Troyes France: A Medieval Village "Bursting with Romance"
Updated: Feb 1, 2020
Here's my guide to visiting the romantic village of Troyes in the champagne region of France. I almost didn't get to see the little gem. I was on a medieval road trip in northeast France. My travel partner wanted to head back to Paris.
But I was besotted with the notion of visiting just one more village: Troyes, in the champagne region of France. I wasn't ready for my geographical cure to end just yet. I pulled out my Rick Steves guidebook to bolster my argument for seeing Troyes, one lawyer to another.
"See," I said, it says that Troyes is "bursting with romance." He countered, "I've lived in Paris for three years and never heard of Troyes." I counter-countered: "How many half timbers have you seen in Paris?" (Paris, of course, is more noted for Haussmann boulevards than medieval wonders.)
Who could begrudge me a burst of romance? Doesn't everyone periodically need a high end infusion of quixotic romance in their lives, as a counterpoise to the uninspiring sameness of our daily routines?
He could not deny me.
Sniffing out Romance
So having won the debate with riveting flowery language, we drove from Reims to Troyes to sniff out romance and see if we would burst.
The first thing we learned is that Troyes is unpredictably pronounced "twa." But it rolls off the tongue in a languid chic French kind of way.
The next thing we learned is that Troyes has a big heart.
I mean, literally, it has a big heart imbeded along the Canal du Trevois. While the two ton metal sculpture itself is nothing special, the symbolism is. The big heart glows red at night, a symbol of romantic Troyes.
Appealingly, the historic core of Troyes even maps out in the shape of a champagne cork and is called the
"Bouchoun de Champagne." Doesn't that almost make you melt?
The village wasn't planned that way. Champagne corks didn't even exist then. It was just a happy historic coincidence.
Now, to my mind, the way it evolved, without the intervention of practicality or as a cynical tourist draw, is affirmatively romantic.
History of Medieval Troyes
Troyes began as a town of the Gauls.
Under the Roman emperor Augustus, it became the capital of the Gallic tribe known as the Tricasses. Converted to Christianity in the 3rd century, the town was later threatened by Huns, sacked by the Normans, and eventually came under the authority of the counts of Champagne. They in turn established the great merchant fairs, which gained an international reputation and brought Troyes exceptional prosperity.
Now, on the surface, that doesn't sound terribly intriguing or romantic, but the famous "foires de champagne," the medieval fairs, were.
Troyes hosted a "hot fair" and a "cold fair" each year. Merchants from across Europe came to sell their wares. Troyes was a buzzing swashbuckling hive of activity with all the noise and color of the middle ages.
And, even better, the "foire de champagne" has been re-introduced. Now, Troyes holds a modernized festival-like version of the classic fair in late spring. It comes compete with exhibitions, markets, singing performances, roller coasters, and pop-up restaurants.
Oh là là!
Best Things To See and Do in Troyes France
1. Strolling Troyes
Troyes was mostly destroyed in a dramatic conflagration in 1524. But it was promptly re-built and faithfully re-produced, and its 16th century buildings reflect a mix of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
The main activity in contemporary Troyes, one which I wholly approve of, is simply strolling around the well-preserved historic center. There is no need to seek out romance. It will assault you from all angles and, unless you are a complete skeptic, you will be entranced.
Everywhere, there are multi-colored half timbered houses in pastel palettes with vertical, horizontal, and diagonal stripes. The buildings lurch and slouch with an engaging lack of symmetry. Signs dots the buildings, and you will be reminded of the Musee Carnavalet in Paris.
Indeed, Troyes has been described as:
"A city where Love is written with a capital L, where all of the colours of the rainbow come together. It is a place where every lover will feel at home, and a place that should find a home in every lover's heart."
"Troyes is a bit of a revelation, don't you think?" I asked my travel partner, trying to get him to admit he was glad we visited. "Yes," he conceded, with a tiny trace of irony. "I'm already feeling the urge for a glass of champagne at one these darling little cafes."
I could not begrudge him.
2. Ruelle de Chats
On your walkabout, you cannot help but stumble upon the medieval Ruelle du Chats.
In this dark and narrow medieval alley way, miraculously survived from a bygone era, the top of the buildings almost touch. The beams allowed the Troyes cats to go, with utter freedom, from attic to attic. As part of the city's ongoing renovation, three new half timbered buildings were added to the alley in 2014.
3. "City of 10 Churches"
Troyes is called the "city of 10 churches." As our budgeted time for romance was growing short, we took in the main two.
First, we stopped in at the Gothic Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Built between the 13-17th century, it is the quintessence of champenoise Gothic architecture and one of France's largest churches. Much like the Basilica of St. Denis in Paris, the second tower was never completed,
Joan of Arc and Charles VII stopped here on the way to his coronation in
Reims in 1429. There's a plaque commemorating the occasion. The cathedral also has lovely stained glass that may rival nearby Reims Cathedral.
There's also the massive, and more authentically grimy, Basilica of Saint Urbain. The basilica is a classic example of late 13th century gothic architecure. I preferred it over the cathedral, actually.
The basilica was admired by Viollet-le-Duc, a gothic revivalist, and architect of all things frothy and romantic, like Carcassonne, Notre Dame, and Pierrefonds.
4. Troyes' Museum of Modern Art
And there is some cultural heft to go along with all the overwhelming romance and Gothic splendor of Troyes. Tucked behind the cathedral is the Musee d'Art Moderne.
It's an unexpectedly good museum housing a private collection in the bishop's palace. It has an abundance of modern art, especially Fauves, including works by Degas, Rodin, Matisse, Picaso, Modigliani. It's currently closed for renovation and scheduled to re-open in 2020.
My friend couldn't help but sally up to a sculpture and strike a pose. "Is this a burst?, I asked.
Having traversed the village bursting right and left, we were more than a little deflated and hungry. But had no idea where to dine. Normally inclined to seek out a quaint restaurant on a side street, this time, we plopped down in the cluttered main square.
The cafe was in a decidedly tourist area, but hunger called and romance waned. Still, it had a surprisingly imaginative and eclectic menu, not your standard toursist fare despite being on a tourist drag.