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Alsace-Lorraine Travel Guide

Nancy

For architectural variety, few French locales match this one in the heart of Lorraine, 300 km (190 miles) east of Paris. Medieval ornamentation, 18th-century grandeur, and Belle Époque fluidity rub shoulders in the city center, where the bustle of commerce mingles with stately elegance. Nancy’s majesty derives from its long history as the domain of

the powerful dukes of Lorraine, whose double-barred crosses figure prominently on local statues and buildings. Never having fallen under the rule of the Holy Roman Empire or the Germans, the city retains an eminently Gallic charm that’s exemplified by harmoniously constructed squares and buildings. Vestiges of the 18th century, these have the quiet refinement associated with the best in French architecture.

Ironically, a Pole was responsible for most of them. Stanislas Leszczynski, the ex-king of Poland and father of Maria Leszczynska (who married Louis XV of France) was given the Duchy of Lorraine by his royal son-in-law on the understanding that it would revert to France when he died. Stanislas installed himself in Nancy and devoted himself to the glorious embellishment of the city. Today place Stanislas remains one of the loveliest and most perfectly proportioned squares in the world, with place de la Carrière—reached through Stanislas's Arc de Triomphe—with its elegant, homogeneous 18th-century houses, being a close rival for this honor.

Concentrated northeast of the train station, this neighborhood—rich in architectural treasures as well as museums—includes classical place Stanislas and the shuttered, medieval Vieille Ville.Think Art Nouveau, and many will conjure up the rich salons of Paris's Maxim's restaurant, the lavender-hue Prague posters of Alphonse Mucha, or the stained-glass dragonflies and opalescent vases that, to this day, remain the darlings of such collectors as Barbra Streisand. All of that beauty was born, to a great extent, in 19th-century Nancy. Inspired and coordinated by the glass master Émile Gallé, the local movement was formalized in 1901 as L'École de Nancy—from here, it spread like wildfire through Europe, from Naples to Monte-Carlo to Prague. The ensuing flourish encompassed the floral pâte de verre (literally, "glass dough") works of Gallé and Antonin Daum; the Tiffany-esque stained-glass windows of Jacques Gruber; the fluidity of Louis Majorelle's furniture designs; and the sinuous architecture of Lucien Weissenburger, Émile André, and Eugène Vallin. Thanks to these artists, Nancy's downtown architecture gives the impression of a living garden suspended above the sidewalks.

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