Troyes is the former capital of Champagne and is a perfect short trip visit from Paris. At just an hour and a half by train it can be a day trip but a couple of days and an overnight stay would be better because there’s so much to see and do in this lovely, vibrant city.
A town that is shaped like a Champagne cork in Champagne
Troyes is an ancient city, once a Roman town with a direct road from Milan and onwards to Boulogne-sur-Mer on the Opal Coast in the north of France – the route for the invasion of Britain. Later the rich and powerful Counts of Champagne built a palace in Troyes and it was a prosperous place that attracted merchants from all over Europe. The counts fortified their town and though at that time Champagne didn’t even exist, the walls took the form of a Champagne cork.
Following a huge fire in 1524 that destroyed many of the ancient buildings that were constructed from wood, new brick buildings were erected and many of them remain to this day. Indeed the inhabitants of Troyes lived in these buildings pretty much as they had been for hundreds of years right up until the 1950s. It was a decade when the town council went on a bit of a renovation rampage to improve conditions since many of the old buildings had no bathrooms and poor hygiene conditions.
Fortunately they didn’t destroy too much and visiting Troyes is like stepping back in time. Every street seems to have its quota of half-timbered houses and there are cobbled streets and tiny alleyways that create a mesmerising maze in the centre of the old town of Troyes. In the little ruelle des Chats (Cats Alley) you’ll see it is so narrow that the houses lean in and touch via a central gutter at the top and cats could cross from houses on both sides of the roads. At the side of the office of the Mutuelle Societe at 111 rue Emile Zola you can enter a gate and at the back you’ll discover a stunning renaissance house looking exactly as it did when it was built. At the Cour du Mortier d’or, the ancient timber frames still bear the workman’s trademarks.
Historic and poetic
Everywhere you go here you’ll discover traces of history from hundreds of years ago, quaint, quirky and irresistibly charming…
12th Century poet Chrestien de Troyes, the father of the modern novel was born in Troyes; Henry V married Catherine of France in 1420 at the city’s Eglise St Jean au Marché and Pope Urbain IV was born there in 1185 and his remains are buried at the 13th Century Basilique Saint Urbain. King Louis X married in the town, and Anne of Bugundy married the son of Henry IV of England there – it was for a while the wedding spot of choice for the celebrities of yesteryear.
They say that Troyes is a city of love and it certainly has a romantic past. The legendary story of Heloise and Abelard is remembered in their letters held at the Troyes library. A passionate affair between pupil and professor resulted in a child and a very upset uncle who had the unfortunate professor castrated for his sins. The young couple entered religious orders but their love remained and they stayed in touch by writing.
Things to see and do
Troyes is home to a unique collection of stained glass windows going back a thousand years, indeed Troyes is called the “holy town of stained glass”.
Here you’ll find one of the largest retail outlets in France, just outside the city. Savvy Parisians flock to shop here and when the sales are on in January it is very popular indeed. Troyes was the French capital of hosiery in the 1800s and still a centre for production, known for its lingerie shops.
There are nine museums in Troyes including the Maison de l’Outil et de la Pensée Ouvrière is an unusual and charming museum dedicated to hand tools dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. Located in the rather unique Hotel de Mauroy there is an impressive collection of 20,000 tools and ranging from the ornamental to the practical.
The Hôtel-Dieu-le-Comte houses a fabulous collection of pill boxes, medicine boxes and jars for lotions and potions in an apothecary that just as it did when it was created in the early 18th Century.
Troyes is known as the”town of ten churches” and is famous for its magnificent Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul. Its Gothic splendour, begun in the 12th Century remains unfinished, the tower of St Peter completed, the tower of St Paul never started. It doesn’t matter, the 180 amazing stained glass windows, created over four centuries from the 1400s won’t fail to impress.
At the Sainte Madeleine Church is a little memorial garden in honour of the children buried there over the centuries. It was said that unbaptized children were buried against the ancient walls of the 12th Century church, when it rained, the water cascaded from the roof tiles on the children and baptised them so that they would go to heaven.
Troyes is broken up into eight areas: Saint-Jean district or the Champagne Fairs district, Canal district, Arts district, Les Halles district, Saint-Nizier district, the old Jewish quarter, Cité district, Madeleine district. Pick up a map from the tourist office, wear comfortable shoes and explore this lovely city.
Take a break
The very popular Saint Jean Quarter is chock full of lively restaurants and brasseries ranging from haute cuisine to homely fare. The andouillette de Troyes is much loved by locals who’ll tell you it is a delicious sausage – but those with a bit of a squeamish outlook on food might like to know its made from tripe. There are some wonderful bakeries, patisseries, cheese shops and charcuteries and you’ll find a market every day of the week in the town (there are several different markets) as well as a lovely 19th Century Halles (indoor covered market).
As you’d expect, wine and Champagne figure high on the menu here and the town is surrounded by Champagne vineyards. As you sit sipping a glass of Champagne, contemplating the intoxicating and colourful charm of Troyes you’ll be glad you went there.
Accommodation: I stayed at the gorgeous Hotel de Poste right in the historic entre of Troyes www.hotel-de-la-poste.com. Check out the Troyes tourism website for lots of ideas for places to stay to suit all budgets.
http://en.tourisme-troyes.com/ Troyes tourist office is also the first “doggy tourism” office in France! Dog owners will be given a warm welcome and a useful information pack and dogs will be offered a welcome bowl of water!