A Nancy Macaroon Weekend
Macaroons are the cupcakes of France: they're everywhere - and all through France, claims are made as to which "macarons" are the ones with pedigree or the royal stamp or the best-loved by the locals.
The city of Nancy in northeastern France has one of the best claims to macaroon supremacy with a story that includes a pair of defiant 18th-century Benedictine nuns going into hiding at a local doctor's home and baking macaroons on the sly, using a Renaissance recipe that has been zealously guarded and passed from generation to generation for more than 200 years. You eat a Nancy macaroon and you're eating the history of France.
The unofficial slogan of Nancy, France is "I Heart N Y" - with an unobtrusive lowercase "anc" between the N and the Y: in other words, a touch of New York brash in the midst of la belle France.
But then, Nancy is the city that rivaled Paris as a center of art and architecture at the end of the 19th century and was often referred to as the "Capital of the East." First built in the 11th century, Nancy was the one-time capital of the Duchy of Lorraine, which helped it attract many artists. "Art in all" and "Art for all" was the battle cry of those young, well-educated, and cultivated artists who fled to Nancy with the annexation of Alsace by Germany in 1871.
A youthful city with numerous universities and schools of higher learning, Nancy is home to more than 45,000 students. Ninety minutes from Paris by TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse or French high speed train), Nancy makes for a perfect weekend getaway.
Apart from macaroons, Nancy is celebrated for the "Ecole de Nancy," a loose confederation of remarkable Art Nouveau artists who worked at the dawn of the 20th century and whose work gained worldwide acclaim for the amalgamation of art and industry, which they made manifest in works done in wrought iron, cabinetry, stained glass, jewelry, sculpture, glassware, pottery, bookbinding, and architecture.
The Ecole de Nancy artists included decorator and furniture designer Louis Majorelle, ironworker and artist Jean Prouvé (who wore a leather apron for many years, in honor of his fellow smithies), glassmakers Antonin and Auguste Daum, and architect Lucien Weissenburger, all of whom ushered in a rebirth of decorative arts and a new dynamism in furniture design.
By utilizing local flora for their plant-inspired designs, these artists popularized Art Nouveau (and Nancy) the world over. The application of art to civic buildings insured that the city became a repository of the Art Nouveau style and, today, even a casual wander through the city provides you with some stunning examples of this exuberant artistic movement.
For those who love crystal and glass, Nancy is the home of Daum, the celebrated glassworks whose history mirrors the development of Art Nouveau and Art Deco. Since 1878, Daum has been manufacturing limited edition and unique "objets d’art," often utilizing the technique of "pate de verre" (or "lost wax"), which dates back to 5000 B.C.
A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1983, Stanislas Square at the heart of Nancy is one of the most beautiful royal squares in Europe. An 18th-century square built in 1755 as a perfect example of French classicism, Stanislas Square is surrounded by gold embossed gates with fountains. The square’s four sides include the city hall, the opera house, the theatre, and the fine arts museum.
During summer, in the evenings, the facades of Stanislas Square are illuminated by a captivating, 20-minute sound and light show that showcases the history of the city of Nancy and its love for art, beauty, and technology.
After your peregrinations about the city, take a seat at one of the several cafes on Stanislas Square and order a plate of macaroons.
The man in front of you, the statue at the square’s center, is Stanislas Leczinsky, the former King of Poland who became the Duke of Lorraine (and the father-in-law of Louis XV). With an upraised arm, he points north - toward what? The brothels of the old city? The fleur-de-lis in the Arc de Triomphe?
Whatever you decide, raise a toast to the man whose aesthetic vision enabled you to be seated in such a splendid setting.
By nightfall, you too will concur: I HEART N anc Y.
(Travel feature continues on next pages: What to Do, Where to Stay, Where to Eat, Getting There...)
WHAT TO DO:
Musée des Beaux Arts: The oldest museum in Nancy, the Musée des Beaux-Arts was created in 1793 by the architect Emmanuel Here for Stanislas Leczinsky, the former King of Poland who became the father-in-law of Louis XV - and, ultimately, the Duke of Lorraine.
With such a heady pedigree, it’s no wonder that the Musée des Beaux-Arts is one of the official "Museums of France." Located on the magnificent Stanislas Square on the edge of the medieval city, the collection includes Caravaggio’s "Annunciation," Tintoretto’s "Pieta," Peter Paul Rubens’ "Transfiguration," Boucher’s "Aurora and Cephalus," Manet’s "Autumn," Delacroix’s "The Battle of Nancy," Monet’s "Sunset in Etretat," Bonnard’s "A Meal with Children," Picasso’s "Man and Woman," a photography collection from Henri Cartier-Bresson and more than 700 pieces of glass in the Daum Collection.
