13 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Lorraine
Unspoiled natural beauty and picturesque historic towns make the Lorraine region a delightful area to explore. The capital city of Nancy lies in eastern France surrounded by the Meuse and Moselle valleys, sandwiched in between the Champagne region and the Vosges Mountains. The steep, forest-covered hills of the Vosges and quiet alpine lakes are dotted with attractive holiday resorts such as Gérardmer. There are also traditional spas including the towns of Vittel and Bain-les-Bains. Created in the 18th and 19th centuries, the fashionable society of Europe visited these spas to bathe in the healing waters. Today, tourists will enjoy the relaxing atmosphere and classic beauty of Lorraine's resorts, nature sites, and culture-rich towns.
The old capital of Lorraine, Nancy is a historic city renowned for its magnificent 18th-century Baroque architecture. The elegant main square, the Place Stanislas, is lined with impressive palaces, including the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall), with balconies and balustrades. The most characteristic feature of the square is the magnificent gilded wrought-iron railings at the ends of the streets and around the fountains of Neptune and Amphitrite. Another top tourist attraction, the Musée des Beaux Arts, has a noteworthy collection of European paintings from the 16th-20th centuries along with modern art, including works by Dufy, Utrillo, Modigliani, and Zadkine. The Palais du Gouvernement, the former Ducal Palace, is the most important secular building of the Late Gothic period in Lorraine and now houses the Lorraine Historical Museum, with a collection of archeology, medieval sculpture, and traditional folk crafts. The Musée de l'Ecole de Nancy, occupies an Art Nouveau villa, and displays a collection of glass, furniture, and jewelry.
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Metz has an ancient history dating back to Roman times. In the 6th century, Metz was a residence of the Merovingian kings and later became a Free Imperial City. The picturesque town is characterized by its cobblestone streets, narrow lanes, and charming old houses. At the Place d'Armes is the 18th-century Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) and the Cathedral of Saint-Etienne. This impressive cathedral of yellow sandstone was built between 1250 and 1380, incorporating the earlier church of Notre-Dame-la-Ronde. With its immense 42-meter high vault and splendid stained-glass windows, the interior has the overwhelming effect of a grand Gothic sanctuary. There is a 14th-century rose window on the West front and three windows by Marc Chagall in the North transept. Also worth a visit, the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire contains Gallo-Roman archaeological finds and examples of medieval religious art and architecture. From the town's Esplanade, a terrace offers beautiful views of the Moselle Valley and Mont Saint-Quentin.
In the upper Moselle Valley, Toul was an important town during the Middle Ages, the see of a bishop, and until 1648 was a Free Imperial City. The town is still surrounded by its 17th-century walls with four gates; the Porte de Metz was designed by Vauban. The Cathedral of Saint-Etienne, built in the 13th and 14th centuries, has a Late Gothic facade and Renaissance doorway. The cloister also dates from the 13th and 14th centuries. Southwest of the cathedral is the Church of Saint-Gengoult constructed from the 13th to the 16th centuries. This church is a smaller and simpler version of the cathedral. The choir features exquisite 13th-century stained glass windows, and the 16th-century cloister has an elegant Flamboyant style. On the Rue Général-Gengoult, there are a number of historic houses dating from the 14th century. Another noteworthy site in Toul is the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall), which occupies the former Bishop's Palace.
Surrounded by fortified hills, the ancient walled town of Verdun lies at an important crossroad on the way to Paris and was one of France's strongest fortresses during the First World War. The town was the location of a devastating battle, and a bronze sculpture by Rodin in front of the Porte Saint-Paul commemorates this event. There is also a war museum in the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) and a memorial on the Quai de la République. On both sides of the Meuse River are the battlefields of the First World War: the Fort de Vaux, the Fort de Souville (with a memorial to André Maginot), the Ossuaire de Douaumont (containing the remains of unidentified soldiers), the Fort de Douaumont, and the Tranchée des Baïonnettes. Other noteworthy monuments in Verdun are the cathedral and the town gates: the 14th-century Porte Chaussée and the 15th-century Porte Châtel, which formed part of the town's defenses.
Nestled between the Rhine-Marne Canal and the Ornain River, Bar-le-Duc is the old capital of the Duchy of Bar. In the upper town that reaches onto the slopes above the valley is the 14th-century Church of Saint-Etienne and the Ducal Château that now houses a museum. Handsome old houses line the Rue du Bourg, Rue de Bar, and Place Saint-Pierre. In the lower town, at the southeast end of the Boulevard de la Rochelle, is the beautiful Neo-Romanesque and Byzantine Church of Saint-Jean. The Pont Notre-Dame leads to the Church of Notre-Dame, which was built in the 13th and 14th centuries and restored in the 17th century, The church contains a wooden figure of Christ by Ligier Richier, a pupil of Michelangelo, and a 15th-century bas-relief. Beyond the narrow canal is the 14th-century Church of Saint-Antoine with splendid frescoes of the same period.
