Tuesday, February 1, 2011

I Heart N(anc)Y

Nancy, France is a stone's throw away from Luxembourg in the car or on the train, and has been on our list of day trips for a while. The city is the capital of the Lorraine region of France (you've had quiche Lorraine, right?) and has its own special flair, but if you blink twice you might think you've stepped into a tiny version of Paris. At least that's how we felt when we stepped off the train in Nancy on a recent weekend.

Historical Snapshot
Portrait of Stanislas Leszczynski
by Jean Girardet, c. 1750
Housed at the  Musée Lorrain.
Here's a quick history lesson, rounded up from our guidebooks. Nancy was founded in the 11th century. In 1228 the town was destroyed by fire but rebuilt right away, forming what is now called Nancy's "old town". The Porte de la Craffe (photo below) is all that remains of the wall that used to surround this part of the city. There is also a "new town" that was built in the late 1500s. Here, the streets are laid out differently, all at more modern right angles.

As the years went on, leadership traded hands, as these medieval cities tended to do. The Thirty Years War occurred, then peace eventually returned. Fast forward to the 18th century, where Stanislas Leszczynski, the dethroned king of Poland enters the picture. He fled Poland for France after losing power from what sounds like a strategic alliance gone bad. Stanislas lived in France for 20 years before somehow managing to have his daughter, Marie, wed to a then 15-year-old Louis XV, king of France. This marriage was lucky for Stanislas, but not for his daughter - she gave birth to ten (yes, ten!) of Louis XV's children, but he always preferred the company of mistresses to the company of his queen. Some years later, Louis XV, gave the region of Lorraine to his father-in-law as a gift, with the understanding that after Stanislas passed away, the region would be returned to France.

Yours truly on Place Stanislaus.
So: the Stanislas piece of history is important because he is the one responsible for turning Nancy into the beautiful city it remains today. While in power, he devoted himself to beautifying his capital city, bringing in talented artists to practice their craft and create beautiful, gilded wrought iron structures, sculptures and architecture. Stanislas was responsible for the creation three squares that linked the old and new city together: Place de la Carrière, Place Royale (known now as Place Stanislas) and Place d'Alliance. All three of these squares are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Fountain and gilded wrought iron
on Place Stanislaus.
Throughout the years, Nancy has remained a haven for artists and a center for craftsmanship. It is most famous for art nouveau - which I can only describe as what I think of when I think of Paris. It's the kind of oldie-timey design that appeared on everything from buildings to windows to paintings and postcards, with lots of flowers, winding vines and color. (You can certainly Google a better explanation of art nouveau than I could ever give.)

When you get off the train, head straight to Place Stanislas. It's a giant white stone square enclosed in beautifully gilded wrought iron gates. There are several fountains in the square and a large statue of Stanislas Leszczynski. This is also where the Nancy Tourism Office is located, a must-stop for picking up a map of walking itineraries around the town that will show you several architectural examples of art nouveau. (And they speak English.) If you are so inclined, you can also pick up your very own Nancy souvenir t-shirt with a tourism logo just like the one above...
Arc de Triomphe

Looking out from Place Stanislas, you'll look through the Arc de Triomphe to see a long path bordered by plane trees, leading to the Place de la Carrière and the Palais du Gouvernement. Centuries ago, jousting tournaments were held on the Place de la Carrière and the King of France's Royal Steward lived on this square; today the buildings are used for administrative purposes.

Hang a right from here and you'll find yourself in La Pépinère, a large park complete with walking paths, fountains, plenty of trees, a small concert pavilion and its own zoo (free to enter). There were plenty of folks out for a stroll the Saturday afternoon that we were there, but in warmer weather when the trees have regrown their leaves and the flowers are out, I imagine everyone in town would laze away the afternoon in this fantastic park. I would!

Head back toward the old town and you'll pass by the Musée Lorrain, dedicated to the history of the Lorraine region and its artistic and cultural life. This is the only museum we stopped in on our day trip. There are several paintings by prominent artists from the region, medals and artifacts, several examples of furniture carved and designed by craftsmen in Lorraine, and entire household scenes depicting what home life was like for those living in the region. All of the exhibits are in French, but it's interesting whether you can speak the language or not.

Past the Musée Lorrain, at the end of the old town, you'll arrive at the Porte de la Craffe. Notice the double barred cross symbol on the door: this is historically the symbol of Lorraine, but was adopted by the French resistance movement during WW2 as a reminder and rallying point that what was lost must be recovered. Nancy was occupied by Germany in 1940 but liberated in 1944 by General Patton's army and the Résistance.
Porte de la Craffe
The double barred cross of the
Lorraine was adopted in WW2 as the
symbol of the French resistance.
Inside the covered market.
In the new town, there is a covered farmers' market that is open seven days a week that is fun to stroll through. Next to the market is the 18th century Eglise Saint-Sébastien, which is worth a quick stop inside to admire the decor.

Our day also included a wonderful long lunch at Restaurant l'Ardoise (20, rue Gustave Simon). You can order from two menus du jour (three courses for €18 or €22) or a la carte. It is located one street before rue des Maréchaux, which is full of restaurants, many of which cater to tourists. There are plenty of places to eat in this area, but the non-touristy places seem to be on streets around rue des Maréchaux, not on it.

It is simply not possible to enjoy all of what Nancy has to offer in just one day. There so many more museums, art nouveau buildings, old churches and quaint squares to see that we look forward to heading back with company in warmer weather. But hopefully this gives you a taste of what you'll find if you're looking for day trip options from Luxembourg Ville, or even from Paris, for that matter!

Getting There
Nancy is about 90 minutes from both Luxembourg and from Paris.

If you're traveling from Luxembourg on a Saturday or Sunday, ask for the Saar-Lor-Lux ticket at the train station. The price moves on a sliding scale depending how many people are in your group, and it is even cheaper to buy a ticket for one on the Saar-Lor-Lux ticket than it is on a weekday at the regular price. Click here for rates. (Our ticket was €30 total for a same-day outward and return trip for two.)

If you are traveling from Luxembourg to Nancy on a weekday, you can buy a same-day return ticket for €21.40 per person.

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1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a terrific place to take your mother!