Nancy and the Vosges

Thursday 23rd June 2011, Nancy, France
Tonight we are back on the same campsite we used in June 2007 when we made a special visit here to explore the city of Nancy. Our details were still in the campsite computer so checking in was very quick!

This morning, by contrast to the last few days, the weather was fresh and crisp but sunny enough to breakfast outside. The campsite in Molsheim sold delicious fresh croissants delivered from the local bakery which we ate with our morning tea. It's as well we were leaving today; we'd been unable to resist them for the third morning in a row and they were becoming a habit.

We still have delightful memories of our last visit to Nancy. Sometimes as we travel we discover somewhere that takes our breath away, a completely unexpected treasure. Nancy is right at the top of our list of such discoveries. We are almost afraid to return in case it does not live up to our rosy memories. Tomorrow will tell.

We travelled by the minor roads, through vineyards and clean, tidy Alsace villages, up through the wooded steeply winding roads of the Vosges Natural Park. Up in the hills the air was really quite chilly – a wonderful sensation after the past few days. At the Col du Donon we parked and took a steep walk up through the woods. From above we could look out over the tops of the firs to the verdant summits of the hilltops way off into the far distance. Beside the track were meadows of long grass sprinkled with pretty pink, blue and yellow flowers while higher up along the woodland paths, bold foxgloves stood tall above the ferns and brambles. It was a landscape reminiscent of home and so very different from the countries of Eastern and Southern Europe.

Foxgloves in the woods of the Vosges

Around lunch-time we stopped for a picnic beside a pretty mountain lake amidst the forested hills. Above the lake we discovered the remains of a mediaeval château built in, on and around a massive outcrop of natural rock. A climb to the top gave yet more spectacular views of the area.

Pleasant picnic spot, Lac de Pierre Percée, Vosges mountains

Château de Pierre Percée, Vosges

At Lunéville, famed for ceramic production, we stopped to visit the town. It started to rain and the streets were far from prepossessing. We almost gave up but we needed bread so continued through the rain. We are glad we did. Whilst there is very little in the town centre or its surrounding streets to raise the spirits, we chanced upon an incredible baroque synagogue constructed in 1786 with special permission from King Louis XVI. It was apparently the first to be built in France since the 13th century.

Baroque Synagogue, Lunéville

Yet more surprising was the church with its huge clock set into an astonishing baroque facade with twin towers. Constructed between 1730-1741the style was apparently the personal taste of Stanislas Leszczynski, exiled king of Poland and father-in-law of Louis XV, who eventually lived and died in Lunéville. The church has been built in the baroque style, a taste he brought from Poland, and seems very out of place in a boring, drab little town such as Lunéville. Inside there is an ornate cupola above the altar, decorated wooden doors and a stunning organ loft where the organ pipes have been completely hidden behind its gilded baroque embellishments. It is apparently the only organ in Europe to have its pipes hidden in this way.

Ornate baroque facade of the church of St. Jacques, Lunéville

Gilded baroque organ loft, église St. Jacques, Lunéville

Exiled from his own country, the French king Louis XV granted his father-in-law Stanislas Leszczynski the dukedom of Lorraine and Bar during his lifetime, to revert to France on his death. This explains why Nancy is such a stunning city, right at the centre of his dukedom. In his later years however, Stanislas Leszczynski devoted his life to books and philosophy, choosing to live at Lunéville where he died in 1766. His remains are inside the church. It was the architect of the church at Lunéville, Emmanuel Héré who later went on to design the stunning Place Stanislas at the heart of Nancy.

Sarcophagus of Stanislas Leszczynski, exiled king of Poland, died 1766, Lunéville

There is a château at Lunéville which is presumably where King Stanislas would have lived and therefore probably rather magnificent. Unfortunately we could not easily locate it and time was pressing. Next time perhaps.

Tomorrow we will go down into the city of Nancy, hoping we will not be disappointed in the memories we hold of this remarkable city. I have just re-read our account of our visit in 2007. It is undoubtedly one of our most enthusiastic reports. Please follow the link below and at least take a look at Nancy, it's such a wonderful city I want everybody to enjoy it!

Friday 24th June 2011, Nancy, France
Nancy did not disappoint. It is just as lovely as we found it to be when we last visited. We've also realised that we did little more than scratch the surface on our last visit and there is just so much more to see! For me it definitely counts as the very nicest city of manageable size we have encountered in all our European travels. I really could live here very happily.

It has been perfect weather for sight-seeing and even the cobbles here seem less uncomfortable for walking than other cities have been.

