When you think of a city break, what comes to mind?
A need for comfortable shoes, back to back sightseeing, busy streets and the relief of washing the city’s grime away at the end of the day, no doubt? Admittedly, there are pros to city breaks – but for many, taking valuable time off work, and spending precious money on a holiday that does little to relax you, doesn’t seem all too appealing. In recent years, I’ve holidayed in Paris, Rome, Copenhagen to name a few, and it’s certainly a different vacation to the time spent on the beaches of Greece, the lakes of New England or the mountains of upstate New York. If you’re like me, you won’t be scheduling in sunbathing time to read and wile away the hours with nowhere to be. There’s things to do, places to eat, culture to soak up in the city!
In my normal life, I sit somewhere between town and country. I’m 20 minutes from two cities and live in a town, but can reach the beach or the countryside in just a few miles. I love to shop and coffee in town, but I also adore a Sunday dog walk or a summer picnic in the New Forest. I like the best of both worlds! So when information appeared in my inbox about the French city of Metz, and how it has recently joined the list as a European Best Destination, I was intrigued. I hadn’t even heard of Metz, and instantly jumped online to find out just where it was. North east France, not far from the Luxembourg border, was the answer. Metz sold itself as a city that surprises – with riverside walks, highstreet and boutique shopping, fine dining for all budgets and a whole host of history, architecture and art. Not only did it look beautiful, but it sounded like it would tick all the boxes for a few days away this Easter. I was eager to see if it would satisfy!
As you will have seen here, we spent a night in Paris before heading to Metz last Wednesday. Just 1 hour and 20 minutes by train from Paris on the TGV, Metz was easy and enjoyable to reach. The station in Paris was simple to navigate, and we caught a direct morning train out to Metz, arriving by midday. I’ll admit, I had no idea what to expect and when we stepped outside of the station I was amazed by how much bigger it was than I had anticipated, but just how quiet too. With a sprinkling of travellers heading into the station, and local business people going about their days, we were completely inconspicuous in this seemingly small city. As we walked to our hotel (everything is reachable on foot in Metz), I said to Sam how the quietness reminded me of Copenhagen. It didn’t feel like a city at all, and as we walked through the centre ville I clocked all sorts of shops, cafes and restaurants I couldn’t wait to get back to and explore.
So, in the interest of being useful, what can I tell you about our time in Metz? Firstly, it’s pronounced ‘Mess’ by the French. I’ve heard in Germany they say Metz how we would (and had been pre-trip!). The route out from Paris was incredibly easy, and we flew home from Luxembourg – even easier! Just an hour (or less, on a fast train) – I think travelling within a country is part of the adventure. Reaching Metz needn’t be difficult.
As I mentionned, my first impression was just how calm and serene the city is. And second to that, just how quintessentially French everything was. Although it ticked all the classics off the list (wooden shutters on the windows, winding streets lined with small cars, epiceries and pharmacies on most corners), it felt truly honest – like we were really in France, not a tourist haven. I likened it to where we live at home – where people really do live and go about their lives, and if tourists want to visit and soak that up, they’re welcome! Within an hour of arriving, our English accents and poor French vocab had caused a (friendly) stir with the locals, with the same people wishing us good morning a few days later.
We stayed at Hotel de la Cathedrale, right in the heart of Metz. I was super excited to check-in here, as I’d read so much about it online. A 17th century townhouse, and fairly unimposing from the front, it’s full top to bottom with beautiful French antiques and I’ll be sharing more about it in an upcoming post! Immersing ourselves in a truly French piece of history was fascinating and everytime we descended the three floors to leave the hotel, I was distracted by yet another trinket or painting.
It’s clear to see from my photographs alone that Metz has a rich and inviting history – and not just the hotel! Due to its geographical position not far from Luxembourg and Germany, it’s history is predominantly military, and as two history graduates, we were more than keen to soak up the sights. The most famous piece of architecture in the city is the 13th century cathedral – Saint-Étienne de Metz. Our hotel overlooked it, and even if you aren’t one for history, it is truly stunning. The third highest nave in France, and one of the highest in the world, you can’t help but gasp at it’s dominance over the city. We lost nearly two hours inside the cathedral, learning about the various stain glass windows and the range of artists who have worked on them over the years. Trust me when I say this is so much more interesting than it sounds! I really enjoyed it.
Something I really valued on this trip was making use of the tourist office and it’s guides. Not something we’d done before, but in a city like Metz, which has such a unique history, it was fascinating to have unusual things pointed out to us, that you’d simply miss without a local’s knowledge. We visited Saint Maximin’s church featuring stained glass windows by French artist Jean Cocteau, which we probably would’ve missed without a guide. As someone who tends to switch off when it comes to religious history, I was really taken in by the story of Cocteau and how the windows in Saint Maximin’s came about. We also spent some time at the German Gate – another 13th century building and the last medieval bridge castle in France. As you can see, Metz’s history is varied!
I noticed during our time in Metz, a real creative vibe. We visited a contemporary art gallery during our time, as well as the Centre Pompidou – a museum of modern and contemporary art. The museum is the largest temporary exhibition space outside Paris, and the building itself was as interesting to look at as the exhibitions we saw inside. One which really caught my attention was called Under The Water and was an installation in response to the Japanese tsnunami.
When I look back over our photos, to write about the time we spent in Metz, we got alot into three days. Perhaps my feet needed a rest towards the end of the week, but not once during our visit did I feel like I was on a city break. I was unsure what to expect from Metz, and my conclusion has been that it’s the perfect destination for anyone looking for more than a beach break without the aggrevation of a capital city. We spent time sipping coffee, tasting the local cheesecake, even relaxing in the hotel watching the city centre from the window. We didn’t feel pressured to race around seeing everything at once – we were able to take it all in at our own pace and enjoy the day to day lifesyle that comes with a more compact city. I felt more than safe in Metz, especially coming from Paris and as always, felt reassured when I spotted H&M and Sephora on the main street! Metz is not only rich in history and art but it’s serene atmosphere and true French culture made for a unique trip. The warm yellow limestone of the buildings gives Metz an individual ambience, looking classically French to the traveller’s eye but unique to the city itself. I’ll be sharing some of the best places to eat in Tuesday’s post, but in the meantime I urge you to add Metz to your European bucket list!
If you’ve landed here, you’re probably looking to find out more about Katherine-Louise. Run by me, Kat - put simply I'm a 30 year old who is decidedly normal. My blog is a destination for women just like me - the same interests and aspirations, working our way through the same twists and turns of life. Katherine-Louise is designed to inspire and inform; to give you a break from the norm as well identify with the beauty of routine. A fifteen minute recoup, or an hours vacation, it’s the go-to for Everyday-Joe’s, just like me, who want a few minutes off the radar.