Troyes: The City of Ages
Waking up with sunrise on a crisp and cool morning, the sun shining bright, the pavement covered in the rain from overnight I headed to Gare de l’Est.
I was heading for a very quick getaway to catch up with a great friend just at the last possible minute before heading to Greece.
…Only to find that the metro was not open yet, that the train had been delayed and that I was stuck in the station for a prolonged period.
And my short trip was cut even shorter. Despite arriving over an hour late, my host was waiting by the side of the station and we headed off straight away!
Troyes as I found out, from my personal “Troysienne”, is one of the oldest surviving towns in all of France and Europe.
In the heart of this wildly beautiful ancient city the buildings all date from 400-800AD.
Only now that I have stepped outside of Boulevard Peripherique properly and have begun exploring the real France do I comprehend just how amazing rural France is… Yes I have only had a minute snapshot in both space and time but it has opened my eyes to the possibility of greatness.
Troyes is picturesque to put it mildly. Understated glory is held in each ageing wooden beam, the colours of the crumbling lime mortar and the cobbled streets.
Every time you turn a corner you are faced with a new postcard of history literally buckling and leaning into the street almost as if the buildings are alive and trying to impress upon you just how magical they are. The walls here speak to you… They tell you stories of trade and wealth, church and state, war and conquest.
Amazingly this town has stood the test of time, largely undamaged by centuries of battle including both world wars, and was protected for it’s religious and trade value.
With many popes coming from Troyes and the protection of the powerful Catholic Church, Troyes avoided much pillage, plunder and burnings with the aid of a few payoffs. As part of the silk route it managed to take advantage of it’s position and establish itself as a centre of champagne, clothing and hosiery.
It was a centre of learning for many, with philosophical discussion raging and leading to advancement.
This incredible city survives till today and I spent an entire afternoon wandering the streets astounded.
Finally I settled down for something to eat at 2pm at La Tourelle on Rue chapeaux. It may just be the best crepe I have ever had.
First I had a traditional buckwheat gallette with smoked salmon, white asparagus, sautéed potatoes and crème fraiche; followed by the classic flour crepe with butter and sucre – it was insanely crunchy and not overly sweet, simplicity taken to perfection. It’s the hardest to achieve because you can’t hide anything! I had to think long and hard about convincing myself not to have a second crêpes sucrées and then my better judgement lost out to my sense of pleasure and enjoyment – this time I ordered a jus de citron, sucre crêpe with my café noisette.
By the end of my meal I had been leisurely feasting for one hour – it has been too long since I ate this slowly. The coffee was good and I refocused on the next half of the city.
And this is all after I had already bought desserts and chocolates from Pascal Caffet – twice winner of Champion du Monde and twice Meilleur Ouvrier de France for both Chocolate and Pastry – this Pastry Chef and Chocolatier is a living legend and hero. And I was honoured and astounded to be faced by even a small proportion of the glorious desserts he and his company produce for the public in Troyes. There were so many inspirational ideas on show, many of which I hope to experiment with in the future. I’m not impressed often these days – but he managed to make us both very happy indeed.
Not only did I buy a few tarts and éclairs to savour, I also sampled a few of his famous handmade chocolates and bought a few to share later! The store clerk took a liking to me and my clear interest in his product … with each chocolate I pondered he offered me another as a sample to savour with a quick piece of advice “this is really good!” – it is so good when someone is truly passionate about their product. Each of them was the smoothest chocolate with the best flavour!
I was really impressed with the very high quality presentation and the scattering of really innovative creations along with brilliant recreations of the classics.
I just couldn’t help myself in this circumstance; I was relaxed, happy and certainly satisfied.
I had around three more hours until I would reunite with my friend ready to go to the lakes district for a special dinner. So I had to make the time count.
The sky was gloomy and grey and yet the sun was able to shine through holding back the impending storm and gifting me a few pleasurable hours.
It was not humid at all and it was a welcome break from the oppressive humidity of Paris.
The town was certainly busy even for a lazy Sunday afternoon when most of the city had shutdown, somehow, I managed to walk around as if I was the only one on the street.
I walked for another three hours… walking past some unique sights and through beautiful alleys.
My legs were exhausted but I had literally managed to walk around all of central Troyes.
I had visited incredible churches…
Especially, Eglise Saint Madeleine… an absolute masterpiece.
I ventured across the river to wander the old streets…
Walked into two of the most incredible old style hotels in the region that inspired fairy-tale like dreams of old princes and intellectual voyages through medieval Europe – La Maison de Rhodes and Le Champ des Oiseaux.
And I made my way past some modern buildings that reinterpreted the classical features of the older styles in Troyes.
The centre of the city that remains is a maze of cobbled streets lined by half-timbered houses which literally bow into the narrow laneways.
This is quintessentially exemplified by the infamous Rue des Chats, a perfect time weathered street, with the houses overarching the walkway with a multilayered network of beams connecting the houses as they almost touch. It received its eventual name as it is said that cats could slink from one attic to another, now it is an evocative street which gives us the chills of times gone by and the only cat I saw was the one carved into a decorative beam.
Moving further out from the centre the large stone buildings begin to dominate the scene and the trees glow in the sunlight.
Walking through alleys the bricks seemed to talk, telling us all about the amazing things they have seen.
And a golden palace to round out the day.
We met back up at the projects, and decided to make a last minute dash to the Lakes district and have a waterside barbecue.
Only we were in rural France on a Sunday and as such despite generous effort, we were deluded to believe that we would find an open supermarket to buy meat. And so we powered on, driving through a bleak landscape for one hour we made it to what the French flock to as a ‘beach’. Well the lake was lovely, that cannot be denied, but to even use the word beach is an overestimation and over stretch. It is more like small dirty gravel next to a flat body of water surrounded by some greenery. Nevertheless it was special and a great place for a barbecue…
The French aren’t really big into occupational health and safety or public liability and prevention. Fires are lit where-ever one desires… even in forested parks.
I am a big fan of the amazing race, and with the right partner, I might even have a good chance of doing well… I do well in foreign environments and cultures. However, I can now with a clear conscience say that neither of us would do well on survivor. I love comfort and food, but regardless despite a protected amount of time and effort, the fire never really made it far off the ground!! We were getting cold, and the rain began to pour. We gave up finally walking away with our roadside corn harvest and halved zucchini on the grill-pan.
We ate our punnet of intoxicatingly sweet, near alcoholic, strawberries and headed home in the rain to the old town centre for dinner at 10:30 and after reading all the bland menus we settled on a repeat performance of amazing savoury galettes and sweet crepes.
We walked off dinner with another walk around town with the illuminated buildings and streets telling stories of the people and times they have seen.
We went to bed exhausted and I was so satisfied after a great day.
On the second day of life in Troyes, a special drive in the countryside for me, and champagne flowed as if it was tea!
We were invited into the homes of local family producers seeing the true industry below their houses and in their vineyards.
The hillside was simply covered by rows and rows of vines, helping to produce one of the greatest drinks our world has to offer.
After the grapes, and a few purchases of champagne, we went on a bit of a shopping spree at the outlets for Lindt and Hugo Boss!!
On my way back into Paris, as the sun set, I felt a sense of suspense as I was a mere few hours from a departure for Greece.