Originally built as the College de Médecine, the Musée des Beaux-Arts has an exterior as splendid as its collection; once you’ve wandered the museum, sink into a cafe chair on the "Place Stan" (as the locals refer to it) and toast to the square that Stanislas built.
LINK: Musée des Beaux Arts
Musée de l’Ecole de Nancy: What was once the country villa of Eugene Corbin, patron of the arts, is now home to one of the world’s finest collections of Art Nouveau, showcasing the work of the founders of "L’Ecole de Nancy," including Emile Gallé, Jacques Prouvé, Louis Majorelle, Jacques Gruber, and Lucien Weissenburger.
Corbin’s original collection of 750 works formed the genesis of the Musée de l’Ecole de Nancy, which now comprises a sublime collection of leatherwork, ceramics, textiles, stained glass, and furniture (including a grand piano decorated with pine cones).
The landscaped grounds of the Musée de l’Ecole de Nancy include gardens, fountains, and a three-level aquarium designed by Lucien Weissenburger (with stained glass by Jacques Gruber), as well as memorials to both Majorelle and Prouvé.
For those who love Art Nouveau and its philosophical underpinnings about the connections between art, industry, nature, and well-being, the Musée de l’Ecole de Nancy is an idyllic sanctuary.
LINK: Musée de l’Ecole de Nancy
Maison des Soeurs Macarons: Nicolas Genot is a man with a 400-year-old secret: the recipe for Nancy macaroons that has been passed from generation to generation since the expulsion of the Benedictine nuns from their convent. For decades, the city of Nancy has been synonymous with their macaroons and today, Genot is the sole custodian of the famous secret recipe.
Made from a mixture of egg whites, sugar, and almonds from Provence, the macaroons at Maison des Soeurs Macarons are the sort of sweet that make you swoon with happiness. Other confiserie specialties include Bergamot jellies and candies, made from the Bergamot orange, which is the result of grafting a lemon to a wild orange tree and which is prized for its essential oil.
As soon as you enter Maison des Soeurs Macarons with its array of confiserie displayed like jewels, you can’t help but say a little prayer of thanks to the Benedictine sisters who were forbidden to eat meat and so made macaroons instead.
LINK: Maison des Soeurs Macarons
WHERE TO STAY:
La Villa 1901: You know you’re in the right establishment when your hotel room is on the cover of one of France’s leading design magazines. The recent opening of La Villa 1901 has generated much buzz and stellar press, including a recent multi-page pictorial in Cote Est.
Opened in November 2011 and located in a tranquil residential neighborhood near the heart of Nancy, La Villa 1901 was once the luxurious private home of a lovely family with four children - but then the children grew up and the parents were left alone in a beautiful 19th-century mansion.
Rather than succumb to empty-nest syndrome, Isabelle and her husband Jean-Francois created an elegant sanctuary of modernism out of their former home. The four spacious suites are named for the owners’ children: Suite Paul is a sleek and streamlined homage to Jean Prouvé, while Suite Scarlett is where Ms. O’Hara might have pondered her loss of Rhett. Suite Jean is a study in Yves Klein blue and French blue; Le Grenier (The Attic) atop the mansion is as white and pristine and serene as the Arctic Circle, with furs for warmth.
A concept store in the villa’s gardens is evocative of Ali Baba’s cave, with a trove of exceptional items for sale, including linens, china, toiletries, and furniture from companies such as Comptoir du Sud, Spiridon, Sens, La Boite Concept, Cote Table, F.S. Home Collection, and other luxury brands.
Isabelle, your hostess at La Villa 1901, is as effortlessly chic and stylish as her suites and you’ll fall under her spell within moments of meeting her. Coffee is served upon arrival and breakfast in the morning is a sumptuous spread of gourmet delights, including flaky brioches, fresh raspberries, local cheeses, and freshly-squeezed juices.
One caveat: a sojourn at La Villa 1901 will spoil you for other residences in the area - so go ahead and book a second, third, or fourth night at La Villa 1901. An oasis of tranquility and high style, La Villa 1901 is akin to walking inside a designer show house and claiming it as your home.
LINK: La Villa 1901
(Travel feature continues on next pages: What to Do, Where to Stay, Where to Eat, Getting There...)
Hotel Crystal: Any real estate maven will tell you that location is everything - and at the Hotel Crystal, you are steps away from Printemps, one of France’s leading department stores, as well as a few minutes’ walk from the beautiful Stanislas Square. Nearly everything you wish to see or visit in Nancy is within walking distance of Hotel Crystal.