Place Stanislas is surely the most harmonious square in all of Europe. Traffic does not enter, nor are there street vendors selling tourist tat as in other cities. Access to the square is from seven different points, six of them through stunning wrought iron gates in black and gold. There are large baroque fountains in two of the corners while the centre of the square is dominated by a statue of Stanislas Leszczynski erected in his memory by the inhabitants of Nancy in grateful recognition of the many improvements he made to the area during his dukedom. These included establishing schools, founding hospitals and charitable institutions, laying out public parks and improving surrounding towns such as Lunéville. Along one side of the square is the town hall, another is occupied by the National Opera House while the Museum of Fine Arts occupies a very fine building on a third side. The seventh exit, on the fourth side of the square leads, via a triumphal gateway, to another impressive square, Place de la Carrière. The facades of all of these baroque buildings are ornamented with stone statues and little putti. Our first treat of the day was coffee at one of the two tasteful cafes permitted on the square where we could sit in the sunshine and gaze at our leisure at this stunning architectural achievement.

Place Stanislas Leszczynski, Nancy

Place Stanislas Leszczynski, Nancy

Place Stanislas Leszczynski, Nancy

Hotel de Ville, Place Stanislas Leszczynski, Nancy

Opera National de Lorraine, Place Stanislas Leszczynski, Nancy

Musee des Beaux Arts, Place Stanislas Leszczynski, Nancy

But that was just the beginning! The town has several more beautiful squares, delightful public gardens, streets after street of stunning 18th century houses, ornate gateways, triumphal arches, the Ducal Palace, University buildings, a mediaeval city gateway, Art Nouveau buildings, private palaces, museums, and superb buildings currently used by banks, hotels, restaurants and public services, not to mention the thermal spa!

Place de la Carrière, Nancy

Place de la Carrière, Nancy

Arc de Triomphe, Nancy

Gateway to the Ducal Palace – influenced by the one at Blois, Nancy

Place St Epvre with the monument to Duke René II, Nancy

University Institute of Mathematics, Nancy

Porte de la Greffe, Nancy

Hotel des Loups, Nancy

Thermal Spa, Nancy

Lunch was a picnic in the rose garden of the park known as La Pépinière, a gift to the town by Stanislas. Also in the park is a free zoo – mainly sheep, goats, donkeys, ponies, geese and peacocks but also monkeys and Jojo, an aged chimpanzee, due to celebrate his sixtieth birthday next week, who spends most of the time asleep. Later we discovered that the circus was in town. In France animals are still used in performances and the camels were wandering around between shows getting a bit of exercise. However, we were disappointed to see a beautiful tiger cooped up in a cage where he eyed us with a bored expression through the bars. While camels are domesticated creatures, a tiger most definitely is not and it seems cruel to subject it to such indignity.

At the circus, Nancy

Bored and lonely, Nancy

Having walked the streets of the town for most of the day we stopped at the Brasserie Excelsior for a Kronenbourg beer – a regional product from the brewery in Strasbourg. The Art Nouveau building combines the skills of several Nancy artists including glass by Antonin Daum, woodwork by Louis Majorelle and stained glass by Jacques Gruber. The architects were Alexandre Mienville and Lucien Weissenburger. Nancy was one of the leading exponents of the Art Nouveau movement.

Brasserie Excelsior, Nancy

Brasserie Excelsior, Nancy

Brasserie Excelsior, Nancy

Art Nouveau building, rue St Jean, Nancy

On the main street we were so tickled with the Art Nouveau facade of the National Bank of Paris that we went inside where it was just as delightful with carved mahogany counters, decorative iron banisters, huge stained glass ceiling panels and carved stone decoration around the windows and doors.

Detail of the staircase in the Banque Nationale de Paris, Nancy

All these are just incidents in a day where beautiful buildings were never for a moment out of our sight. For once churches took a back seat. We visited the cathedral but with so much secular competition we were not inclined to linger. Outside the cathedral a couple of young men on lightweight, sprung stilts were drawing a crowd as they bounced and leapt about like satyrs, leaping up and down whole flights of cathedral steps at one bound! They were far more interesting that yet another statue of the local saint, Jeanne d'Arc, the lass from Lorraine, inside the cathedral!

Cathedral seen from Place Stanislas Leszczynski, Nancy

Fun outside the Cathedral, Nancy

Less fun inside the Cathedral, Nancy

We simply cannot move on tomorrow as we intended as we've discovered there are so many wonderful things we still need to see here.

Related links:
Nancy 2007