I don’t want to start this post out by saying that Metz is a hidden gem. It’s cliche, click baity, and really does a disservice to a laid back, livable city that should really be on more people’s radars. This town was one of the first places we ever visited in mainland Europe and it changed what we look for in a city to visit, and how we looked at history in general.
We came through Metz near the start of our four month backpacking trip across Europe. Our very first trip. (semi-luxurious Italian Honeymoon excluded) We had previously stopped in more well known tourist locals London, Edinburgh, Brussels, and were unsure of what to expect. We’d basically picked Metz because we wanted to go to Luxembourg.
Luxembourg, like so many other tiny European nations are not cheap and with the budget we were working with even a night in Luxembourg was out of the question. We needed a place to stay nearby that was on the way to Paris, and Metz seemed to fit that bill nicely, although we knew nothing about it at the time.
Now we know that Metz is steeped in 3,000 years of history that was often at the center of events that would have a profound effect on the rest of Europe. It’s good to know that the Merovingian's, that were descended from the Franks who would later become the French people held their capital there, but what was it actually like?
Every other place we had visited we had some previous knowledge, some previous preconceived notion of what we’d be walking into. Metz surprised us at every turn. Small well preserved Medieval streets gave way to parks and inviting river banks. Sparsely traveled markets stand beside towering cathedrals that you can poke your head into as if you were window shopping. Metz is understated. That is always a good thing when traveling. The more up in your face a place is the more overrated it is. Metz lets you take your time to get to know it.
It doesn’t actually have much to do, but it does. The Cathedral has the largest expanse of stained glass in the world ( 6,496 m2 ), it has the oldest church in France, nice shopping streets, and great eats, but that’s not the best thing we took from Metz.
Before, we had no real concept of what ‘European Time’ was. We had obviously heard the phrase before but it was here in Metz that we began to live it. Until then we were just tourists, going fairly non stop squeezing in every monument, museum, or tour we could. In Metz we spent an entire afternoon chilling by the river with a picnic watching people zip-line through the trees (not entirely sure if this is a Metz thing, but it was happening when we were there!). We even caught a nap (with zip-lining around? Crazy I know!) It’s now one of our favorite activities when traveling. (Picnics, not naps or zip-lining.) Some of our best memories involve a quiet spot some bread and cheese and ourselves. It’s really one of the most essential skills you can have, especially when traveling for a longer time.
The other thing we learned while in Metz was the fluidity of history. Europe has a long history most of us should know that, but we think of recent history as fairly static. While having dinner one night we struck up a conversation with the owner of a small restaurant on on of Metz’s narrow pedestrian friendly (and surprisingly, garbage truck friendly as well) streets. He explained to us that both of his parents were born and raised in Metz and were proud of their city. The only difference, as he explained, was that his Father was born in Germany, his Mother in France. Metz, and the man's Father, had been in Germany until the end of World War I when it was annexed to France as part of the Treaty of Versaille. Instead of resisting change or destroying reminders of the past Metz and its people seem quite happy to to embrace both cultures that shaped it going into the 20th century and eventually entering the European Union.
So, in the end I don’t really care if you think that this blog is cliche or pandering for clicks. I still believe that Metz is a hidden gem, even if the people there haven’t come to understand what they have to offer tourists!