You may see what the Romans appreciated about Vienne, actually. The amphitheatre on the banks of the Rhône used to seat 13,000 of their day, and the view from the highest, constructed right into a steep, steep hillside reveals what southern France is all about.
On this fairly city – 20 miles south of Lyon, 150 miles north of the Riviera – the river makes a pointy bend, cosseted by hills with a wealth of south-facing slopes now, as then, coated with vineyards.
Vienne was a serious Roman city and harbour on the Rhone, the gateway to the guts of France from the Mediterranean. The centre stage is the amphitheatre, usually known as Theatre Vintage, a semi-circular stone big constructed into steep south-facing Mont Pipet round 50AD. It as soon as seated 13,000 and nonetheless accommodates 8,000 with river views for performs and music, together with the annual Jazz à Vienne competition.
Look down from the hilltop, accessed by a slender, snaking highway topped by little Notre Dame de Pipet church.
On the town the Temple of Augustus and Livia, constructed by the emperor Claudius, seems to be madly misplaced on a tiny sq. amid eating places and outlets. A few streets away is Jardin de Cybèle, public gardens amid arches and stays of the discussion board. Close by is St Peter’s, one in every of France’s oldest church buildings that nearly 150 years in the past was was a museum housing Gallo-Roman stone relics. On the street stands a stone pyramid from days of the Roman circus, round which charioteers used to race.
Throughout the river, technically within the city of Saint-Romain-en-Gal, is one in every of France’s greatest Roman museums, a putting glass constructing that occupies a metropolis block of what was Vienne’s residing quarters and which is now an enormous excavated web site with home and bathtub stays plus gardens that includes historical types of crops together with vines. The museum is crammed with rescued mosaics and fashions of how Vienne would have seemed with its in depth quayside and warehouses.
Discover the hidden gems
Hidden away behind little doorways are spots such because the Cloister of Saint André-le-Bas, stone columns from the sixth or seventh century with fairly planting. Small group guided excursions, bookable through the vacationer workplace, soak up hidden courtyards and much more hidden medieval and Roman cellars and arches.
Take a stroll alongside the little River Gère which meanders down from the hills beneath a medieval stone bridge and previous industrial buildings, one in every of which homes the Textile Business Museum championing the business that, with its woollen Renaissance materials, dominated Vienne’s financial system from the 18th to the twentieth century.
A four-mile riverside stroll or cycle from city is Le Caveau Du Château E.guigal, a dramatic chateau that’s the public face of the Guigal wine dynasty with its smooth store, subterranean wine museum and delightful lawned backyard for the Rhone tastings, from doorstep Côte-Rôtie and Condrieu to Crozes-Hermitage and Châteauneuf-du-Pape farther south. Excursions by automotive (or Segway!) take you excessive into the vineyards.
A chunk to eat
Vienne is full of wonderful, unassuming eating places; tree-lined Cours Romestang is stuffed with tables on the grassy central reservation and the slender, pedestrians-only Rue de Clercs merely full. Facet by facet in Rue de la Desk Ronde, little greater than an alley, two highly-rated eating places are neighbours with raised out of doors terraces to take account of the slope in the direction of the river.
Restaurant l’Estancot specialises in ‘criques’, potato pancakes – quite like posh hash browns, however served as extravagant most important meals with fois gras, scallops and prawns, steak or different delights – my Cote Mer featured seabass, purple mullet and monkfish in a wealthy beurre blanc (€28). Subsequent door is Alquimia which revels within the phrase ‘gastronomique’. Night is a seven-course tasting menu; my lunch, €26, featured a chilly corn cream soup with foam and toasted hazelnuts adopted by an impressed risotto constructed from quinoa topped with chorizo and Bayenne ham.
Within the close by hills is Le Cottage, a well reimagined farmhouse resort run by chef Philippe Girardon whose Michelin-starred Gastronomic Restaurant is shut by in a Seventeenth-century chateau, a relaxation residence for the bishops of Lyon, now a resort; the Cottage restaurant, often known as Le Bistrot, with solar terrace is the dressed-down model however solely barely; Girardon (who 40 years in the past labored by the Thames with the Roux brothers at Bray’s Waterside Inn) served up a wonderful lunch – courgette spaghetti with langoustine cream adopted by hake in sauce on a polenta mattress, all for €32
In your bike round Vienne
The ViaRhôna is a 510-mile riverside strolling and cycle path that runs from Geneva to the south coast of France. Head north from Vienne and it’s solely 20 miles to La Confluence, the place the Rhône and Saône meet in Lyon. The riverfront vacationer workplace (with a 30ft-high inside wall of wine bottles and wines to purchase by the glass) has a fleet of e-bikes which are free for the day when you’re staying in a associate resort, which is most of them, €40 in any other case.
Head south and also you meander previous winery after winery, spots the place you possibly can dip your ft into the cooling waters and locations with lovely vistas. Regardless of how sizzling it’s (and I used to be there at first of the heatwave) there’s at all times a nice breeze as you whiz alongside amidst chateaus, forests, parks and wine estates.
The annual Jazz à Vienne competition runs two weeks every July with the world’s prime jazz artists enjoying on a Glastonbury-like stage to eight,000 folks filling the Roman theatre. It’s a tremendous sight because the solar drops. I used to be there for the final three days and noticed bill-toppers Fred Wesley (a trombonist as soon as soul king James Brown’s right-hand man), funky crooner George Benson and avant-garde keyboard participant Herbie Hancock. Tickets are saved to a really affordable €49 every day, together with the ultimate night which continues till daybreak with a bunch of well-known names.
Town comes alive with bands enjoying exterior eating places and in different spots together with Jardin de Cybèle, which is was a free-to-enter bar, restaurant and venue.
The place to remain
The Grand Hôtel de la Poste, a listed 18th-century teaching inn, is independently run, in vibrant Cours Romestang, across the nook from the river and rail station. The cosiness of Clochmerle-era France with classic furnishings, stylish retro touches and exhibitions by native artists.
The resort serves a superb breakfast buffet (that includes the really supreme jams of Philippe Bruneton, proclaimed France’s greatest jam maker and whose store and tiny kitchen could be visited at Longes, 12 miles away) and a hideaway out of doors bar.
Doubles from £95.00
The two star ibis budget Vienne Sud is a dependable finances resort that has an excellent location in Vienne, 1,000 yards from Roman Theater (Theatre Romain).
Doubles from £62.00
FLY: There are common flights from Heathrow and Gatwick to Lyon with British Airways and easyJet.
GET AROUND: The Rhonexpress tram takes half-hour to Lyon’s Half-Dieu station. A Metro hop away, Lyon Jean Macé station has common trains to Vienne taking 20 minutes.
MORE INFO: en.vienne-condrieu.com