Nancy, the “Paris of the East,” shines once more

Café and gilded gate at Place Stanislas

By Jean and Peter Richards

Nancy boasts one of the most beautiful public squares in Europe, an abundance of seminal Art Nouveau architecture, splendid museums and a special brasserie.

Quiche Lorraine at L’Excelsior

Once called the “Paris of the East,” the capital of the department of Lorraine also lays claim to the quiche.

The city, a bit dowdy but a decade ago, has been restored to glory, not least in the expansive, harmonious mid-18th century Place Stanislas. Its uniformly fenestrated and finialed buildings have been scrubbed. Its monumental canted cast iron gates have been blackened and re-gilded. Its Poseidon and Amphretite fountains spout playfully as Stanislas, the King of Poland to whom Lorraine was once gifted, surveys his narrowed realm from a plinth at the square’s center.

In one of the pavilions along the edge, renovation of on the 1793 Musée des Beaux Arts which has collections spanning six centuries is nearly complete.

This performer reminded us of Marrakech

Wide open and windy in winter, Place Stanislas blossoms in spring with a gregarious café life, families at leisure and, perhaps, the story teller we encountered captivating an audience with his drollery and tricks. It’s a delightful scene.

If the place is a monument of 18th century urban planning, the city itself is an exuberant homage to Art Nouveau. Hardly a street in its center lacks an example of the school of expression which became the École de Nancy. Émile Gallé, Louis Marjorelle, the Daum brothers and others have left well-preserved marks not only on the decorative, ephemeral and fine arts but also on buildings throughout.

L’Excelsior Brasserie, built in 1910 and decorated by Marjorelle, Jacques Grüber and Antonin Daum preserves not only their opulent and optimistic woodwork, stained glass, artworks and fixtures, but also the dishes that once were haut in the brasserie life of French cuisine: oysters, fruits de mer, escargots, lobster, foie gras, choucroute and the perfectly light and custardy Quiche Lorraine so bastardized into dryness elsewhere.

L’Excelsior, an Art Nouveau treasure

A day touring Art Nouveau Nancy can begin with breakfast, refresh with lunch or be reflected upon during dinner or supper at L’Excelsior which is open from 8 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. most days. It is part of the Flo Group assembled in Paris and beyond by the now deceased Jean Paul Bucher who sold his group to the Belgian billionaire Albert Frere.

On Nancy’s Grand Rue, Antoine, a Duke of Lorraine presides in flamboyant splendor over his 13th century palace portal, now the entry point to the Historical Museum of Lorraine notable for its Gallo-Roman and Merovingian remains, Jewish religious objects and Jacques Callot engravings and favored by us for its luminous George de la Tour, “Woman with a Flea,” and the stern but amusingly wonderful “La Condemnation du Banquet” series of tapestries preaching against gluttony and drink.

Choucroute Strasbourgeoise

An adjunct to our own gluttony or drink are the “veritable” Bergamotes de Nancy, thin amber-colored sweets made from the citrus of the Bergamot trees to a recipe created in 1857 by nuns in Nancy and available still at Maison des Soeurs, 21 rue Gambetta, just a short walk from Place Stanislas and between L’Excelsior and the quiet, comfortable Hotel Mercure on rue des Carmes.

Copyright © 2012 Jean and Peter Richards

L’Excelsior Brasserie:

50 rue Henri Poincaré

54000 Nancy

Tél : +33 (0)3 83 35 24 57

Open  everyday from 8 a.m. to 12:30 a.m, Sundays just until 11 p.m.

Stanislas presides over his square

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About oldmainetravelers

The Old Maine Travelers are Peter and Jean Richards, who met more than a half century ago covering President John F. Kennedy on what would become his last trip to Boston.  They worked for many years as wire service and newspaper reporters and editors.  Peter did a nightly television show on WGBH, Boston, before he went into government in the administration of John V. Lindsay, mayor of New York City. After they moved to their brownstone in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, Jean did a spell on Madison Avenue in the real “Mad Men” days and later became public relations officer at Chase Manhattan Bank.  Since 1973 they have worked together first as owners and publishers of a group of award-winning newspapers in Dutchess County, N.Y., and then as antiques dealers.  Now they are old and live on the coast of Maine and in the Southwest of France when not traveling further afield. In the red barn by their house in Damariscotta, Maine, they tend an antique shop specializing in 18th and 19th century furniture, metalwork and accessories, buying objects they know about and like and selling them from May to October to delightful people of obvious discernment and taste. In France, they live in an old stone house in the shadows of the remaining towers of an unfinished 17th century church and above Roman drains in a town along a pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostella. They love it — for its authenticity and abundant boulangeries.  The rest of the time they travel the world together seeing the sights, seeking out museums, stumbling into interesting conversations, savoring local specialties and otherwise bumbling along in their own style. For years they have sent article-length postcards to family, friends, fellow travelers and some media. Many of these will now be posted here.
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