The river Rhône runs through the historic city of Vienne in Isère linking it to Lyon to the north and down to the south of France.
Vienne was a major Roman city, and the vital port for wine and other goods. Roman monuments are scattered all around the city from the Temple of Augustus and Livia, built by Emperor Claudius (a smaller version of Nîmes’ famous Maison Carrée), to the Roman theatre, the garden of Cybele, and remnants of ramparts and aqueducts.
Unique sites and Gallo-Roman monuments sit alongside a remarkable Renaissance and medieval heritage. With its pedestrianised streets, its Michelin star restaurants, its shops and the market on the Place François Mitterrand, this lively city centre is the place to enjoy a local tipple of Condrieu – which is considered an exceptional and hard-to-find wine grown in the southern area of the town. Wine tourism in this region is booming; wine from the Côte-Rôtie is renowned and was known as “vin viennois” more than 2,000 years ago.
Where to stay…
The Pyramide hotel in Vienne has all the ingredients to charm and make guests feel at home. Nineteen of the rooms were completely renovated, plus four apartments, at this Relais & Châteaux hotel. www.lapyramide.com
Where to eat…
Pyramide, which has two Michelin stars, is where Paul Bocuse was trained. Easily recognisable by the obelisk outside, La Pyramide has a long legacy in hospitality. Previously held by the mythical Fernand Point, it is now in the hands of the very talented and friendly Chef Patrick Henriroux and his family. Never resting on their laurels, the family constantly innovate and update, making La Pyramide an exciting and dynamic destination. Patrick Henriroux’s cuisine respects its traditional roots and adds a modern touch. The gourmet restaurant has contemporary interiors in vivid colours by Régis Dho and guests will be delighted by the impressive collection of Chartreuse liqueurs. The rule of three applies to the good things at L'espace PH3 bistrot, the hotel’s second restaurant: three starters, three main courses, three desserts, three white wines, three rosé wines and so on. This property marked one end of the former Roman circus.
Muse, at 4-6 rue du Muse has a wonderful menu with very affordable prices, and is so popular that only advance notice will secure a table. A few steps away and turning a corner of the old market hall, it will not only be the food that makes people gasp: confronting them is the temple of Augustus and Livia. Floodlights make after dinner drinks at the Bar du Temple essential. T: +33 4 74 56 82 49
Alquimia, located in a pedestrian street at the foot of the St-André-le-Bas church, offers fusion cuisine with seasonal flavours and a touch of originality. Horacio, the chef, tantalises guests’ taste buds while revealing his sensitivity, passion and love for French cuisine. Paraguayan by birth, he cut his teeth in many starred restaurants in France, as well as abroad. The dishes are often described as daring by epicureans due to surprising pairings. Mathilde, the hostess, will take you on a journey with her attachment to gastronomy, as well as her cellar notebook. She will share with you her love of the land and the know-how of winegrowers with all her little stories and anecdotes.
Le Glacier, a traditional French brasserie of quality and a melange of modern and vintage décor. In the warmer months, enjoy the terrace under the shade of the plane trees. You can taste traditional brasserie dishes, Lyonnaise specialties, as well as a vast selection of seafood and a good local wine list. The owner is also a partner in a growing wine estate https://leglacier-vienne.com
What to do…
Roman and Gallic antiquities abound, not only in Vienne, but in St Romain-en-Gal across the river. The Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie stands close to the Garden of Cybele, easily spotted by the half-timbered medieval house nearby. There are two amphitheatres, Odéon, and the more substantial Théatre Antique, which is still used for events like the jazz festival.
To emphasise its viticulture, as well as its antiquities, the Tourist Office has a ‘wall’ of Rhône wines, while its bookstall offers Roman recipes and two ‘Secrets’ books, on gastronomy and wine. There is also a splendid kitchen where visitors can enrol on cookery courses, and, sometimes, even join in with a party in the gardens outside. The Côte Rotie offers wine tastings and tours of vineyards.
A kitsch tourist train will take visitors who wish to avoid the steep walk up to the Belvédère de Pipet on a panoramic tour of the city and the Rhône. Almost directly above the Roman theatre, it gives visitors views across the river to the Valois tower and the Gallo-Roman museum and archaeological site.
From medieval times, Vienne was the seat of an archbishop, and numerous vestiges of that history remain. The church of St-André-le-Bas has a cloister that few locals know about, and the cathedral of St Maurice is magnificent. The Heritage Room (Salle de Patrimoine), close to the bridge and St André, is worth a visit.
Sailing down the Rhone on a Catamaran opened this summer, with a twist - it’s time to boat and electric bike. A mix of sailing and biking with a chic picnic in the panoramic vineyards and wine tasting is a must for €150 / £135 pp per day. To tame the waves raised by the southerly winds that sometimes blow along the River Rhône, the Canotiers du Rhône company is currently constructing the answer: a NEW catamaran with the guarantee of a steady trip. It will be moored at Sainte-Colombe. Two trips, complete with a commentary about an interesting topic will be on offer. One is a ‘wine and cheese’ tour lasting one hour and 30 minutes. It will take passengers down the river towards the slopes of Côte-Rôtie, while they enjoy a tasting of wines by Vincent Cluzel accompanied with the renowned Rigotte de Condrieu cheese. On the way back along the River Rhône, the trip will go via the little Barlet Island, which is covered with vast poplar groves. This is a great way get to know the history of Vienne and the River Rhone. From €25 / £22 pp
Le Domaine de Gorneton Ten minutes from the centre of Vienne, discover an impressive 17th century building constructed with local stone. It’s an old fortified house and a jewel of the Vienne-Condrieu Agglomeration territory. Nestled in a veritable ecological corridor in the heart of a four hectare park, guests can stroll around the pond, recharge their batteries with the gentle sounds of the fountains, admire the domain’s own vineyard of Seyssuel wines or quite simply relax by the heated swimming pool. With character rooms to swoon over, the Domaine de Gorneton offers five guest rooms, two suites and three family rooms. www.ledomainedegorneton.com