Strategic settlement since Roman times
www.tourisme-metz.com. Strategically cited at the confluence of the Rivers Moselle and Seille, Metz was a Roman settlement and later flourished as an independent city-state during the Middle Ages. Annexed by France in 1552, it was transformed into a border stronghold, and the city centre, which is peppered with monumental buildings in mustard-yellow Jaumont stone, also owes much to 18th-19thC urban planning.
Driving around Metz’s one-way streets is frustrating, so make for Parking Cathédrale. The enormous pinnacled and ornamented Cathédrale de Saint-Etienne is graced with a dazzling array of 13th-20thC stained glass. From the aisles to the roof of the nave (the third tallest in France after Amiens and Beauvais), three tiers of windows filter a kaleidoscope of coloured light. The left transcept is virtually a wall of glass ensconced in slender Flamboyant Gothic frames, with Chagall’s lemony-yellow Earthly Paradise to one side; the show continues around the choir and ambulatory chapels.
Nearby, the Musées de Metz, www.musee.metzmetropole.fr, are housed under one roof in a maze of interconnecting rooms to which there is no map. Leave plenty of time and energy to explore here, for as well as getting hopelessly lost, there is an enormous amount to see. Journey through Roman Metz via pottery, sarcophagi and the odd chariot brakeshoe before being hijacked by architecture (superb Merovingian sculpture from the 7th-10thC Eglise de Saint-Pierre-aux-Nonnains). The Renaissance section is equally fascinating, but the Beaux-Arts section is missable with its hefty Flemish collections; as is the small and rather moth-eaten military corner.
Wander down to the river for a view of the bridges from Pont des Roches, with the grand 18thC yellow stone Théâtre stretched along the opposite bank. The main shopping centre leads west of place d’Armes in a grid of pedestrianized streets which runs downhill to place Saint-Louis lined with arcaded shops. Keep heading west for the handsome Palais de Justice on place de la République, and the Esplanade gardens near the ancient Eglise de Saint-Pierre-aux-Nonnams, parts of which date from the 4thC. The imposing 19thC railway station lies south of the centre in the Prussian-built Neustadt.
The S.I. provides a map of quayside walks around town. The tree-lined river banks are decked with flowers, as are the bridges, and there are lovely views as you stroll along the Moselle from Quai du Rimport to Quai des Régates (about 1 km); or you could hire a bicycle from the station and pedal down the Canal de Jouy, past the anglers, to the Jardin Botanique at Montigny-les-Metz (about 3 km round trip).