Out and about Metz, on the French-German border, deserves leisurely discovery
On a planet where UNESCO hands out world heritage site tags as freely as pizza fliers, are there any places still left unflogged by travel channels and untrampled by tourist hordes? Yes, Metz, a French town in Lorraine province on the German border.
However, with the whacky Centre-Pompidou-Paris establishing its trendy twin in Metz (pronounced Mez) recently, it is unlikely that this town will remain hidden for too long.
I take the 90-minute train ride from Paris in the gleaming TGV (Train a grande vitesse — or rapid train) which races through the perfectly-manicured countryside that passes for rural France. I wonder whether there is more to Metz than just a day-trip from Paris.
Mosaic of cultures
After a few hours in the city, I realise Metz deserves leisurely discovery, and am glad I stayed for a couple of days. Metz is a delightful mosaic of cultures.
During its long history, the town started off as a republic, but soon ended up as a province of neighbouring big brother Germany, and then changed nationalities a few times, having been coveted alternately by the Germans and the French for its rich coal reserves, strategic location and salubrious climate.
With Belgium and Luxembourg just about an hour away, Metz has been impacted by a mélange of influences that have produced an eclectic template.
Lorraine is home to the Moselle river that lent its name to a special wine — Moselle — that used to be toasted by none other than Bismarck himself.
Quiche Lorraine, a signature dish of the region with its smoked ham stuffing, seems to have the gourmet French drooling and asserting its Gallic origins.
You get off the TGV and walk straight into the graceful Centre Pompidou. If the Paris Centre Pompidou shocked you by its rather outlandish and then avant-garde architecture, the Metz version is bound to awe you with its elegance and style.
A translucent white membrane stretched over a stunning wooden frame with Star of David patterns, the Pompidou Centre Metz stands out in all its stark beauty against a cobalt blue sky strewn with cotton candy clouds.
Shaped like a Chinese straw hat and reaching for the sky with its central spire, the building is a work of art.. No wonder it has already become a magnet for all design and art lovers.
Calling art lovers
Although it has been open only a few weeks now, I spy hundreds of visitors queuing up to pay seven Euros to enter the museum that will have no permanent art collection of its own, but only host temporary exhibitions of works borrowed from other museums.
When in Metz, you can't miss the ubiquitous Mirabelle, a golden plum that grows profusely in this region, and is an ingredient in almost every dish on offer, whether it is wine whose sharpness can put neat Vodka to shame, jams, juices, candy, toffee or pickles.
But wait, Metz is not all about Mirabelle; enterprising citizens are now reviving the Moselle wine industry that had fallen on bad days after the war, and was overtaken by Burgundy and Loire valley.
Marie-Genevieve and Norbert Molozay, a charming couple, has set up a winery at the Chateau-Vaux to process some of the finest reds, rose, white, and even sparkling stuff.
Medieval to modern
In Metz you can go from ancient to medieval to modern in a matter of minutes. The architecture changes in a few paces and so does the mood.
From an impressive Gothic style railway station built by the Germans primarily to move troops quickly to the battlefield during the war, to a gorgeous cathedral with stained glass windows crafted by Marc Chagall, one can reach, within minutes, a tranquil river with swans gliding gracefully, transporting you to a blissful pastoral environment.
Metz is built partly on islands and partly on the shore of the Moselle River. I wrap up my visit with a stroll through the fantastic Garden of Laquenexy, where exquisite and exotic plants line an exciting walkway, heady perfumes tickle your senses and tangy flavours tease your tastebuds.