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The inhabitants of Troyes would be dismayed if you mistook them for Burgundians. After all, Troyes is the historic capital of the counts of Champagne, but we retain it here—closer to Burgundy's treasures—because it's some 80 km (50 miles) south of the heart of Champagne province. Troyes was also the home of the late-12th-century writer Chrétien (or Chrestien) de Troyes who, in seeking to please
his patrons, Count Henry the Liberal and Marie de Champagne, penned the first Arthurian legends. Few, if any, other French town centers contain so much to see. In the Vauluisant and St-Jean districts, a web of enchanting pedestrian streets with timber-frame houses, magnificent churches, fine museums, and a wide choice of restaurants makes the Old Town—Vieux Troyes—especially appealing.
Keep an eye out for the delightful architectural accents that make Troyes unique: essentes, geometric chestnut tiles that keep out humidity and are fire resistant; and sculpted poteaux (in Troyes they are called montjoies), carvings at the joint of corner structural beams. There's a lovely one of Adam and Eve next door to the Comtes de Champagne hotel. GPS-equipped audioguides (€4), available from the Troyes tourist office, will help history buffs make the most of a visit here. There’s enough to keep shoppers content, too. Along with its neighbors Provins and Bar-sur-Aube, Troyes was one of Champagne's major fair towns in the Middle Ages. The wool trade gave way to cotton in the 18th century when Troyes became the heartland of hosiery; today Troyes draws millions of shoppers from all over Europe, who come to scour for bargains at its outlet clothing stores.
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One of the most richly endowed villes d'art in Burgundy, Autun is a great draw for fans of both Gallo-Roman and Romanesque art. The name derives...