Troyes (Grand Est), France May 2023 (Tour 7)

Now Troyes (pronounced Tois), capital of the Department of Aube in the Grand Est Region, is definitely worth visiting, notwithstanding it’s large population (60,000+ people). It has been described as an overlooked gem and I would concur with that description. Our campsite was some 10 kilometres south west of the city but we were quite happy making two trips into the city during our short stay, one in the evening and one during the day.

It’s a pretty city. I have never before seen such a huge collection of colourful medieval buildings in the one place and; all in such fine condition and, more to the point, being used. This is in part attributable to a large fire in 1524 which devastated the place and required almost the whole city to be rebuilt at the same time. It seems that the great majority of those who couldn’t afford to rebuild in stone, went for 4 storey half timbered buildings in pastel colours. I should explain that in those days, local taxes were calculated according to the size of the building’s footprint and so it made sense to build upwards – hence the four stories. The result is very impressive with numerous cobbled streets packed with similar sized leaning structures. The colours too are interesting with the predominantly peach and pistachio pastels now giving way to brighter more vivid blues, reds and yellows.

This building, the Maison du Dauphin has a particularly strong list.

A particularly picturesque street is the very small Maillard Street, now known as the Ruelle des Chats, where the upper floors of the top heavy listing buildings lean so much they have been joined by wooden beams. It was these beams that allowed resident cats to stroll from one building to another and which prompted the name change.

No prize for guessing that the Ruelle des Chats is on the right

Also of interest, to me at least, are the city’s many elaborate churches. Most prominent are La Cathedrale Saint Pierre Saint Paul (parts of which date back to the 13th century), L’Eglise Sainte Madeleine (that’s 12th century with additions in the 16th century), La Basilique Saint Urbain (13th century but significantly updated in the 19th century) and, last but not least, L’Eglise St Jean au Marche where under the 1420 Treaty of Troyes, England’s Henry V (of Agincourt fame) married Catherine of Valois and was recognised as heir to the throne of France. Sadly, I never got to see this last church.

The first of the abovementioned churches, the Gothic style Cathedral of Saint Peter & Saint Paul was built over a period of 400 years between the 13th-17th centuries and it is unusual in that it has only one spire. The city fathers spent all the money that was set aside for the cathedral and there was nothing left for a second spire. Another unusual feature of the cathedral is the amount of stained glass in the building – there’s a staggering 1,500 square metres of glass dating from between the 13th and 19th centuries.

Cathedral of Saint Peter & Saint Paul…

with some of it’s 1,500 square metres of beautiful stained glass windows

The second of the principal churches, and without a doubt my favourite, is the 12th century Church of Sainte Madeleine. It too was built in the Gothic style but what sets this church apart is it’s intricately chiselled stone rood screen which was added early in the 16th century. This church also has the most exquisite stained glass windows which, for my part, are easier to see and understand than those in the Cathedral.

The Eglise de Sainte Madeleine (as seen from the Jardin des Innocents) and a detail of the stone rood screen inside the church…

… and the most incredible stained glass windows from the Troyes School of Stained Glass – the colours are so vivid. The window on the left features scenes from the Book of Genesis.

At the risk of boring you, stained glass windows mounted in blocks such as those in the Eglise Sainte Madeleine are generally read from left to right and from bottom to top. So, bottom left in the first of the above photos (that’s the one featuring the Book of Genesis) the world is created. In the second image from the left, the elements of sky, earth and water are being added. In the third from the left, these elements are separated and in the fourth image on the far right, stars are formed. Moving up to the second row from the bottom, the image on the left reflects the fish and the birds being added to the world and then in the second from the left, the other animals in the world are introduced. Adam is added in the third image from the left and then, on the extreme right of the second row up from the bottom, Eve is added. And so it goes on. Third image from the left in the third row up from the bottom, Cain kills Abel… it’s like reading a comic but starting at the end. Enough about stained glass.

From the outside, the Baslique Saint Urbain de Troyes is the most impressive looking of the big three churches. It owes its existence to Jacques Pantaleon, the son of a local cobbler, who was elected Pope Urban IV in 1261 and he chose to celebrate the life of a predecessor, Urban I, by building the church in his honour.

Saint Urbain, consecrated as a basilica in 1964, was built on the site of his father’s cobbler’s shop.

