombières Agreement” as they sat alone together in a small horse-drawn carriage slowly progressing round and round the town. This accord granted French aid to the cause of Piedmont-Sardinia against the Austrian Empire in return for the territories of Savoy and Nice, which thereafter became French.

In Russia, the highest of the state standard quality categories of ice cream, containing at least 12% butterfat, is known as “plombir,” a slight distortion of the pronunciation of “Plombières” in Russian. The French dessert plombieres is named after Plombières, whose name has been associated with extravagant frozen desserts since the late 19th century.

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