The first time I took the train through the northern Rhone Valley I gazed in awe at the steep slopes of the vineyards of Hermitage, with their vineyard blocks labeled with huge signs. I went back this spring to discover an area perfect for the independent walker, the photographer, the wine connoisseur, or the gourmet. Below is a guide to the area's most interesting attractions.
The best way to see the Rhone Valley is on foot. It's interesting, cheap, and easily done.
01 of 08
Tournon sur Rhone and the Vineyards of Hermitage
The area of the Rhone valley around Tournon and Tain l'Hermitage has spectacular vineyard views as well as historic towns with castles and towers as in the night picture to the left, Tournon castle, which overlooks the Rhone river.
If you're like me, you still need convincing that this area is unique and worthy of your travel dollars. We've prepared a picture gallery of Tournon Sur Rhone and surroundings, so take a look at the wonders that await you by clicking the link above.
02 of 08
Tournon sur Rhone and the Rhone Valley - Getting Your Bearings
Here is a map showing the northern Rhone region. We're inside the Rhône-Alpes region, and the Rhone river provides the boundary between the Ardeche département to the west and the Drome to the east. Thus, by walking across the pedestrian-only suspension bridge at Tournon Sur Rhone in the Ardeche, you'll come to Tain l'Hermitage in the Drome département.
The great vineyards of the Hermitage are mostly on the Tain l'Hermitage side, exposed to the afternoon sun. They are best observed from the Tournon side, and Tournon has the greater share of restaurants and hotels.
03 of 08
Since the Rhone Valley is best discovered by walking, I've prepared an introduction to the trail system of France, the trail markings, and the best maps to buy for walking.
Did you know that there are more than 100,000 miles of trails in France? Just about every village in France has walks that have been planned and marked out by volunteers working with local tourist offices. The trails that exit from the village of Tain-l'Hermitage and take the moderately fit walker through the vineyards of Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage are no exception; they're well marked and well cared for and offer up some spectacular views of the countryside of Drome and the Ardeche, as well as the villages, towers, and castles along the Rhone.
04 of 08
The Path of the Towers in Tournon-sur-Rhone
An interesting short path that starts at Tournon Sur Rhone is the Sentier des Tours, the Path of the Towers. Three towers appear on the town's crest, and you'll visit two of them (and see the third in Ruins).Continue to 5 of 8 below.
05 of 08
Where to Eat in Tournon sur Rhone - La Chaumiere
Since when is the least expensive restaurant the best? We came across La Chaumeire when a diner came out raving about the food. She was right. Just about everyone savors the cheapest three-course meal on the menu.
06 of 08
Where to Taste Wine and Have a Bite - Des Terrasses du Rhone
If you want to sit down and have some small bites of regional cuisine while tasting the wines from grapes that grow just up the hills out of town, stop into Des Terrasses du Rhone, a tapas bar with wine pairings located near the pedestrian bridge in Tain-l'Hermitage.
Prices are quite reasonable. For a plate of sliced meats (charcuterie), you'll pay five Euro. Pair it with a glass of Saint-Joseph red (one of the more expensive wines of the region) and the prices increases to 7 Euro. The price of a glass of wine ranges from 2.50 Euro to 9 Euro (2008 prices).
07 of 08
Where to Taste and Buy Local Wines
The Cave de Tain is the largest wine cooperative in the area. Here you'll have a wide array of local wines and bottle sizes to purchase, so if you're going to just one place, this might be the one. The folks here are nice and friendly and speak English, so if you have any questions you can get them answered here. Free tasting is also available.
08 of 08
If you have a week or so to stay and enjoy the region, there's no better or more inexpensive way to do it than renting a house or apartment. In France, the designation for a vacation rental is "gite" or some variation. Here are some in the Rhone valley, although many are in and around Lyon.
To compare prices on hotels in the Rhone valley, check out Tournon hotels and Tain-l'Hermitage hotels via Hipmunk.