A few months ago, David-Nicolas and I traveled to the beautiful city of Nancy, in eastern France’s Lorraine region. It’s surprising I’d never been, since I’m a huge fan of Art Nouveau – the École de Nancy was the major force behind the Art Nouveau movement in France at the beginning of the last century. Little did I know what was in store for us!
So we walked. And walked. The Office de Tourisme graciously provided us with a special “Art Nouveau Itinerary” and we weren’t disappointed with the quantity and quality of Art Nouveau structures around town, not to mention the famous École de Nancy Museum. We also toured the Villa Majorelle, built by major Art Nouveau player Louis Majorelle, whose famous fireplace I’d only seen (and drooled over) in books. Being up close and personal with all those sinuous lines and stained glass panels was breathtaking!
One day though, in need of trees and a walk in the country, we decided to explore the area around Nancy. The day was deepest gray and stark as we set out in our little rental car. (And I thought February in Paris was rough!) But we hopped in and set out as we usually do: David-Nicolas navigates with skill, and I drive, since like many native Parisians, David-Nicolas has no driver’s license. Which actually works out pretty well for an obsessive backseat driver like myself – I’m happiest behind the wheel!
The Versailles of Lorraine
We set out for Lunéville, about a 40-minute drive from Nancy for “normal” people. But by the time we’d stopped in the most improbably quiet villages, had our coffee surrounded by the 1970s decor that you’ll find in most provincial cafés, and hunted down the defunct and fascinating beer factory we’d seen in the distance, it probably took us more than an hour to reach the Château de Lunéville.
Built between 1703 and 1720, the “Versailles of Lorraine” was as austere as it was impressive. Charles III, Henri II, and François III all lived there, but the most famous resident of the château was Stanislas Leszczyński, king of Poland, Duke of Lorraine, and father-in-law to Louis XV.
Rum baba and madeleines
King Stanislas built the largest plaza in Nancy, now named after him of course, and more importantly, he was a fan of the arts and a fin gourmet. The famous rum baba was allegedly invented by one of his chefs, and the first madeleines were thought to have been baked by Madeleine Paumier in the Lorraine around 1730: she made them for good old King Stanislas! I’ll be speaking about this, and about the history of other French pastries in Virginia soon, so if you happen to be there on June 1st or June 8th, come and listen in French!
But my most surprising discovery at the Château de Lunéville came from the gift shop – you know, the one you always have to walk through to exit? Normally I breeze right through those shops, but this one had liqueurs, games, and magazines, like Modern Duchess.
Would you make a good king’s mistress?
A spoof on Femme Actuelle, this magazine has articles on fashion (“Never without my hoop skirt!”), beauty, and interior decoration (“How to furnish your state bedroom”). It also featured a titillating test that provided lots of laughs when I took it with a friend: “Would you make a good king’s mistress?” (Known euphemistically as a favorite in French.)
And the recipes of a modern duchess? A bit complex: a hare (or jackrabbit) terrine, and a dessert with lots of eggs, even more egg yolks, and hard-to-find ingredients like cookies from the Savoy and praline orange flowers. I love a good challenge in the kitchen, but I also like to eat and share the recipes I make with friends. If I find a hare at my butcher’s, you’ll be the first to know, but in the meantime, I’m sharing with you this recipe for Duchess potatoes – easy to make and even easier to eat!