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Corinna: Champagne and Lorraine

The Magnificent Cities of
Champagne and Lorraine
Story and photos by Corinna Lothar
Nancy, France

here's nothing like Paris in the springtime. And from Paris, roads lead to France's well known provinces and cities. Normandy, Brittany, Provence, the Loire valley and the Cote d'Azur are well known to American visitors. But there is an area of France less traveled, less crowded and well worth a visit. Champagne and Lorraine are an area of lovely landscapes, rolling hills, delicious food, fascinating history and marvelous cities.

Rheims, the capital of Champagne, is less than an hour from Paris on the fast TGV train. The wine, which takes its name from the region, was the creation of the monk, Dom Perignon in the 17th century. It is aged in bottles in the chalk tunnels, approximately 60 feet below street level, dug by the Romans beneath the city. Visitors can visit the wineries and sample the delicious result.

city center monument, Rheims, France
Rheims is France's art deco city. Badly damaged by German shells in World War I, it was reconstructed in the art deco style after the war, and many of the houses in the central part of town have beautiful art deco facades. Waida, a pastry shop and tea salon in the central shopping area offers a visitor not only delectable bread, pastries or chocolates, but authentic art deco décor, in particular the exquisite wood paneling with marquetry pictures of clocks showing various meal times with the appropriate dishes.

The 13th century Cathedral of Our Lady has particular significance in the history of France. The original building was constructed on the site in 401, where Clovis, the first king of the Franks and founder of the Merovingian dynasty, was baptized around 496. It is in the cathedral in Rheims that the kings of France - including Charles VII with the help of Joan of Arc - have been crowned. The cathedral's stained glass windows dating from the 13th to the 20th centuries, including a window dedicated to champagne, dazzle the eye; the façade is a masterpiece of carving from the Middle Ages.

Next to the cathedral is the Tau Palace where the coronation banquets were held. The palace is the former residence of the archbishops of Rheims. The name dates from the mid-twelfth century and alludes to the building's original layout in the shape of a "T," (Tau in Greek), the form of the early cross. Today, the palace is a museum which showcases, among other things, relics and objects used during the coronation ceremonies.

Behind the cathedral is the art deco Carnegie Library, built in the 1920s, a gift of Andrew Carnegie. The lobby walls are decorated with panels of mosaics inlaid with onyx and green marble. In the center is a huge, colorful glass chandelier. The library specializes in books about Rheims, and the elegant reading room is open to the public.

There are other, impressive churches in the city: the graceful St. James Church, constructed at the end of the twelfth century with its contemporary stained glass windows, is wedged between houses in a busy commercial street; the basilica of St. Remi, dedicated to the city's patron saint who baptized King Clovis, is the oldest church in Rheims; the tomb of St. Remi is in the basilica. The former abbey next to the basilica houses the St. Remi Museum where archaeological artifacts and 15th century tapestries are displayed.

The city's Fine Arts Museum has an excellent collection of portraits by Cranach, both the Elder and the Younger, collections of 17th century paintings and 19th century French art, including paintings by Corot, Millet, Monet and Vuillard.

Rheims was the seat of the World War II surrender by the Germans to the Allies at 2:41 a.m. on May 7, 1945. In the War Room of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower's headquarters, which occupied part of what, was the Rheims technical college (now the Surrender Museum), Gen. Alfred Jodl, the German chief of staff, signed the unconditional surrender. The room where the signing took place is intact, down to the tiny white ashtrays on the table. A photograph of the occasion is on display in the museum.


Germanic stone carving at railroad station, Metz

The French sometimes call it the "German" city. Metz, one of the oldest cities in the world and the capital of Lorraine, is a relatively unvisited French treasure. Settled by a Celtic tribe in the 5th century B.C., it became a Gallo-Roman town after the conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar, and then the capital of Lotharingia. It became French only in 1648 at the end of the Thirty Years' War. Metz changed hands and nationality with the 19th and 20th century wars: German in 1871; French in 1918; German in 1940; and finally French again in 1944. There remains a strong German architectural influence in part of the city. The railroad station in particular is a superb example of early twentieth century Germanic stone relief carving depicting activities at the station.

What strikes a visitor to the city is the light. The medieval city is built of beautiful yellow stone which turns almost golden in the sun. Since Metz was built at the confluence of the Moselle and the Seille rivers, the water reflects the sunlight as well. At night, the city lights up its ancient buildings and monuments.

buildings along the Moselle River, Metz

The Gothic St. Etienne Cathedral, like the cathedral in Rheims, is filled with beautiful stained glass windows from the Gothic to modern. The cathedral overlooks the central square on a hill above the Moselle. In what was the bishop's palace on one side of the square is now a colorful central market.

The church of St. Pierre aux Nonnains, dating from 400 A.D., is one of the oldest churches in France. The frescoes in the 13th century Chapelle des Templiers (Chapel of the Knights Templar) have been restored. The city also boasts the oldest theatre in France still in use.
Metz has retained some Roman, medieval and 17th century ramparts. Of the 19 medieval gates to the city, only two remain. The last relic of the medieval fortifications is the Porte des Allemands (The Gate of the Germans) with its two 13th century round towers and two 15th century bastions.

Metz' Museum of the Golden Court incorporates Roman thermal baths. On exhibit are Merovingian and medieval treasures, as well as paintings by Corot and Delacroix.
For the past sixty years, the city has organized a Mirabelle Festival at the end of August/beginning of September. The mirabelle is the delicious little yellow plum used in Lorraine to make an eau de vie, liqueur, jams, tarts and chutneys. Once or twice each month, a huge flea market takes place on the outskirts of the city.

