Home Travel Guides Travel Guide: Vienne, France: Where to Eat, Sleep, and Seek in Vienne

Travel Guide: Vienne, France: Where to Eat, Sleep, and Seek in Vienne

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It is easy to see why the Romans loved Vienne. The Romans used to have 13,000 people in the amphitheatre built on the Rhone banks. This view, which was built into a steep hillside, shows the true essence of southern France.

This pretty town is located 20 miles south from Lyon and 150 miles north of Riviera. The river curves sharply through the hills, which are now covered in vineyards.

Romans

Vienne, a Roman city and port on the Rhone that was the gateway to France’s heart from the Mediterranean, was once a major Roman settlement. The amphitheatre is often called Theatre Antique. It was built in steep Mont Pipet, facing south, around 50AD. The amphitheatre once seated 13,000 people, but it can still hold 8,000 people with river views. This includes the annual Jazz a Vienne festival.

Take a look down from the hilltop. It is accessible via a narrow, winding road that ends at the little Notre Dame de Pipet Church.

Temple of Augustus and Livia

The Temple of Augustus & Livia, built by Claudius the Emperor, is a bizarre sight in the middle of small shops and restaurants. Jardin de Cybele is a public garden set among arches and remnants of the forum, just a few streets away. Nearby is St Peter’s. This church, which dates back almost 150 years, was converted into a museum that houses Gallo-Roman stone relics. A stone pyramid made from stone, which was used as a race track by charioteers in the Roman circus era, can be found on the street.

The museum is located in Saint-Romain-en-Gal. It is a striking glass structure that occupies an entire block of the former residence of Vienne. This is a large excavation site that includes bath and house remains, as well as gardens with ancient vine varieties. It is full of rescued mosaics as well as models that show how Vienne might have looked, including a large quayside and warehouses.

Discover the hidden treasures

The Cloister of Saint Andre-le-Bas is a hidden gem, a collection of stone columns dating back to the 6th and 7th centuries with beautiful planting. Guided tours for small groups, available through the tourist office, allow you to visit hidden courtyards as well as hidden medieval and Roman cellars.

You can take a stroll along the River Gere, which runs down from the hills, under a medieval stone bridge, and past industrial buildings. One of these houses the Textile Industry Museum, which champions the industry that, with its woollen Renaissance fabric, dominated Vienne’s economy between the 18th and the 20th centuries.

Guigal vineyard

Le Caveau Du ChateauE.guigal is a four-mile riverside bike or walk from town. It is a stunning chateau that is the public face for Guigal’s wine dynasty. With its sleek shop and subterranean museum, and beautiful lawned garden, Rhone tastings are possible from doorstep Cote Rotie and Condrieu to Crozes Hermitage and Chateauneuf–du-Pape further south. Segway or car tours available. You will be taken high into the vineyards.

Enjoy a bite to eat

Vienne is filled with great, modest restaurants. The tree-lined Cours Romestang is full, as is the narrow, pedestrian-only Rue de Clercs. Rue de la Table Ronde is a narrow alley that houses two restaurants, both highly-rated, with elevated outdoor terraces. This allows them to overlook the river’s slope.

Restaurant l’Estancot specializes in criques, or potato pancakes. These are akin to posh hashbrows but are served as extravagant main dishes with fois gras, scallops, and prawns. My Cote Mer had seabass red mullet, monkfish, and beurre blanc (EUR28). Alquimia is next door, which celebrates the word “gastronomique”. Evening dinner is a seven-course tasting menu. My lunch was EUR26 and included a cold corn cream soup, foam, and toasted hazelnuts, followed by a delicious risotto with quinoa and Bayenne ham.

Le Cottage is a cleverly reimagined farmhouse-hotel in the hills. Philippe Girardon’s Michelin-starred Gastronomic restaurant is located close to the Cottage. The Cottage is also known as Le Bistrot with sun terrace. Girardon, who worked 40 years ago at Bray’s Waterside Inn, served a fine lunch: courgette spaghetti with langoustine and hake in sauce on top of polenta. All this for EUR32

You can ride your bike all around Vienne

E-biking

The ViaRhona, a 510-mile riverside cycling and walking path that runs from Geneva up to the south coast in France, is called “The ViaRhona”. It’s only 20 minutes north of Vienne to reach La Confluence where the Rhone meets the Saone in Lyon. A fleet of ebikes is available at the riverfront tourist office, with a wall of wine bottles that rises to 30ft high.

You can follow the southerly route and pass vineyard after vineyard, stopping at places where you can cool off in the water and taking in beautiful views. It doesn’t matter how hot it gets (and it was very hot), there is always a breeze while you zip along among chateaus and forests, parks, and wine estates.

Moments of magic

Jazz hits new heights

Two weeks of Jazz a Vienne’s annual festival are held each July. The festival features the best jazz musicians from around the world performing on a stage that is Glastonbury-like. This event draws 8,000 people to the Roman theatre. As the sun sets, it’s a stunning sight. The bill-toppers Fred Wesley, George Benson (funky crooner and soul king James Brown’s right hand man), Herbie Hancock and George Benson were all there. The price of tickets is very affordable at EUR49 per day. This includes the last evening, which goes until dawn with many well-known names.

Bands are seen performing outside of restaurants and at other locations, such as Jardin de Cybele which has been transformed into a free-to enter bar, restaurant, and venue.

Where to stay

The Grand Hotel de la Poste is an 18th-century listed coaching inn. It can be found just around the corner from the rail station and river. Clochmerle-era France, with its vintage furniture, retro touches and local art exhibitions.

A delicious breakfast buffet is served at the hotel.

Doubles starting at PS95.00

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The 2 star ibis budget Vienne sud hotel is a reliable, budget hotel with a great location in Vienne. It’s located at 1,000 feet from the Roman Theater (Theatre Romain).

Doubles starting at PS62.00

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