Darney is a curious little French town of some 1,200 inhabitants. Just one kilometer on the outskirts of town is a monument that honors the unique relationship between Darney and the Bohemian Czech people that will have you scratching your head. Believe it or not, Bohemian glassmakers have been immigrating to Darney and the surrounding forests for hundreds of years. They’ve put down roots, consolidated cultures, and kept links with the old country. It was because of this connection that a Czech foreign legion existed near Darney during World War I. The presence of the Legion dated back to 1917 but on June 30, 1918, the Legion proclaimed the independence of the Czech state in Darney in the presence of then French President Raymond Poincare and resistance leaders like Edvard Benes, future Prime Minister and President of Czechoslovakia. This amazing past is remembered by a solemn modern obelisk and historic train car in a field that once sat the Czech Legion’s Camp Kleber. Notice the town hall’s glasswork that pays tribute to the area’s Czech ancestry and see what other remnants of this past you can notice.
Emaux de Longwy
The walled outpost of Longwy sits close to the Luxembourg border and as a result, has become a famed outpost on the French frontier. Here too, Vauban put his touches on a more common star-shape fort surrounding the main town and accessed through the quintessential Porte de France. But even after it outgrew its constraining walls, Logwy developed as a center for the production of enamels. The Faïenceries Longwy was founded after the French Revolution by Charles Regnier in a converted convent on the outskirts of town. Between 1798 and 1816, the faïencerie produced renowned quality enamels, inspected and promoted by none other than Napoleon. Only after 1835, however, with the introduction and popularity of “japonism” did the successors of the faïencerie develop a special method of replicating authentic Asian patterns on ceramics and voila! Emaux de Longwy was born. From the mid 19th century through the present, Emaux de Longwy has moved with the winds and managed to reinvent itself, first with an Art Deco version of japonism and then moving out of this motif entirely after World War II. Today, Emaux de Longwy is celebrated as the world’s only producer of ceramic cloisonné enamels and identified as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of France. Be sure to check it out this fine artwork for yourself at the Faïenceries or city museum.
Canal Marne au Rhin
There is no doubt that Alsace-Lorrain is a historically significant industrial area. It tumultuous history back and forth between empires and states illustrates this fact. From the mines along the Luxembourg border, it became necessary early in France’s industrial revolution to transport raw and finished goods. Throughout France, commerce was prodded along first by canal. The canal does just that, it connects the Rhine (or Rhin) at Strasbourg to Vitry-le-François on the Marne River where it connects then to the Seine and Paris beyond. This is not to mention the countless other canals that feed into Marne au Rhin. As the main east/west artery, therefore, the Marne au Rhin is central to the region’s economy and culture. Completed in the mid-1850s, the canal stretches a total of 314 kilometers through 178 locks and several impressive features including tunnels and the plan incline de Saint-Louis-Arzvillier. Although the canal is more than 150 years old, major investment has been made to deepen portions of the channel as late as the 1960s and construct additional features like the plan incline, which wasn’t commissioned until 1967. Try it out for yourself by renting a boat and enjoy cruising the canal on a relaxing vacation.
A Legend that Keeps Flowing
If you don’t know Vittel, you at least know its primary export – water. Located in the foothills of the Vosges Mountains, the sleepy town of Vittel boomed in the mid-1800s after a man named Louis Bouloumié discovered a thermal spa with restorative powers just north of town. This resort was said to cure ailments such as gout, diabetes, and bladder and urinary tract infections. The resort grew into a grand spectacle with an opulent hotel, thermal pavilion, and baths, as well as other accoutrements within the larger Thermal Park containing a hippodrome, golf course, tea room, and luxury gardens. It is no wonder then that such famous waters be bottled and shipped across the nation. In fact, the Bouloumié family started the water company in 1975 as a way for guests to continue therapy away from the resort. Today, the company operates a massive bottling and production plant immediately west of Vittel center and on a primary railroad line. This facility originated in 1930 and produces 35,000 bottles per hour. Where Bouloumié family fully owned the company until 1969, this family-founded company is now owned by Nestle and is a major sponsor of the Tour de France.