Bar-le-Duc lies midway between Reims and Nancy, 2½ hrs from Paris. It is a “Town of artistic, architectural and historic interest” (Ville d'art et d'histoire) and one of the “most beautiful detours in France” (plus beaux détours de France) surrounded by woodland.
The town is in the south-west of Meuse and is its “county town”. As its name indicates, it was once the capital of the Duchy of Bar and it is filled with fantastic buildings and historic features that take you on a journey back through time.
The Upper Town – an architectural treasure dating from the Renaissance period
Download our Bar-le-Duc heritage walk and enjoy a tour lasting more than an hour through one of the most beautiful Renaissance districts in Lorraine. See its private mansions, a reminder of a rich history. The freestone used to build them gives them a very particular colour and an atmosphere all their own. The uniformity of the architecture has been beautifully preserved by making this a “conservation area”, ensuring that the buildings come under the protection of architects at the Bâtiments de France authority.
On Place Saint-Pierre, you’ll see the Flamboyant Gothic St. Stephen’s Church (église Saint-Etienne), which houses two of the most striking works by Ligier Richier – “Calvary” (Le calvaire) depicting Christ and the two thieves and, more particularly “The Corpse” (Le transi), a memento mori depicting a skeleton with its left arm raised and its hand holding its heart. The work was commissioned from the artist by the wife of René de Châlons, who wanted a reminder of her husband four years after his death.
On the way, you’ll see major historic monuments such as the Romanesque gate, the clocktower, part of the town’s fortifications, most of which were demolished during the reign of Louis XIV, and the observation platform on Rue des Grangettes which gives a 180-degree panoramic view of the lower town. Further down, the “New Castle” was built on the esplanade of the mediaeval castle in the 16th century; it now houses the collections from the museum (Musée Barrois).
Musée Barrois, the former castle of the Dukes of Bar
Step into this museum in the heart of the Renaissance district in Bar-le-Duc and you’ll find exhibits dating from prehistoric times to the 20th century, with special emphasis on local heritage. The museum also hosts a number of temporary exhibitions during the year and games are available for children in the form of booklets. During the school holidays, children can take part in “Little Ligier” arts and crafts workshops based on the museum’s collections or the town's heritage.
When you’ve finished visiting the museum, take a stroll in the formal “French-style” gardens that provide the backdrop for the RenaissanceS Festival.
The RenaissanceS Festival, an event not to be missed
One of the “must see” events in Meuse is the RenaissanceS Festival held every year during the first weekend in July. It brings together an unusual, and mind-blowing, selection of street entertainment, circus acts and music. Every year, an innovative programme creates magical meetings between performers and the general public in ways that are totally unexpected.
The lower town and a scattering of treasures
The lower town should not be sidetracked by its twin sister up the hill!
Go for a stroll and you’ll find hidden treasures scattered here and there. It’s only a short walk from the Gilles de Trèves College (1571) described by Montaigne as "the most beautiful townhouse in France", to milestone 0 marking the start of the Sacred Way or Marbeaumont Castle. Of course, you may prefer to hire a Michaux pedal-driven velocipede, a prodigious invention by a father and son team commemorated on a memorial at the corner of Rue Maginot and Rue du Bourg. Another example of expertise from Bar-le-Duc is the knitting wool produced by the Bergère de France factory and you can book a colourful guided tour throughout the year at the Meuse Grand Sud tourist office. You might also be tempted by “Bar caviar” from Anne Dutriez’ "A la Lorraine" kitchen, which makes jam with redcurrants deseeded using a goose quill. It’s a delight for your tastebuds and one much loved by celebrities such as Mary, Queen of Scots, Alfred Hitchcock, President Raymond Poincaré etc.