Picture this: Seated on the deck of a slow boat, a bottle of Châteauneuf du Pape on the table in front of you and plenty still to go in your glass, the sunny bankside view changing from medieval market town, to rural idyll, to neat rows of grape vines – every now and then your view is piqued by a chateau watching over the river or the spire of a nearby church. Get out and explore what you will, visiting the vineyards and cellars, or pop out for a meal in a local restaurant, or just watch the world go by from river borne comfort. What a civilised way to see the beautiful, wine drenched Rhone Valley.
There are many companies offering to take you on a wine themed cruise of the Rhone, introducing you to their favourite wineries etc., but the other option is to hire a boat and D.I.Y. , docking at some of these Rhone-side highlights en route.
Famed for its silk and its food, served in bouchon style restaurants, and with Beaujolais to the north, and the Côtes-du-Rhône to the south providing the accompanying wines, this is the kinda city that knows how to live well.
To get used to the river spend a morning cruising up the valley past the vineyards of Côtes Roties, Condrieu, Château Grillet and Saint Joseph. On land, Lyon offers some impressive art within its city limits, some of it displayed at the Musée des beaux-arts de Lyon, whose collection of Egyptian artefacts was started by the Louvre, and some of it performed at the Lyon National Opera House. For a gorgeous church fix, visit the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, and for a wider snapshot of Lyon's history try the Historical Museum of Lyon & International Puppet Museum, the Lyon Resistance Museum, or the Lumière Museum.
For more advice about what to see and do while you're docked in Lyon, visit the Place Bellecour, with its statue of Louis XIV and tourist information pavilion.
The Roman Temple of Augustus and Livia, in the middle of town, is Vienne's best preserved Roman site and it's still in use as a museum. The other main man made attraction: Vienne Cathedral, offers photogenic river views and impressive stonework – you might even be able to admire your sailing craft from afar.
Nestled among famous vineyards are the little towns of Tain L'Hermitage and Tournon, both known for Valrhona chocolate and Hermitage and Crozes-hermitage wines. Tournon's medieval town is a bit prettier and it still has its feudal castle, overlooking the river, but Tain L'Hermitage has the better wine stores.
Not surprisingly the old section of Vivers is the prettiest bit, with its Cathedral and winding streets. Stretch your legs wandering the Rue Chevrerie and Rue du Chateau, and peek into the Renaissance Maison des Chevaliers and Maison Elementaire du Commercant.
The medieval village, with the narrow, curving streets, huddles under the protective watch of the ruins of the ancient chateau. The buildings are in good repair, though Châteauneuf du Pape the wine attracts most visitors to Châteauneuf du Pape the town, and there are plenty of places to buy wine and learn about wine here.
Its Palais des Papes where the Popes lived, is probably the city's most famous attraction, but the well preserved medieval centre of town and the imposingly well preserved ramparts, also built by a Pope, are just some of the reasons a lot of people visit for more than one day.
The Avignon Cathedral is filled with treasures worthy of the Popes, some of which have been moved into the Musée du Petit-Palais, but if religious art isn't your speciality, the Calvet Museum, in an 18th Century mansion, has a wealth of great 18th Century art. Orange, of the remarkably intact Roman ruins and the Triumphal Arch is a short drive north.
The Roman ruins littering the city give visitors a lot to look at, from the amphitheatre to the Cryptoporticus du Forum: a vast, dark, dank and wonderfully spooky underground gallery built as a barracks for public slaves. The Cathédrale St-Trophime is another local landmark most passers-by investigate.
Aside from history, Arles is also known for inspiring the art of Vincent Van Gogh - he thought the harsh sunlight was perfect for the art he wanted to create and he painted some of his most famous works here, including 'The Night Cafe', 'Yellow Room' and 'Starry Night Over the Rhone'. Though Arles has no original Van Goghs, it does have the locations that inspired him, and one of them - the hospital where he went to recover after cutting off his ear - has been turned into a library and gallery called Espace Van Gogh.
It's easy to organise getting to Lyon by rail. From the UK it's a Eurostar jaunt via Paris or Lille, then a TCV transfer before you're tasting off the Rhône-Alpes cheeseboard delights of Tomme and Reblochon, Blue de Bresse and Picodon. Washed down with a Beaujolais, a Côtes-du-Rhône or a Savoie white wine while you watch the world pass by your train window.
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