So what about the rest of the city? It has a great deal more to offer and for the most part it is all easily accessible. Most of the major tourist attractions, whether they be medieval buildings and churches, bars and restaurants or modern shopping opportunities, are tightly packed around the city centre.

We made directly for the centre of the city where, alongside the old canal (the Canal du Trevois which is fed by no less a river than the Seine), a modern stainless steel heart designed by local artists Michele and Thierry Kayo-Houel has been fixed. At night, this heart glows a deep red and the colour begins to pulse as movement sensors pick up on any approaching people. It is very clever and can make for some excellent photo opportunities, especially if the surrounding water jets are turned on.

There are a number of other contemporary statues dotted along the canal and some these too make for ideal photo opportunities, one being a life size statue of “Lili, la dame au chapeau”. I’m surprised Vanya didn’t pose Beanie with Lili but it was the “attendez-moi”, a statue of a dog chasing geese which most interested her.

Lili, la dame au chapeau

Troyes is in the Champagne producing area. Indeed it is the historic capital of the old Champagne-Ardennes Region. It is also the capital of the Aube Department which, after the Marne Department, is the second largest producer of champagne. Having said that, we were surprised not to see a single vine during our drive down from Montreuil sur Mer to Troyes although; we did “see” a lot of champagne bars in the centre of Troyes.

I was intending to go on and write a little about some of the many interesting museum’s here and also about the city’s retail parks (there are three) but since we didn’t visit any of them and because I have been dabbling with this particular blog for over a week, I’m going to finish now. I’ll leave you with my final photo of the heart of the city.

Chalons en Champagne (Grand Est), France May 2023 (Tour 7)

We’re looking to overnight a little way further south at Troyes in the Aube Department of the Grand Est Region but Vanya wanted to sample a glass of champagne sooner rather than later. So we stopped at Chalons en Champagne.

A quick visit to the tourist office and we came away with a map identifying the principal sights of the city (there aren’t that many) and, more to the point from Vanya’s perspective, directions to a highly recommended local champagne bar – Tiffany’s.

We didn’t stay in Chalons en Champagne for very long – there is surprisingly little there to see for a city with almost 50,000 residents. It is more about the surrounding, rolling countryside and vineyards here (we’re in the middle of the champagne producing region) but, in the city centre, there is a particularly impressive church in the predominantly gothic style 12th century Collegiate Church of Notre Dame en Vaux.

The city also has a nice park (Le Jard Parc) and offers boat trips along the River Marne although for the city to be named as yet another Little Venice, as one tourist site has described the place, is really stretching the boat.

It was a nice place to pause for a glass of champagne but it offers little else. Sorry Chalons… but your Champagne is good!

On to Troyes…

Colmar (Alsace, Haut Rhein), France October 2020 (Tour 3)

We arrived late at our campsite on the edge of Colmar by the River L’Ill but the receptionist, bless her, had stayed late to check us in. I stopped at the same campsite two years ago for a few nights and knew it would be open this time of the year but, because of the National Covid Lockdown starting the next day, I wasn’t sure if we would be allowed to stay the two nights we needed (we had to get the dogs seen by a local vet for tapeworm tablets before they would be allowed back into the UK) but, I needn’t have worried. The receptionist told us that whatever happened we could stay the extra night. Again, bless her.

We were happy staying over, it gave us a chance to wander around Colmar, a small town in the Alsace Region of France not far from the German border. Vanya had never seen the place. I walked the largely pedestrian old town on my own that first morning and I have never seen it so quiet. It was the first day of the Lockdown in France and the place was virtually deserted. It was much the same in the afternoon when I showed Vanya around the town.

The old part of Colmar is a labyrinth of cobbled streets and timber framed chalk box coloured houses with steep pitched rooves and wooden shutters and it is truly beautiful. When I last stayed there, in 2017, it was packed (not least because it was the day of the town’s annual 10 km run) and I arrived as the runners were finishing. Not so this time.

What is particularly sad is that prior to our arriving the local authority had been putting up the town’s Christmas decorations. Ordinarily, Colmar has 5 weeks of Christmas Markets which are supposedly amongst the best in France – I suspect that will not happen this year.

I probably mentioned this in my earlier blog on the town in 2017 but, amongst other things, Colmar was the birthplace of Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi who created the Statue of Liberty. The house he lived in is now a museum dedicated to his work and there’s a statue of Bartholdi in the Parc du Chateau d’Eau with him holding a small replica of the statue of “Liberty Enlightening The World”.

