We chose Troyes on a whim in the midst of a fog we created ourselves, having left most of our wedding preparations until the week before the actual event. Months before, we'd purchased cheap tickets in and out of Paris and figured we'd have plenty of time to plan the rest of our three week honeymoon. But the weeks slipped by, and nothing got booked. We found ourselves in a panic, worried that we'd deplane in Orly in a red-eye delirium, get into an enormous argument and immediately divorce. Our ultimate aim was Lake Annecy, a favorite since our last trip to France, but the drive from Paris is over six hours and deemed too likely to result in a car accident after hopping jet-lagged off an overnight flight from Newark. We stuck our fingers on a map to see what was two hours or less away from Orly, landed on Troyes and booked an apartment on AirBnB.
If you just want the bullet-point recommendations on how to spend 48 hours in Troyes, skip to the bottom!
It turns out a flight from Newark to Orly is less than five hours - not nearly enough time to get anything approximating REM sleep. After picking up our Firefly rental, we jumped on the highway to get to our lodgings before either of us collapsed.
We chose our AirBnB based on location and the presence of a kitchen, thinking we'd spend the trip cooking many of our own meals. This was part cost-effectiveness and part because the markets in France are so overflowing that it's a shame to miss the chance to buy produce and use it. However, after a shopping run at the local supermarche, we realized we had no ability to use a convection oven without clear English instructions, and the cooking goals were thusly abandoned for the rest of the trip.
AirBnBs in France have different rules than the typical American AirBnB based, in part, on greater ecological friendliness - including requiring that you do 100% of your own cleaning, and using appliances sparingly, as apartments are not as geared towards being able to run your blowdryer, washing machine, dishwasher and oven at the same time as we might be used to - and we had trouble boiling water for tea while doing our first load of laundry. This was due entirely to lack of preparation our part - lesson learned.
The first-day goal was to stay awake until a proper bedtime and try to jump ourselves onto the correct timezone. The major task here is to stay on your feet, since any sitting (or God forbid lying!) down is doom. We put on our walking shoes and got right out into the streets to follow sunset all around the back alleys of the central old town until dark.
Troyes, like so many towns in France, is layered in medieval history. It claims to be the birthplace of the idea of modern romance, the novel, and a pit stop for Joan de Arc. It's also the capital of the Champagne region of France - Champagne being the only region in the world where anything officially called Champagne can be grown and made, per the French government. The guidebooks will tell you that the city center of Troyes is shaped like a champagne cork (which ambiguously resembles the tip of a certain anatomical member when outlined on a map...) but this is impossible to determine from the ground level, where you'll be otherwise distracted by the plethora of historic buildings left untouched by the last eight hundred years of European warfare.
On the first night, we had dinner in the tourist district at a restaurant called Le Chat Noir (forgive us - we were tired). We dove right in and ordered the regional tasting menu. First course was a goat cheese salad and a tasting of Prunelle, the local sweet (and very strong) spirit. Main course consisted of a giant bed of French fries and the local Andouillette.
Now, Andouillette might sound like andouille, both being sausages. And we all love sausages, right? Turns out - we discovered after sniffing our meat prior to putting it in our mouths - that andouillette has no relation to andouille and, rather than pertaining to a specific set of seasonsings, it is rather a specific part of the pig or cow. A part that smells very strongly of the substances that passes through said part of the pig or cow.
So, like a couple of typical Americans, we left all of the butt sausage on our plates. And then spent the rest of our time in France staggering out of restaurants to evade the nauseating smell of andouillette, a staple of the locals consumed at both lunch and dinner. An acquired taste, no doubt.
We made a point to wake up the next morning as early as we could to avoid the dreaded jetlag oversleep, and got out the door after two hours of the aforementioned fight with the convection stove and washing machine. We hit the local Tourism Office - two blocks from our apartment and a wealth of information - to buy the 12 Euro walking audiotour that includes passes to all the key museums in town. It was ambiitous, we were told, to hit that many museums in one day, but we figured pre-paying for the discounted rate would give us the leisure to pop in and out as we pleased without having to stick to a certain time allottment to feel like we got our money's worth. We didn't get to take full advantage, but still recommend checking this option out if you're ever in town.
The walking tour took us to key sites to give us history and information, and included a chocolate tasting in the local market.
We stopped for lunch across the street from the market to enjoy the sunlight and good weather and indulge in the mid-day wine that the Europeans are so famous for at Comptoir des Halles. This might have been the only time on the entire trip where we hit lunch at the proper lunch hour, rather than trying to find food at 3 PM after all the restaurants have shut down before re-opening for dinner service.
We stayed so long at lunch enjoying the October breeze and the carafe of wine that we eventually ventured off of our walking tour and did things at our own pace to give us more times to pop into the various museums, including:
The museums are small enough that you can breeze through them fairly quickly, which makes the Troyes Tourism passes even more worthwhile. The Tool Museum, in particular, is housed in a gorgeous medieval building that is well-worth seeing on its own, while the museum contents are a loving and extensive collection of the hand tools that make civilization run, arranged in such beautiful displays that they become art pieces on their own.
Troyes Cathedral was another highlight, dating back to the 1200s and constructed entirely of cool, gray stone that gives the building and the stained glass inlay particular architectural weight. The Gothic Cathedral is well-known for the large collection of expert stained-glass, although having popped into Chartes Cathedral several years ago on a road trip, we have to admit we are spoiled on the caliber of stained glass found throughout the French churches.
The last (best) thing we did in Troyes was to do some actual research for our second night's dinner rather than wandering into a restaurant unknown. Aux Crieurs du Vin came unanimously recommended and is worth the trip to Troyes all on its own. Roughly 75% wine cave and 25% restaurant, with limited tables and a limited menu, the food was bar none one of our finest meals in France, and included terrines, pork belly, butternut squash ceviche, and lamb. Best of all, the server was able to recommend a small batch wine to us that we both loved - so much so that we drank one bottle on site and carried a second bottle back to Los Angeles with us. Highly recommend you get your hands on a bottle of this if you can, and all the better if you can order it in Spanish after discovering that's the common language between yourself and your French bartender.
We stumbled through the cobblestoned streets back our apartment after the meal and fell dead sleep by 9 PM, headed the next day out into the Champagne countryside and on to Annecy.
Key Takeaways for Travelers:
Stay - AirBnB, as close to the city center as possible.
Drink - Prunelle. Over ice cream, ideally.
Do - Troyes Tourism Walking Tour. Home base for a tour by rented car or bicycle of champagne country if you've got the time.