Originally called Hotel de Strasbourg, the century-old hotel became Hotel Crystal after World War II. Ideally located, the three-star hotel offers 58 cozy, non-smoking rooms. Emphasis on "cozy." Rooms are on the small side but spotlessly clean and impeccably designed by architect and decorator J. Ph. Nuel.
Room rates include free WiFi, paraben-free toiletries, dual-flush toilets, and a delicious buffet-style breakfast in the breakfast room off the lobby.
Winner of a "Certificate of Excellence" by TripAdvisor, Hotel Crystal is well-managed by a bilingual staff - and the genuine hospitality at the hotel is a reflection of the kindness you’ll encounter throughout your stay in Nancy.
LINK: Hotel Crystal
WHERE TO EAT:
The Excelsior: Consider this beloved brasserie the Rick’s Cafe of Nancy: the Excelsior is where everyone shows up - at one time or another. A stunning example of Art Nouveau architecture that evokes the glories of the Belle Époque, the Excelsior is a celebration of "l’art de vivre" - at every hour of the day.
Built in 1911, the luxurious brasserie was a testament to the principles of L’Ecole de Nancy with Art Nouveau facades by Lucien Weissenburger, stained glass windows by Jacques Gruber, furniture from Atelier Majorelle, and chandeliers and copper sconces by Daum Glassworks, with the later addition of an Art Deco staircase by Jean Prouvé. In other words, the Excelsior is nothing less than a celebration of the principles espoused by Nancy’s greatest artists and architects who believed in the marriage of art, nature, and industry.
With a reputation for festive parties and late-night soirees, the Excelsior was the birthplace of Nancy’s Jazz Festival - and today, the animated atmosphere at the Excelsior embodies the gracious hospitality of Nancy.
The cuisine at the Excelsior is a mixture of traditional brasserie specialties with Lorraine influences. A raw seafood bar at the Excelsior’s entrance is a reminder of the ocean’s bounty; oysters are fresh and delicious - and particularly with Champagne.
When in Nancy, do as the locals do: celebrate life at the Excelsior.
LINK: The Excelsior
Chez Tanesy Le Gastrolatre: Located on la Grande Rue, one of the oldest roads in France dating back hundreds of years, is a 16th-century "hotel particulier," which has been, for years, the home to one of the city’s most beloved restaurants, Chez Tanesy Le Gastrolatre.
The restaurant is right across the street from the memorial plaque to Charles the Bold, whose death, arguably, marked the end of the Middle Ages and the commencement of the Renaissance.
Duck inside the small door of Chez Tanesy and into this charming bistro for some of the most delicious Lorraine-inspired traditional cuisine. The chef and owner, Pierre Tanesy, is a captivating presence who on a wintry night could be mistaken for Saint Nicholas - and the gifts this restaurant bestows are every bit as enchanting as Yuletide.
Le Capu: Only a few steps from Stanislas Square, Le Capu (formerly the well-loved Le Capucin Gourmand) is a sleek and contemporary eatery frequented by a lively crowd of Nancy’s more fashionable denizens. The chef, Hervé Fourrière, is a master of plates that are as playful as they are delicious. An amuse-gueule of a candied cherry tomato is served alongside a truffled mushroom velouté. Velvet banquettes in green, purple, and fuchsia complement the dining room’s stylish lines - and Chef Fourrière’s exuberant cuisine.
LINK: Le Capu
Grand Café Foy: Consider this classic brasserie your ringside seat on Stanislas Square. During the day, dine al fresco and watch Nancy’s quotidian parade of cyclists, students, and artists as they cross the royal square. In the evenings during the summer months, Grand Café Foy is where you want to reserve a table for the nightly, 20-minute illumination of Stanislas Square. With service until 2 am each morning, Grand Café Foy is lovely in the light of a full moon.
LINK: Grand Café Foy
(Travel feature continues on next pages: Getting There, Additional Info...)
Air France: On Air France, there’s still a middle class - and it is rightfully celebrated.
It’s called Premium Economy, meaning it’s a class above Air France’s economy class - and right behind Air France’s business class.
With Premium Economy, you get many of the same amenities as business class. In Premium Economy, the Air France seats are like your father’s favorite Barcalounger. Meal service in Premium Economy, conceived by Michel Nugues of "Toques du Ciel" (or Sky Chefs), has been designed specifically for this cabin and includes classic French specialties.
As for the price, depending on destination, Premium Economy is approximately 50% less than business class - and sometimes only $400 more than a round-trip economy ticket.
Regardless of which class you choose, Air France is the only airline that offers Champagne to all passengers on its long-haul international flights - at no extra charge.
LINKS: Air France
Air France Premium Economy