My Strategy for Spending 1 Day in Metz, France – Plus an Overnight Stay at Abbaye Des Prémontrés, Pont-à-Mousson
Fun fact: My mother’s maiden name is Metz – which means when I was perusing a map of the places I’d be visiting in Europe and realized I would only be a short train ride away in Luxembourg City, I had to squeeze it in. Thanks Europe, for having public transportation that blows any system the US has ever conjured out of the water. Can someone will Dagny Taggart into existence to salvage our ineffectual rail system? Because that would be much appreciated.
Metz is an ancient city with a rich 3,000 year old history. It begins with an ancient Celtic people called the Mediomatrici, moves to the Romans, and was then lost to the Franks after the barbarian raids. As you can guess, this makes Metz an eclectic melting pot of culture, art, and architecture.
When you arrive in the city you may immediately notice that everything is very green – something I particularly loved about it. Metz is actually known as the Garden City because of its beautiful sculpted gardens, promenades, and natural green spaces. The city gives way to nature in a way that almost feels like Rome, with its mid-city parks, streets lined with fruiting trees, and climbing wisteria. In that way you can certainly feel the Roman influence. It also helped that the sun was shining off sand colored buildings and made me feel like the ocean was just around the next corner. Metz is landlocked, but you will find the confluence of the Moselle and Seille rivers here – and plenty of lovely spots to view them from. My favorite was at the Jardin d’Amour (Love Garden) on the île du Petit-Saulcy – an island that splits the river and is also home to the Temple Neuf and the place de la Comédie, as well as the Opera Theater. I sat down in the Jardin d’Amour, soaked up some vitamin D, and shared my lunch with the swans floating lazily in the river below.
The best thing about Metz was having the entire day to wander aimlessly and not feeling rushed or pressured to “see it all” before the sun went down. Every part of Metz had something to marvel at, and having no preconceptions of the city, I felt free to just enjoy it all as I strolled past. Wandering down a cobblestone alley with tall tawny buildings on either side, I heard the sound of an opera singer practicing her scales, and it was the serendipitous highlight of my afternoon. My number one tip for spending one day in Metz, France is to let the city surprise you – you won’t be disappointed.
As I meandered through the Parc de l’esplanade and followed my tenuous knowledge of French to the signs that said “Fontaines Dansantes” I saw people lounging in the shade of sprawling trees next to a pond covered with green lily pads. There was a sense of calm that I’d never experienced in a major urban hub before. It was almost like being transported to another time, when society ladies and gents carried parasols and took constitutionals. No one really seemed to have anywhere to be, or care to do anything but relax in the moment. On the far side of the pond I noticed white marble statues and an arbor of Roman columns. It’s here at the Fontaines Dansantes, the Dancing Fountains, that I later learned there is a show of water, lights, and music in the months of July and August.
If you arrive by train and only have 1 day in Metz like I did, you can start your self guided tour right where you are. When German Kaiser Wilhelm the 2nd decided that Metz was in need of a new German district, he ordered the construction of a train station large enough to transport troops from France to Russia in 24 hours. The platforms in the Gare De Metz-Ville are large enough to accommodate troops of both horse and foot soldiers. The station includes a stained glass depiction of Charlemagne, architecture meant to resemble a Roman palace, and Wilhelm’s own apartments.
After leaving the station I worked my way up to the Porte des Allemands, France’s only remaining castle bridge.
From there, you can wind your way up to Museum de La Cour d’Or to delve into the city’s history. You’ll want to make it a point to see the Metz Cathedral, an immense Gothic structure made of Pierre de Soleil, sunstone, with vaulted ceilings and intricate stained glass – more than any other cathedral in the world.
Walk across the bridge to the Jardin d’Amour, and down to the covered market for some shopping Tuesday through Saturday. The Place Saint-Louis medieval market square is a lovely spot to order a fancy coffee or a Quiche Lorraine before heading over to Parc de l’esplanade to enjoy some of the famous greenspace in the city.
You may find the basilica of Saint-Pierre-aux-Nonnains of some interest while you’re in the area. This pre-medieval stone church started its days as a Roman gymnasium. And by the time you’re done, it’s just a short jaunt back to the train station, or return to the heart of the city if you plan to stay the night.
And keep your eye out for this little guy, Le Petit Train de Metz. Better yet, hop on board! The miniature train takes you through 43 unique city sights and what better way to renew your sense of childlike wonder than by taking a choo-choo ride?
That’s how I spent my one day in Metz, but rather than staying the night in the city, I moved along to a tiny village called Pont-à-Mousson. It’s here that I made my splurge of the trip, Abbaye des Prémontrés, an 18th century abbey converted into a functioning hotel and museum. The river runs right in front of the abbey, and streets topped with sand and gravel give the village a beachy, Mediterranean vibe. I walked around town in what was left of the daylight, picked up some dinner at the local grocery in the market square, and sat by the riverside with my new swan friends to watch the sun disappear and the sky turn violet.
From my spot on the water I had a view of Eglise Saint Martin and a pillar monument with the depiction of a mourning woman, soldiers, and a torch bearer, commemorating the lives and victory of soldiers lost in the First World War.
The abbey itself is a place I could explore for hours – with museum displays and art lining the halls, a cloister garden filled with the sound of tinkling bells and water trickling from a watering can fountain, and a gorgeous spray of trees that lines the waterfront.
And of course, the abbey has it’s own church, which I discovered while wandering the empty halls that night. The sound of my footsteps in the dark, ringing off the cavernous stone ceiling was haunting and awe-inspiring at the same time, and made me feel small in the vast open space.
Needless to say, I had the best sleep of my trip here in my luxurious king sized bed with a sliver of moon shining through the open windows.
And we all know what my number one rule is when choosing accommodations: There must be free breakfast. And breakfast there was, served in what I might assume served as a ballroom of some kind in the past. The best part of staying here was the fact that I was virtually the only guest staying in the abbey, which means I got exclusive use of the fancy cappuccino machine and no one was there to witness me stealing the tiny jam jars. Far too many cappuccinos later, I was back at Gare de Metz-Ville, catching a train for Luxembourg City, getting ready for my hiking adventure on the Mullerthal Trail, and plotting a return to France – preferably longer than a single day.