After I “finished,” Lyon (I’ve just run out of museums to poke through, I think) I decided that it was time to venture a little further out into the Rhône region. I ended up going to three gorgeous little villages – Valence, Vienne and Montélimar – and had a relaxing week, which was necessary before my trip to Paris and London!
Places like Vienne are what make me truly content with my placement in Lyon. Had I been in another city like Paris or Marseille, I wouldn’t have bothered going to Vienne at all, and would have missed out on an absolute treat.
I actually visited Vienne a few weeks prior, but was only able to stay for three hours due to poor planning and (I’m not exaggerating) bleeding feet. Admittedly, the SNCF (France’s national transport system) can be confusing as heck, so it was a good, cheap lesson on how to buy tickets, organise myself, get to the right train station, etc. As a consequence, I didn’t see much of Vienne at all the first time around, except for the grand, gothic Ancienne Cathédrale Saint-Maurice.
This time, I woke nice and early and took a coach over to Vienne with plenty of time to explore the town. I’d even looked in my guidebook this time to get an idea of what I was walking into.
I did happen to miss the important information that none of the museums in Vienne are open on Mondays. You’d think that, considering I’ve been living in France for two months and this is a common feature of French museums, that I’d remember this, but apparently, that wasn’t the case. It ended up being for the best, though, because I would have ended up wasting all day at the Musée Gallo-Romain, and missed all of the super cool Roman archaeological sites of Vienne.
My first port of call was the glorious temple d’Auguste et de Livie. When I first read that there was a Roman temple in Vienne, I thought that it would be small. I completely forgot that the Romans never do things by halves.
I stood there for ages, circling the temple with my (phone) camera in hand like an absolute lunatic. The sheer enormousness and beauty of the structure blew me away.
I then strolled leisurely (not wandered confusedly, I swear) to the grand Jardin Archéologique de Cybèle. This is an incredible garden filled with chunks of Roman ruins.
People sit and eat lunch here, surrounded by gorgeous remains of two thousand year old houses and a municipal hall. I found it an incredibly beautiful place. There seemed to be a delicate mix of old and new; an intertwining of the living and dead as new trees sprang up from the ancient ruins. Oh look, I’m waxing lyrical again.
I decided to wander up to the Theatre Romain, but was disappointed to find it was closed for lunch (as is the French way). It wasn’t long before I knew exactly how to spend the next 45 minutes, however, as I glanced up at the crown jewel of Vienne, Mont Pipet.
On top of Mont Pipet is a gorgeous little church and a glorious statue of the Virgin Mary (I think – I’m not very good with my religious figures) who seems to gaze across Vienne with a protective stare. I’d heard it was a perfect lookout spot and was determined to go check it out.
For some strange reason, I wasn’t expecting much of a climb, even though you can see the church from everywhere in Vienne because it is up so high, and “Mont,” means “mountain,” in English. But hey, as everyone who has been keeping track of my adventures (or who has talked to me face-to-face for longer than ten minutes, because I’m bound to say something stupid in that period) is aware, I’m not exactly known for making much sense.
Despite the shockingly steep climb, the walk to the top was actually rather pleasant, and the road was shaded by beautiful forest. Additionally, the incredible views of Vienne made any aching muscles worth it – I mean, just look at it!
I must have been there for twenty or thirty minutes, just daydreaming and soaking in the landscape. I would take the time to go back to Vienne just for that view; it’s a very special place to me.
The tiny chapel is also very peaceful. The simple, quiet nature of it made it feel like it was made just for me.
I finally (and a little sadly) descended from Mont Pipet and went back to the Theatre Romain. There was a part of me that felt obliged to go there as it is what Vienne’s really known for, and another part that desperately needed the loo, so I paid the €2 entry fee, which is a fairly big deal for an impoverished traveller like myself.
It ended up being a rather worthwhile experience, in my opinion. Despite the mass of scaffolding, it’s in extremely good shape – much better than the Lyonnaise theatre, but I prefer Lyon’s, perhaps for that very reason – and is a really pleasant spot to sit and think.
I finished up at the lovely public gardens before heading back to Lyon. Vienne is the kind of place I’m going to remember forever.
[Make note: I did a ridiculous amount of getting lost in general, as is the norm with me. I cut out a lot of the confused wandering, and it makes it seem like I’m starting to figure out what I’m doing with this whole travelling thing, so I felt like I should clarify that I’m still as ridiculous as ever.]
Valence and Montélimar
My expeditions out to Valence and Montélimar are particular favourites of mine, because there really isn’t anything to do in either of these places. I just went for the food.
I didn’t spend much time in either village at all – probably only two hours maximum – due to travel time, and yet I feel like I saw all there was to see in both towns. It was an extremely pleasant, relaxing day for me, simply because there wasn’t much on my itinerary at all.
Valence was just a stop over on my way to Montélimar, a tiny town known for its nougat. During the hour-long wait for my train, I decided to take a peek around the town and buy one of Valence’s famous suisses, shaped like a Vatican guard and flavoured with orange rind.
So yummy! Isn’t he cute?
Valence gave me the peculiar feeling that I was standing at the end of the world. If you’re at the train station and look down the street, it appears as though there’s nothing but reddish-white mountains and rugged forestland beyond the end of the road. I hadn’t expected to feel so calm and at peace in a town with so little to see or do. I love that feeling.
At the end of the street, I discovered a beautiful sunken park, which explained my previous feeling of being at the edge of the universe. In truth, the majority of Valence is just positioned high up on a hill.
I was only able to stay for a little while, but I was happy to just sit on the grass and soak up the beauty of the place. When my time was up, I walked back to the station and took the train to Montélimar, the land of nougat.
There’s absolutely nothing to do in the little town, except for go on nougat tours and eat far too much of the delicious confectionary, so I set out in search for a nougat shop that had been recommended in my Lonely Planet guidebook. I couldn’t find it, but I didn’t even care, because I was feeling so stress-free and peaceful. I spent all my time in Montélimar just wandering around and buying big bags of nougat.
It’s severely depleted here, because I just couldn’t help myself. No nougat can compare to artisan Montélimar nougat – it’s soft, sweet, nutty and just amazing. I would be willing to waste a day doing the same journey again just for the nougat.
I headed back to Valence after that, and wandered about the town again while waiting for my train home. The wind had grown really strong – so strong my train had to stop in the middle of nowhere for an hour, but that’s besides the point – so I couldn’t visit the gorgeous garden again. Instead, I hunted around for a church.
Apart from my train being delayed (and causing me to panic as a result), my day in Valence and Montélimar was one of my favourites. I still dream about that nougat.
Featured photo is of one of the many sunflowers at Vienne’s town hall.