Oh, and we made it to the vet. Would you believe it, he charged a staggering 91 Euros for administering two tapeworm tablets?!? Robbery!

Eguisheim, France – Nov 2017

So I did it. I cycled from Colmar to Eguisheim.

More about Eguisheim in a moment (and the town is well worth a visit) but first some advice on getting there. Don’t cycle it or, if you must cycle it, do not rely on the sat-nav in your vehicle for directions. Before setting off I committed the route on my “top of the range Pioneer system” in the Van to memory and left feeling quite confident that I knew where I was heading.  All went well to start with (the cycle paths in this part of France track most major roads and are fantastic) but then, after a really nice fast bit coasting downhill round a bend and bombing along a wholly empty right hand lane I realised I was travelling along the hard shoulder of the motorway to Strasbourg. It was a very sheepish me that dismounted and walked back along the motorway to find an alternative route. I’ll probably figure prominently in the French equivalent of one of those “Cops” TV programmes where they show video from motorway camera. Oh well…

Eguisheim is a lovely place, renowned (at least locally) for it’s fine wines and flowers. Flowers were not much in evidence (it is winter) but I tried a couple of “verre(s) vin blanc de la maison” and they were most enjoyable. It’s not a big town but it is crammed with character as I think the photos will show:-

Needless to say, it is pretty much all pedestrianised. 

I won’t talk about the cycle journey back. There was a railway line and lots of ploughed fields and, honestly, it’s just a bad memory  but, it doesn’t detract from the fact that the town of Eguisheim is magical (and it is so close to Colmar).

Colmar, France (Day 2) – Nov 2017

Staying in Colmar for a couple more days. I need some decent winter tyres for the Van and they cannot be delivered until Wednesday morning. There are worse places to be while waiting for winter tyres but I should have had this done while back in the UK waiting for the house to be sold. My schoolboy French really doesn’t lend itself to a protracted conversation as to the merits of different winter tyres. At least the people at Best Drive Tyres didn’t laugh but I’ll not rest easy until I have seen exactly what it is I have ordered.

Tomorrow I am thinking of cycling (yes, cycling – they say you never forget how) to a place called Eguisheim, a few clicks from here. Eguisheim was recommended to me by a local guy I met today in the Irish Pub (of course there’s an Irish pub here!) as being every bit as nice a place to visit as Colmar. Well, I think that is what he said – He couldn’t speak English (and he was French, not Irish. Lol). Time will tell. I have to get to Eguisheim first without my sat-nav.

Meantime, a few more photos of Colmar:-

Colmar, France – Nov 2017

Rain woke me at 05.00 and prompted an early departure to Colmar (rain sounds much louder in the Van and will take getting used to). It ceased raining as I arrived at Colmar and found Camping de L’Ill (just a mile from the town centre).

Camping de L’Ill has all mod cons (although the swimming pool has been emptied for winter); is situated in very pleasant surroundings (close to a bar/restaurant) and; best of all, at least for the moment, I have it pretty much to myself.

A local, fly fishing on L’Ill

From what I could research and have been told about Colmar I expected something special and I wasn’t disappointed. I’m just back from a 6 hour walk around the town (except for a couple of hours in a very good bar/restaurant that will receive a mention in my trip advisor review when or if Will tells me how trip advisor works) and it is one of the most charming towns I have ever visited.

It was surprisingly quiet even though there was a 10 km fun run taking place which finished in the town centre. This is the advantage of arriving out of season.

No more words; just a handful of the 50 or 60 photos I took although they don’t do the place justice…

I think that is the River Lauch which is a tributary to the L’Ill

Dieue-sur-Meuse, France (Nov 2017)

Needed to cover some ground today and made seriously good time down the motorway from Lille to the little village of Dieue-sur-Meuse, stopping at Epernay on the way for a glass of Champagne. I was in Epernay just last year and it is well worth repeat visits especially when the weather is as nice as today – warm and sunny.

The French motorways are impressive and well worth the toll price.

The stop in Dieue-sur-Meuse was what might be termed a wild camp inasmuch as the village didn’t have a pub. Well, it did but it never opened. Went for a short evening stroll and had a quiet night in with a bottle of the local wine – a Pinot Noir that set me back 3 Euros (I went for the mid price range).

There are worse places to park up for the night

… and, yes, it was a fine evening