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Visiting Lac de Madine, eastern France: natural heritage, artificial creation

Updated on May 24, 2013
Flag of France
Flag of France | Source
Lac de Madine, seen from the Mound of Montsec
Lac de Madine, seen from the Mound of Montsec | Source
Sailing on the Lac de Madine
Sailing on the Lac de Madine | Source
Map location of Lorraine province, France, where the Lac de Madine is situated.
Map location of Lorraine province, France, where the Lac de Madine is situated. | Source

Reflections on scenic artificialities in an historic French province

This is a remarkable lake. Eastern France's Lac de Madine is a scenic lake which attracts many tourists, who take advantage of its beaches for bathing and its waters for sailing.

And it's quite big: its surface is 11 square km, bigger than New York's Lake Placid , bigger than Ullswater in England's Lake District.

So what is especially remarkable about it? It is entirely artificial.

It is situated within the Natural Regional Park of Lorraine (Parc naturel régional de Lorraine ). One of the best views of Lac de Madine may be gained from the Mound of Montsec (Butte de Montsec ). Nearby also, there is an impressive American pillared monument to World War 1 war dead.

Within the lake, there are two islands: the île Verte , and the île du Bois-Gérard . Various fish are found in its waters, including perch and carp. Controlled fishing is practised. A number of heavily wooded promontories form fjord-like features within the lake.

At Nonsard-Lamarche, on Lac de Madine , a port has been created with berthing for over 100 small boats. A sailing school exists at nearby Heudicourt, along the shores of the lake from Nonsard-Lamarche.

Artificialities and projections

So does its artificiality make the lake somehow less 'authentic' than other, naturally occurring lakes? I do not think so.

Local writer Maurice Barrès (1862-1923) explored the idea of the importance of rootedness in rural Lorraine from the perspective of the local individual being part of a greater national whole. Thus, local roots and topography are seen as a bridge to that greater whole, and thus also the way one chooses to see one's local roots is itself a psychological construction and projection — whether or not one views this as artificial.

By way of application, for local topography to be altered by the creation of a feature such as an artificial lake need not be viewed as injurious to rural heritage — indeed, it may enhance it. In fact, in topographical terms, the question even suggests itself: wherein lies the boundary between artificiality and reality?

Psychological aspects of boundary projection impressed on my mind, as, on a windswept day when I visited Lac de Madine , I considered the fact that departmental boundaries run through the lake: part of the eastern boundary of the Meuse department and part of the western boundary of the Meurthe-et-Moselle department. (Interestingly, between 1871 and 1919, part of the international boundary between France and Germany ran along the eastern side of the Meurthe-et-Moselle department.) A recurring question is thus suggested by the existence of political and administrative boundaries projected upon an artificial lake such as the Lac de Madine : what does such a place as this teach us about the nature of artificiality and reality? There is no easy answer to this toposemantic conundrum.

(Note: Based on writings of this local writer, Barrès , I have elsewhere discussed the psychological and territorial roots of national identity in: MJ Fenn, The Egotistical Basis of Barrès's Nationalism: Its relevance to the case of Saunders Lewis Unpublished Master of Philosophy thesis, University of Wales, 1989.)

Whatever reflections may be suggested by Lac de Madine to different visitors, it is certainly a memorable and scenic place.

Also worth seeing

Montsec (see also above; distance from Nonsard-Lamarche: 15 kilometres), a small village, the surrounding area of which, by its mound (Butte de Montsec ) was the scene of heavy fighting in World War 1 in 1918, some of which occurred in the final hours before the Armistice in November of that year. A monument maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission was erected in 1932.

Metz (distance: 57 kilometres), historic city with an ancient cathedral and a second, monumental, cathedral-like church built under German rule, following annexation of part of Lorraine after 1871.

Nancy (distance: 58 kilometres), historic city with its place Stanislas , an architectural gem dating from the 18th century.

Verdun (distance: 44 kilometres), with its sombre Ossuary monument commemorating the huge numbers of French fallen at Verdun in World War One.

Nennig , Germany (distance: 112 kilometres), on the Mosel River , has a well preserved mosaic within the remains of Roman villa and a which may be visited.


How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York Newark to Paris (Aéroport Paris-Charles de Gaulle ), from where car rental is available (distance from Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport to Nonsard-Lamarche: 305 kilometres). In addition, via stopovers, Air France, Delta and KLM , which have a code-sharing agreement, operate flights from New York to EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg, from where car rental is available (distance from EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg to Nonsard-Lamarche: 264 kilometres). Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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