Heading south from Lyon on the A7, a twenty-kilometre stretch of oil refineries, steel, chemical and paper works, cement, fertilizer and textile factories, all spewing plumes of grey and Orange pollution into the air, may well tempt you to make a bee-line for the lavender fields of Provence. However, a short detour off the autoroute brings you to VIENNE, which, along with St-Romain-en-Gal, across the river, makes for the most interesting stop on the Rhône before Orange.
With their riverside positions, Vienne and St-Romain prospered as Rome's major wine port and entrepôt on the Rhône, and many Roman monuments survive to attest to this past glory. Several important churches recall Vienne's medieval heyday as well: it was a bishop's seat from the fifth century and the hometown of twelfth-century Pope Calixtus II. Today, the compact old quarter is crisscrossed with pedestrian precincts which make for enjoyable menu-browsing around rue des Clercs and place Charles-de-Gaulle. And there's a feeling that despite the distant rumble of the autoroute calling you to sunnier climes, the town has maintained its character and sense of purpose.
Pages in section ‘Vienne’: The Town, Vienne museum pass, Practicalities, St-Romain-en-Gal.