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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, and Place de la Carrière—reached through Stanislas's Arc de Triomphe and graced with elegant, homogeneous 18th-century houses—being a close rival for this honor.

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