Troyes is a city of art and history, located a brief hour and a half from Paris by fast train. It can be visited as a day excursion, but it is worth a longer look.
The city has existed since Gallo-Roman times. It is said that the city was saved from the wrath of Attila the Hun when bishop St.Loup offered himself as a hostage in the fourth century. The Normans ravaged the city in the ninth century, but subsequently it became the capital of Champagne until the French Revolution. During medieval times, it was an important international trade center. The troy weight for measuring gold originated here, and the British still use the “troy ounce.” Curiously, the form of the city center resembles a champagne cork.
It was here that in 1420, the Treaty of Troyes was signed after the French defeat in the battle of Agincourt. The treaty provided for the betrothal of Henry V of England to Catherine of Valois, daughter of the king of France. Henry thereby became heir to the throne of France.
Today, Troyes is a city of gorgeous half-timbered houses, some lining narrow streets - Cat Alley is so narrow that the houses on opposite sides are joined by their roofs enabling cats to pass from one attic to another. The Seine river runs through the middle of town.
The city boasts ten churches, including a basilica, and several interesting museums. Among these is a museum of modern art housed in the lovely old former episcopal palace. The museum has a fine collection of early twentieth century art and an outstanding collection of glass art.
The House of Tools and Working Class Thought is a museum with a collection of 10,000 17th and 18th century tools for working wood, metal, leather and stone. The hosiery industry was born in Troyes in the mid-eighteenth century, and the first wooden looms dating from the 18th century, as well as stockings, bonnets and vests dating from the early days of the industry can be seen at the Hosiery Museum. The hosiery industry continues to play an important role in Troyes. Troyes now is the center of outlet stores.
Troyes is where the 10th century Jewish scholar Rabbi Rashi was born, and there is a memorial to him near the covered market.
Troyes is also a city of festivals, including music festivals. At the end of October to the beginning of November, the Champagne Nights (www.nuitsdechampagne.com) celebrate songs and music of an invited composer. The festival opens with a rendition of the principal verses of the composer’s chosen work, with both the audience and a 700 strong chorus singing in unison. If you are planning a trip next year, the Town in Music festival runs from the end of June to the end of July and features 100 concerts.
There’s plenty of good food and wine, including champagne from the vineyards in the surrounding area. For a very special place to spend the night, try La Maison de Rhodes, that once belonged to the Order of the Knights of Malta and its sister hotel Le Champ des Oiseaux (www.maisonderhodes.com).