In a picturesque lake district of the Vosges Mountains, the popular holiday resort of Gérardmer lies below the Col de la Schlucht mountain at an elevation of around 1,000 meters. With its pristine alpine setting and excellent tourist facilities, Gérardmer attracts nature lovers and outdoor sports enthusiasts throughout the year. During summer, the expansive Lac de Gérardmer comes to life with a variety of watersports including sailing and canoeing. The area also has well-groomed walking, hiking, mountain biking, and cycling trails catering to different abilities, from beginners to advanced. The Station de Trail provides detailed hiking trail maps. There are also GPS walks for the high-tech inclined. For equestrians, there is the option of horseback riding. In winter, Gérardmer is a destination for downhill and cross-country skiing. In the surrounding area nearby are the lakes of Longemer and Retournemer.
The old town of Sarrebourg is on the edge of the Vosges Mountains by the Sarre River. In the historic center of town is the former Franciscan church, the 13th-century Chapelle des Cordeliers. The chapel was enhanced with spectacular stained-glass windows by Marc Chagall including a stunning 12-meter window titled La Paix in the choir as well as side windows. The chapel is now used as the Musée du Pays de Sarrebourg, a museum with a section devoted to the life and work of Marc Chagall. There is also a Chagall Garden featuring broadcasts of interview excerpts with Chagall. The Musée du Pays has an excellent ceramic collection and interesting archeological finds from the surrounding area. On the outskirts of Sarrebourg is a First World War military cemetery with 13,000 graves, and just a few kilometers away, in Saint-Ulrich, are the ruins of a large Gallo-Roman villa.
The little town of Vittel has been one of the most popular spas in Lorraine since the mid 19th century and its reputation as a spa town goes back to Roman times. Vittel's water, from four cold mineral springs, is used in the treatment of various health disorders. The local water is also sold as bottled water in France. The town of Vittel has the ambience of a resort, catering to the leisure needs of visitors. There are gorgeous parks, a golf course, and a racecourse. Of architectural interest is the Church of St-Rémy of the Late Gothic period. Vittel is also a good base to begin an exploration of other nature sites in the surrounding area. About a 45-minute-drive away from Vittel is another famous spa town, Bains-les-Bains, which has 11 natural springs that have been used since Roman times.
The town of Saint-Mihiel (or Saint Michel) grew up around a Benedictine abbey founded in 709, and in the 14th century, it was one of the principal towns of the Barrois district. The sculptor Ligier Richier (c.1500-1567) was born in Saint-Mihiel, and some of his works can be seen in the local churches. One of Richier's finest works, the Pâmoison de la Vierge (the Virgin fainting, supported by Saint John), is in a chapel in the Church of Saint-Michel that was founded in the 12th century. Another Richier masterpiece of sculpture, the Entombment, is in the 16th-century Church of Saint-Etienne.
Boasting a rich history, Lunéville was the residence of the Dukes of Lorraine between 1702 and 1737. The town's handsome 18th-century château was designed by Boffrand, a pupil of Mansart. The château now houses a museum of art. Another important monument is the twin-towered Baroque church of Saint-Jacques built between 1730 and 1747. One of the most famous residents of Lunéville was the Marquise de Châtelet, who was the mistress of Voltaire. She had been offered refuge in Lunéville from debt collectors by Stanislas Leczinsky, Duke of Lorraine. It was here that the Marquise translated Newton's Principia.
Spanning both banks of the Moselle River and surrounded by extensive forests, Épinal is an important town in the département of Vosges. It is most famous for its production of colored prints known as "images d'Épinal," which in the 19th century enjoyed worldwide sales. A printer and publisher named Pellerin set up business here in 1799 and began to produce prints including illustrated books on contemporary themes for children as well as fairy tale books. Examples of these prints can be seen at the Imagerie d'Epinal on the Quai de Dogneville. Other important attractions include the 13th-century Basilique Saint-Maurice, with a 14th-century Virgin, and the ruins of a medieval castle in the Parc du Château. Outside of Épinal in Dinozé, there is an American World War II cemetery.
Phalsbourg was built around 1570 as a fortified town and was an important stronghold in the Duchy of Lorraine. The town fell to France in 1662, and its defenses were considerably strengthened by Vauban in 1680. The Place d'Armes stands as testimony to the architecture of Vauban. The Porte de France and Porte d'Allemagne, both richly decorated, are also remains of the old Vauban fortifications. There is a museum on the history of the town in the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall). Phalsbourg has a strong Catholic heritage as well as a Jewish history dating back to 1702. The town's Neo-Gothic Catholic Church was rebuilt after the Siege of 1870, and the synagogue dates to 1857.
In a picturesque location along the Moselle River, the small town of Thillot is a popular vacation destination year round. The town lies at the foot of the Ballon d'Alsace, the southernmost peak in the Vosges Mountains. Ideal for summer and winter holidays, Thillot lies near hiking trails and ski resorts. In the town, the Eglise Saint-Jean-Baptiste is worth visiting to see its serene interior and exquisite stained-glass windows.