Journey Back in Time: Troyes

Today we have a fantastic day trip to the city of Troyes, in the Aube district, capital of the Champagne-Aube region. It was about 2 hours from our resort by car – a lovely trip through massive fields of potatoes, corn, sunflowers, tiny villages of old stone houses with shutters and iron gates, past lakes and woods. It helped that the weather was absolutely beautiful today. Blue sky, sun, temperature about 23C. Just perfect for sightseeing: t shirt weather but not hot enough to break a sweat.

Parking was easy in an underground carpark very near the cathedral. It cost 3 euro for the day. Troyes is absolutely beautiful. Defined by rivers and canals, some with beautiful sculptures set into the water, 17th and 18th century squares and elegant houses, giving way to the heart of the city which is a colourful festival of timbered houses, narrow streets, narrower alleys, mostly dating to the 16th century, although some are older. There was a serious fire in the 1400s which destroyed a lot of the city, and it was rebuilt giving a unique insight into a town of the times which has been preserved and cherished. Weirdly, the old town area when seen from the air forms the shape of a champagne cork!

There are any number of large and beautiful churches plus a cathedral. The cathedral is being restored at the moment and is sadly closed other than for services but we visited the Basilica of St. Urbain. This lovely old church dating to about 1260 has an interesting story. Jacques Pantaléon (c. 1195–1264) was the son of a shoemaker in Troyes. He studied at the Cathedral school for a short period, then moved to Paris to study theology at the Sorbonne. He rose through the church hierarchy and was appointed Patriarch of Jerusalem in 1255. He was elected pope in 1261 and chose the name of Pope Urban IV. In May 1262 he announced that he would build a cathedral in Troyes dedicated to Saint Urban, his patron saint. For the church site, Urban IV purchased several houses around the building that had housed his father’s workshop. So…. built by a shoemaker Pope. Lovely inside and surrounded by a square with gorgeous flower arrangements.

The old town is fantastic to just walk around and explore. The 16th century buildings are so beautiful and so atmospheric! Many of them have restaurants or bars in the bottom of them and I’m sure Troyes must be a very lively spot at night in tourist season. We had a map from the tourist office that details the streets and alleyways and suggests two walking routes.

But first! Lunch! We went to a lovely bistro in the Ruelle des Chats (Cat Alley), called Chez Felix. The little passageway gets its name apparently because in medieval times, cats could sit on the roofs and jump between buildings. It is probably one of the best indications of what the city centre would have been like in medieval times, before the fire. Very, very narrow lanes with crooked houses, a drain down the middle, overhanging building above. Lunch was delicious. We ate on the terrace which overlooked a beautiful garden called Jardin Juvenal-des-Ursins, a re-imagined garden from medieval times, with potagieres in a formal arrangement.

We took the lunch formula at Chez Felix which was 16 euro for 2 courses. There wasn’t a choice but it was really good. We started with a little cup of cauliflower soup as an amuse bouche while we studied the menus…. and of course….. bread…. good bread. The entree was some fantastic local ham draped over a Russian salad of fresh carrot, potato and peas, none of which had come out of a tin. Then, we had a fillet of black pollock in a saffron cream sauce on a bed of vegetable rice. It was absolutely delicious, especially the sauce. Service was very nice and friendly.

After lunch, more walking and gazing…… we both agreed that Troyes would be an excellent weekend destination, it deserved longer than we had and we’d both like to see it by night.

One of our objectives today was slightly less enjoyable. We had to get a covid test for our return on Sunday. It could be pcr or antigen. The chap in the tourist office had directed us to the Champagne Expo Centre in town where they were doing walk in tests, so we went there about 230. Indeed it was a walk in. They offered us an antigen or a pcr test – the antigen would give us the results in 15 minutes, the pcr within 24 hours. Quite impressive. What was more impressive was that both tests were free…… I’m not sure this is really right, to be honest. I thought they’d stopped giving free tests to tourists back in July, however, we decided not to argue, and went for the antigen one. It was efficiently organised and we had our results 20 minutes after arriving. It was probably the most deeply probed test I’ve had…… but thankfully, negative, and we left with our paperwork in hand.

Got back to the Marriott at around 5pm and had a roast chicken for dinner. Weather still absolutely gorgeous although apparently the rain is back tomorrow.

What a lovely day!