The Rhône valley stretches from Lyon the second biggest city in France, to just north of Orange, in Provence.The surrounding countryside is verdant and dotted with vines, apricot, peach and walnut trees. Towns worth a visit include the Roman city of Vienne, the distinctly southern city of Valence and Montélimar, famous for its nougat.
Lyon is the gastronomic centre of France famous for its unrivalled concentration of world-class restaurants. The city boasts a diverse architectural heritage dating from Gallo-Roman remains to stylish modern buildings , and includes a magnificent Renaissance old city. Vieux Lyon has hundreds of traboules – secret, covered passageways from building to building. These were used to transport the cities famous silk fabrics safely, and also acted as clandestine communication routes during the Second World War
Perouges is a medieval village near Lyon whose classic features have been often filmed and photographed.
Valence, 100km south of Lyon is a large market town and distributes much of the Valley’s fresh produce. It is a former Roman colony and a great base for accessing the spectacular gorges of the Ardêche and the dramatic peaks of the Alps. There are many excellent places nearby to try out some of the lovely Rhône Valley wines.
One of the most interesting places to visit is the Cathédrale St-Apollinaire at the place de Ormeaux. Built in the Auvergnat-Romanesque style it was consecrated in 1095. Restoration was undertaken the 17th century and the porch and the stone tower were rebuilt in 1861.
The ruined château, dating from the 12th century, which is a pleasant climb up to the top of Mont Crussol is also worth a visit.
The Drome department is an important region in the Rhone Valley. Its scenery is breathtaking and the Tour de France often passes through the quiet roads. The north and the valley areas are sparsely populated with many small hamlets. The scenery and views are stunning although many areas are somewhat isolated. The central area of the Drôme is not as scenic but is more heavily populated and has many interesting villages and towns to visit. The southern Drôme is very similar to Provence and many tourists prefer this area with its pretty towns and villages and plenty of history.
Romans-sur-Isère is located on the Isere river between Valence and Lyon. The town is famous for its international museum of shoes – the Musée Internationale de la Chaussure – in the former Convent of the Visitation. The museum will surprise you with the extent to which women have suffered through their feet on every continent and still do to the present day! It is also a good place to buy shoes as there are several factory shops in the town
Montélimar is probably most famous for its nougat. It is the second largest town in the Drôme department after Valence. Apart from the nougat there is a magnificent array of tendered lavender fields as well as the patches of wild lavender. The aroma and colour is a spectacular sight along the “lavender road” between spring and autumn. The city of Montélimar is dominated by Château des Adhémar, a castle built by the Adhémar family who reigned over the city in the middle ages.
The site where the city of Montélimar stands today has been inhabited since the Celtic era. It was reconstructed by the Romans who included a basilica, aqueducts and a forum.
Nyons is located in the heart of Provencal Drôme, near Ventoux, between the Rhone and the Alps. Due to the outstanding sunshine all year, the surrounding area is known as the Tuscany of the Rhône Alpes. Nyons is mainly famous for being the most northerly olive growing region in Europe. Sheltered as it is by its location in the Eygues Valley, it is blessed with many days of sunshine, mild winters and hot summers. It’s historic buildings include a Roman bridge with a 43 metre long arched passage way, the ruins of a feudal castle and a 13th century prison. It is also has a beautiful medieval town centre with narrow winding streets.
Crest has a keep which is 170 ft long and is believed to be the largest medieval building still standing in the world. It has fabulous panoramic views from the terraces and is currently used for housing exhibitions and telling the story of the ‘donjon’.
Die lends its name to the department’s finest export, Clairette de Die, a sparkling wine.
Buis les Baronnies is a sleepy little place surrounded by fertile land that produces lavender, olives, apricots and limes. Medicinal plants are favoured here and are sold at the local market on . Lovely fragrances waft through the village.
Grignan is a small village that overlooks the plains of the Rhone valley, just over the border of northern Provence into the Drome region. It’s a charming little place but most visitors come here to see its castle.
Poët-Laval is a fortified village whose impressive medieval keep, stands out in this landscape of wooded hills surrounding Dieulefit, in the Drôme Provençale. Founded during the 12th century by the Knights Hospitallers, the village has been through turbulent periods since the Middle Ages, like most hilltop villages in the region.
Dieulefit is a delightful village that combines a sheltered environment with a well-preserved heritage based on its pottery tradition. A safe haven for refugees during World War II, Dieulefit now welcomes numerous artists and intellectuals.
Vaison-la-Romaine lies at the foot of Mont Ventoux, the “giant of Provence”, 1912m high, and enjoys a Mediterranean climate. The town is recognised as one of the Plus Beaux Détours de France and owes its reputation to its heritage both ancient and medieval. It is the site of an ancient Roman colony. Floors in mosaics, marble statues, ponds, atriums, and private thermal baths, all show life in Roman times. It is complemented by a panorama of medieval churches.
Forcalquier is a picturesque town built around the slopes of a steep conical hill, dominated by an octagonal 19th century chapel where a 10th century citadel once stood. Walking through the steep narrow streets, you’ll see ancient doorways and wrought iron balconies, some dating from the 12th to 16th centuries.
Gorges du Verdon is one of France’s most spectacular natural wonders, a Grand Canyon-style chasm roaring with milky-green water and edged by one of Europe’s most hair-raising drives. The drive goes along part of the Route Napoléon.
Castellane is located part of the away along this beautiful but winding drive in the heart of the Gorges du Verdon. Castellane’s main feature is a chapel, built on top of a 300m high rock that goes straight up from behind the town hall in the old centre. It is floodlit at night.
Moustiers Set Marie on the other side of the Gorges du Verdon is a gorgeous village on the edge of a small stream in a steep narrow ravine. It is famous for its ceramic “faiences” and has narrow medieval streets and vaulted passages.
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