Champagne and Lorraine. Exploring Troyes, Nancy, and Toul

words: Costina Mocanu

photographs and video: Jens Dörr

cover: Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Toul. © Jens Dörr, 2021

Charme is the common dominator of exquisite towns located in the Grand Est.

The French Grand Est (Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine) offers picturesque urban spaces and darling French corners. Champagne’s name derives from the homonymous sparkling wine. During the High Middle Ages, the Champagne area became a vital centre for Champagne fairs where textiles and spices could be exchanged. It was during the Nineteenth century and its industrialisation that the Champagne wine industry became particularly popular within middle-class and aristocracy. Lorraine is known for exclusive choices of Unesco’s World Heritage sites such as  Place Stanislas and Porte de France, the Fortress of Vabaun, Longwy .

The best time to visit this territory is spring and autumn. Three days will be enough to discover this charming territory and savour its spécialités.

CHAMPAGNE: Troyes, 48° 18’N 4°05’E

Known to be one of the most representative areas, Troyes is not only the former capital of Champagne, but also a but a place full of enduring history which is reflected in architecture made of woods and half-timbered constructions. The city itself used to be a key point of international trade, thanks also to the Roman infrastructure which connected it from Milano to Boulogne-sur-Mer on the Opal Coast in the north of France.

Troyes deserves more than a stroll around the city center: do not miss the numerous contemporary installations and sculptures surrounding the Seine quaix such as the hidden gem, Lili, by the Hungarian Andras Lapis; go to Cathédrale Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul de Troyes to get involved in a truly unique experience in Gothic style.

Make sure that you see the La Ruelle des Chats, the Cats Alley, the narrowest street of half-timbered constructions in Europe. Why this curious name? The roofs of the adjacent houses are so class that cats can easily jump from one attic to another.

LORRAINE: Nancy, 48°41’N 6°12’E

Passionate about Art Déco? Then visiting Nancy should be added to your itinerary! Between 1890 and 1914 affluent residents commissioned town houses designed in the École de Nancy style. Whole streets were designed in nouveau style and the façades of houses embellished with floral and leaf motifs. At the beginning of the Twentieth century the area comprehended between the railway station and Place Stanislas was hosting important business centres and shops in this style. Villa Majorelle, built by the decorative artist and industrialist Louis Majorelle (1859-1926), near to the Sacré Cœur church. Today the Villa belongs to the Museum of Nancy School.

LORRAINE: Toul, 48°41’N 5°54′

From Nancy make your way northwest bound to Toul, for circa twenty kilometres. Situated on the Lyon-Treves axis, the city benefited of a flourished economic development since the Roman era. Together with Nancy and Metz, Toul was part of the Trois Évêchés, the Three Bishoprics during the Seventeenth century. Explore the medieval streets and its cathedrals such as the Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Toul.


Click here to hear the notes of Toul!