As Rheims is to art deco, so Nancy is to art nouveau. A group of artists and artisans led by Emile Galle created the School of Nancy at the beginning of the 20th century and forged an alliance between art and industry. Decoration in stained glass, wrought iron, sculpture, pottery, bookbinding, architecture and furniture found their way into homes and businesses.

example of art nouveau décor, Nancy

Nancy is filled with examples of art nouveau décor, one of the best being Brasserie Excelsior. There is also a first rate art nouveau museum presenting furniture, glass, jewelry and fabrics. The Tourist Office has brochures on art nouveau walks.

Art nouveau represents Nancy's second "golden age." The first relates to the 18th century when the Duke of Lorraine rebuilt the city according to 18th century town-planning. Nancy's pride is the elegant, recently renovated, 18th century Place Stanislas with its splendid mansions surrounding the square and a set of gilded iron gates which front an elaborate fountain. An arch of triumph leads from the Place Stanislas to the adjoining lovely Place de la Carriere.

Nancy's Old Town is its medieval and Renaissance center. Not much is left of the fortifications that protected the duke's palace (now the Lorraine Museum) in the Old Town, except for the imposing 14th century Craffe Gate which at one point was used as a prison. A small lantern above the main gate dates to the 17th century; it contained a bell which rang out the hours of the day, the beginning of the curfew and the time of public executions. The New Town was founded by Duke Charles III at the end of the 16th century south of the Old Town. Unlike the Old Town, its streets are all at right angles.

Folklore Museum, Nancy

Nancy's Museum of Fine Arts has an excellent collection of French paintings. The Folklore Museum is housed in the former monastery next to the Church of the Cordeliers where the dukes of Lorraine are buried in the crypt. The name "cordeliers" comes from the Franciscan monks who wore a cord around their waists.

There are many other smaller towns in the region, where many gastronomic specialties originated, such as madeleines, made famous by Marcel Proust, and quiche Lorraine, which has become an American staple.

In the town of Bar-le-Duc, where the splendid Upper Town Renaissance district has been restored, a local enterprise makes the "caviar" that neither Victor Hugo nor Alfred Hitchcock could resist. Its red and white currant jam, made by individually seeding each currant with a goose feather, is 65 percent sugar and a 3-ounce jar sells for $62.

The village of Baccarat is home of the famous crystal. In Luneville, St. Clement faience has been making beautiful dishes and table art for 250 years, including dishes for Marie Antoinette. Luneville is also the town where macaroons were first introduced to France for the marriage of Duke Charless III. The macaroons are now a specialty of the town of Nancy.
The charming town of Verdun is home to the sugar coated almonds (dragees), which the French give as a gift for special occasions. Verdun has been making "la dragee" since an apothecary hit upon the idea of coating an almond with layers of sugar and honey in 1220.
Verdun is forever etched in history for the terrible battles that took place there during World War One. The remnants of that war - battlefields, monuments, trenches and cemeteries can be visited throughout the area. This year being the 90th anniversary of the Armistice, there are commemorations and celebrations throughout the region.

And just a few miles further east lays Alsace with its foie gras, delicious white wines and magnificent cities of Colmar and Strasbourg.


Hostellerie du Coq Hardi is a charming hotel in the center of Verdun with an excellent restaurant. Tel. 33 329 86 3636,

The Chateau des Monthairons in Dieue-sur-Meuse is a beautiful small chateau in a large verdant park. The hotel and restaurant are family owned and run; rooms are tastefully and comfortably furnished; the kitchen is first rate; and the location is perfect for touring the area. Tel. 33 329 87 7855,

Information on Champagne and Lorraine

Let Corinna know what you think about her traveling adventure.

* * * * *

I found a Mich Goss J. Grassmayr Innsbruck bell with Jesus, a crucifix and a flower on it. Do you have any information about it you can share with me? Many thanks.

--- Liz, San Bernardino, CA

I don't have any information on that specific bell. If she wants information, "Liz" in San Bernardino should contact the factory. Here is the information: Address Grassmayr Foundry and Bell Museum, Leopoldstrasse 53, Inssbruck, A-6010 Austria. Telephone: 43 512-59416-0. Fax: 43 512-59416-22. E-mail: or


Been there -- thought I'd done it -- you proved me wrong. Great travel coverage -- even for those who have lived there.

--- Bill, Redmond, Oregon

Corinna, my dear,

What a wonderful series of words you have collected together to paint a mesmerizing story about one of my favorite places. Even though I've traversed these same locales as you many times, your delightful descriptions made me want to book a flight this very second and see again some of the places that time did not allow me to linger in before. Your photos are also riveting, and I loved the pantyhose one - what a clever, sexy way to promote that article of the female form. Your colorful words make the entire region literally come alive before my eyes - a rare gift for any writer! Bravo and again Congrats on your top notch feature. Best regards.

Best regards,

--- John C., Palos Verdes, CA

Hello Corinna,

This is very roundabout ... I was recently teaching (Legal Reasoning) in Kabul and encountered Ann Geracimos, who said she knows you from the Times. She recently provided me with an electronic version of your 2007 piece about returning to Frankfurt (which I enjoyed very much). Jonelle and I are well (and enjoying our 3 grandchildren, who live within blocks of our house). I hope you are well. I will now look for your travel writing regularly.

Best regards,

--- Howard De Nike - San Francisco, CA

What an amazing background Ms. Lothar has! I enjoyed her article very much. I found it to be quite intriguing, especially the interpreter school bit.

--- Melinda, Boise, ID

I loved your article on Metz.

I was an exchange student living there from 1981-1982 and have always felt like Lorraine was the most overlooked part of Europe.

You really captured the feel of the city with your photo and articles.

--- Al Stewart, Seattle, WA

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