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143km (89 miles) SE of Paris; 108km (67 miles) S of Reims

In the southwestern part of Champagne bordering Burgundy, the old center of Troyes is an architectural delight. The underwhelming approach past outlet malls and apartment-filled suburbs might tempt you to turn around and leave—but don’t. In store is a walk-through history lesson, thanks to one of the largest remaining medieval residential quarters in France.

Troyes was known in Roman times as Augustobona and served as a meeting point between major roads. What’s left of the Agrippa Way, linking Milan and Boulogne-sur-Mer on the northern coast, is buried 3m (10 ft.) under the current rue de la Cité. Stone from the ancient ramparts, long since destroyed, serves as foundations for some of the city’s buildings, including the former Bishop’s palace, now the Museum of Modern Art.

Gorgeously-restored, half-timbered 16th-century houses are the real showstopper here. A project to bring them back to life, using antique engravings as a guide, began fifty years ago; today the jewel-colored dwellings are well on their way to earning UNESCO World Heritage status.