Metz, France: La Ville Verte
In capping off my 2019 Eurotrip, I returned from my two-day jaunt in Budapest to stay in northeastern France. I had one last full day before my flight home, and it could not have been better spent. Having landed a mid-morning flight from Charles de Gaulle airport, I quickly hopped on a bus to catch a train that zipped me from Paris to Metz, a smaller city 30 minutes from where I’d be staying that night.
I’d be staying with a French family - friends of friends who had kindly welcomed me in - who lived in a village near the German border, called Koenigsmacker. Paris is always spectacular and will never get old for me, but also wished to see a new side to France. She is, I’ve been able to see firsthand, beautiful from every angle, so I couldn’t wait.
They were the absolute cutest family - the three of them (two parents and their ten-year-old daughter) met me at the train station and showed me around the city Metz. While our day there was short, we packed in an awful lot...enough to share in a city guide!
Here’s what we did, and what I recommend you do if you get to see this charmante French ville:
Morning: Arrival and the Centre Pompidou-Metz
I arrived at the Gare de Metz-Ville train station in the morning, stepping into a century-old station, registered as an historic monument since January of 1975.
Moments after meeting my new friends at the station, the family madame asked me with great enthusiasm if I’d be interested in visiting Metz’s modern art museum, which happened to be right across the street. We exited the train station, stopped in its expansive stone courtyard, and turned around to gape.
I looked up in awe, at yet another Euro-jewel looking every bit the historic structure it was, with its regal clock tower of stone, flecked with what appears to be the same green metal as the onion domes in Munich. Built in Rhenish Romanesque Revival style, the Metz Train Station (Gare de Metz) is equally royalesque indoors as it is out, housing the likes of Emperor's apartments and reception pavilion, reception halls, galleries and service areas. (This, to a gal who feels royal splurging on smoked salmon at the grocery store, was jaw-dropping.)
The museum - le Centre Pompidou-Metz - was only a five-minute walk from Gare de Metz. They were featuring a “Painting the Night” exhibit, which looked equal parts intriguing and ambiguous, spanning galleries two and three, so up we went on the elevator, to the highest level in the museum.
Crossing the threshold, a softly dimming absence of light befell those who entered, guiding the eye to focus on the paintings that hung on the wall, centered and spotlit. It was a gorgeous exhibit, with the first half highlighting a brilliant starry night sky, the next portraying the emerging nightlife culture that following when electricity became available for the first time.
What made it special was the passion and enthusiasm with which the family poured over each striking piece, especially Madame. They both appreciated and embraced the emotion that art coaxes out of its viewers, and this open expression of admiration was definitely contagious.
One of my favorite displays was this draping of reams of what looked like wallpaper that, with its seizing of light in its stunning swirl of earthtones, whites, and blacks, seemed to pull you straight into a galactic atmosphere.
Afternoon: Lunch & Window Shopping in the City Center
In my blog post on Budapest, I asked the same question to my friends as I ask myself in reflecting on a visit anywhere new: what’s the first thing you notice when visiting a new place? For me, when I laid eyes on marvelous Metz, it was the buildings - not only their breathtaking and seemingly ancient structure, but more strikingly, their color. Many were a distinct, but quietly faded, and uniform, shade of yellow, and they were all over the city, especially in the city center. I’d never seen anything like it. Up close, madame explained, “It’s a local limestone they use to build the city. Feel it,” she said, and I did, touching a substance that felt grainy like sand, almost with a bit of give to it, as though a mere bit of rain would compromise the structure altogether.
After the museum, we drove around for a bit, on a fervent group mission to satisfy my lunch request for “an authentic French meal, anywhere.” When monsieur dropped us off to go park the car, madame and I found ourselves gazing upward yet again - this time, standing before Metz Cathedral, a breathtaking vision of gothic architecture similar to others I’d seen before it (such as St. Peter’s Church in the Marienplatz of Munich, or St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest). We walked inside and gawked at enormous lofted ceilings flanked by brilliant stained-glass windows that shone with afternoon sunlight.
Just around the corner we found a lunch spot, where we sat outside as the French so traditionally do before their cafes and patisseries. Above the awning you can gaze up at the vast skyline surrounding you, and looking out makes for great people watching - fashionable singles, and equally chic couples walking arm in arm. The square, also made of that same yellow stone, had several shops and restaurants to occupy you for hours.
We sat down to have lunch near the cathedral, but because of the number of options in that area, my recommendation is to see the church, then from there find a cafe that suits you best. You’ll have no trouble finding one on foot!
I hope so! I do wish I had more time to see Metz but I’m grateful for what I did get to enjoy in my short day. The pictures never quite do full justice but I hope this helps bring it to life. Anyone looking for a new and less tourist-ridden side of Europe or France, Metz is a lovely place to see, and offers easy trips to both Germany and Luxembourg.