In the space of four hours, I was transformed from the English milord with a classic Rolls-Royce to Mondeo Man in a hired Ford. The Silver Cloud “declined to proceed” on the motorway, about fifteen miles before Metz. To spare the sensitive reader, I will pass over the stress and anxiety the old dear’s failure caused your correspondent. But the incident served to reinforce the importance of staying at a good hotel. I was at the beginning of an extensive tour of Europe, and the whole itinerary would have collapsed if it had not been for the hero of the hour. The paragon in question is named Philippe, and he is the Concierge of La Citadelle in Metz. He it was who, by arranging train journeys and by contacting the nearest car hire office open on a Sunday (in Strasbourg), saved the day. Thank goodness for him, and thank goodness for La Citadelle in Metz.
Metz is ideally placed for those of us who like to drive from the Channel Tunnel to Switzerland and Northern Italy. It is a long drive, but (as long as your motor car works) it is an easy one – thanks to the wonderful quality of the French motorways. And, just as important, the lodgings I am about to recommend to you are magically close to an exit from the autoroute, and thus is avoided that awful sensation of thinking one has arrived and then finding there is another hour’s trek on minor roads before one can finally draw to a halt.
Metz once possessed a gigantic military fortress. All of it has gone, except for this remarkable edifice, La Citadelle, which was built as an army supplies store in 1559. Four and a half centuries later it was restored, given a bright and stylish interior – with much stone, glass and steel – and opened as the city’s best hostelry, with 79 rooms. Since 2005 it has been attracting those from far and near who like something different from the usual city-centre hotel. Now its chef, Christophe Dufossé, has a Michelin star, so it is an even more attractive establishment in which to stay. (Unfortunately for me, the hotel restaurant – Le Magasin aux Vivres – has always been full when I have stayed, so a report on the dining room will have to await a future visit.)
My billet was on the third floor. Room number 320 was an ‘Executive’ and was therefore 293 euros a night, bed and breakfast for two. Its colours were red, black and grey. I liked the sense of space – I judged the bedroom to measure 18 feet by 15 feet – and I liked even more the absolute quietness. Its windows overlooked the lovely garden square at the front of the building. The air conditioning was effective and the lighting from the five lamps was discreet. Having stowed my suits behind the black, louvred doors of the wardrobe, I sat on the two-seater sofa and tucked into the bowl of (delicious) sliced fruits and berries which had been placed on the coffee table for my arrival. Afterwards I inspected the tiled bathroom. It, too, was modern and comfortable, with one wash basin, a tub, a separate shower and a separate loo. Then it was out for a walk.
Metz is a handsome town and La Citadelle is very close to its major sights. The mediaeval Cathedral of St Etienne has one of the highest Gothic naves in Europe. Those of you who are keen on stained glass will know that the cathedral also has a famous collection, running from the work of 13th century craftsmen to the moody creations in the 20th century of Marc Chagall. On my way back I spied one or two beautiful houses, squashed between the modern cafés and shops. As always, one needs to look up to see what is best.
Breakfast the following morning was served in a room with stone arches, which was open to the main hallway of the hotel. I did not care for the gloomy canned music and I was perplexed by the absence of side plates, but I could find no fault with the food on offer. From the buffet I secured breads, jams, orange juice, pieces of fresh pineapple, melon and kiwi and bacon and scambled eggs. All of these items were first class. A charming young waitress brought to me a chromium pot of coffee, which I poured into a glass cup.
Then it was off on the next leg of my journey. I had expected to be settling back into the pleated leather of the Royce (but she was already on her way back to Blighty, on a trailer). Instead, I was taken to the railway station in the hotel car by the miracle-working Concierge, Philippe – who made sure I and my many suitcases (for I do not travel lightly) were safely installed on the right platform for the Strasbourg train, before he made his farewells. I was grateful to him. And I was grateful to the hotel in Metz. The crisis had been overcome and I had enjoyed solid, sustaining hospitality – which is exactly what I want in a good stopover hotel. And La Citadelle is precisely that: a good – a very good – stopover hotel.
5 avenue Ney, Metz 57000, France.
Telephone +33 (0)3 87 17 17 17
Fax +33 (0)3 87 17 17 18
Double rooms from 185 euros, breakfast extra (24 euros each)