Top Attractions in Troyes start in the charming old centre
There’s plenty to see in the central area of Troyes, an important city which became a vital link on the great trade routes between Italy and the cities in Flanders in the Middle Ages. This was the age when the town hosted two huge annual fairs, each of which lasted for three months and brought craftsmen and merchants from all over Europe.
A huge fire in 1524 destroyed much of the city which had become a center for hosiery and cloth making. But the city was wealthy and houses and churches were soon rebuilt and much of what you see today came from the 16th and 17th centuries.
Look at the shape of the old city on a map, and you see something looking like a Champagne cork, which is thoroughly appropriate for the second city of the Champagne region. At the top (to the north east) sits the cathedral and surrounding buildings, encircled by the Seine River. Then the old quarter stretches down over a canal into the medieval streets with their half-timbered buildings and churches. It’s a delightful place to stroll around.
Where to Stay
If you want to book a hotel, try the very pretty and unusual pair of hotels in the ownership of top hotelier and restaurateur, Alain Ducasse. La Maison de Rhodes dates from the 12th century and belonged to the Knights of Malta. Le Champ des Oiseaux is equally impressive. Both have superb rooms and courtyards with medieval gardens.
Cathedral of St-Pierre-et-St Paul
Started in 1208, building continued until the 17th century so you can see the whole regional Gothic style at it evolved over hundreds of years together in one building. The high nave stretches before you to reveal one of France’s largest churches. The stalls and the organ come from the once wealthy and important nearby Abbey of Clairvaux, made famous through the pious Abbot, Bernard of Clairvaux.
But the masterpieces of the cathedral are the stained-glass windows where stories from the Bible are wonderfully depicted in deep rich colors. Some scenes depict medieval life. Like all cathedrals, if possible take a pair of binoculars to get the details of the windows high up in the walls. The windows here are pretty impressive today, so the effect on illiterate medieval peasants who learnt from the windows must have been stunning.
Place Saint Pierre
Open: July to mid-September daily 10am-7pm; mid-September to June 9am to noon & 2-5pm
Museum of Modern Art
Come out of the cathedral and turn left to get to this unexpected, good museum of 19th and 20th century art. The collection of Pierre and Denise Levy, who made their fortune in hosiery manufacturer, is housed in the former Bishop’s Palace (bishops always did themselves proud).
The collection starts with the likes of Courbet, Seurat, Gauguin, Vuillard and Bonnard. The Fauves are particularly well represented, with works by Braque, Derain, Vlaminck and Friesz. But the famous names don’t stop here: you’ll discover art by Rouault, Dufy, Matisse and Balthus and some wonderful Art Deco glass by Maurice Marinot who was born in Troyes. Like many of his contemporaries he was a friend of Levy. There’s also a very good collection of African art.
It’s just big enough to satisfy and give a very good picture of art over 100 years from 1850 to 1950, but not overwhelming. Particularly attractive is the feeling that this was a very private collection that the Levys painstakingly built up with each piece given equal importance in their eyes.
Open: April through October, 10am-1pm, 2pm-6pm. Closed Mondays.
November through March, 10am-1pm, 2pm-5pm. Closed Mondays. Closed Jan 1, May 1, November 11 and December 25Admission: 5.5 euros. Free on first Sunday of the month and for under 18s
Museum of Tools and Trade
Don’t dismiss this museum because of the name -- the Museum of Tools and Trade (or Maison de l’Outil et de la Pensee Ouvrière). Housed in the Hotel du Mauroy, it went from private house to orphanage to a factory for making stocking knitting machines. By the 20th century it was owned by an association of workers which stored a collection of tools and books here. In 1974 it became the Museum of Tools. If you’re at all interested in how objects were made, you must visit this huge and fascinating collection of 10,000 tools used by coopers, wheelwrights, tile-makers, glove-makers, basket makers, masons and just about every trade you can imagine. They are beautiful objects in their own right and show just how ingenious man can be.
It also has a priceless library of 32,000 volumes on the history of crafts, trades and techniques as well as writings by workers and farmers, making it the second largest such library in France.
7 rue de la Trinite
Tel.: 00 33 (0) 3 25 73 28 26
Open October to March Wednesday to Monday 10am-6pm; April to September daily 10am-6pm
Closed January 2-6, Pentecost, December 25th
Admission 7.00 euros; 12 to 18 year olds 3.50 euros, free for under 12s
Sainte Madeleine Church
Sainte Madeleine is the oldest church in Troyes. It dates from 1120, but was rebuilt in 1200 as a supreme example of Gothic architecture. It’s a beautiful church, its main claim to fame being the ornately carved stone rood screen used to keep the priest hidden away from the congregation. Added in the 16th century and one of the few left in France, the screen is remarkable for its ogee arches which hang over the nave unsupported. This is another church with incredible stained glass windows; look out particularly for the windows depicting the Passion and the Tree of Jesse.
When you leave the church, turn left and left again to get into the small, peaceful garden behind the church, planted with green shrubs and white flowers. It's the perfect place to sit and rest.
Rue de la Madeleine
Open: April to October, Monday to Saturday 9:30am to 12:30pm, 2pm to 6pm, Sunday 2pm to 6pm.
November to March, Monday to Saturday 9:30am to 12:30pm, 2pm to 5pm, Sunday 2pm to 5pm
Visiting a Champagne House in Troyes
Troyes is in the Aube, which is the second area which produces Champagne. It's not as well known for the bubbly as Reims or Epernay, but if you enjoy learning about the process and want to visit a Champagne house that is a little different, then book for a visit to Drappier Champagne. This family-owned Champagne house is interesting, following bio-dynamic methods and producing top Champagne at friendly prices.