Experienced cyclists know it well: the ViaRhôna is one of the major French cycle routes, and is part of the European cycle routes (identified as route number 17). It crosses three regions, twelve departments, three regional nature parks and three cities classified as Unesco, World Heritage sites! A real concentrate of France, to be discovered on a road bike or even an electric bike, reassuring for beginners, even if the differences in altitude never exceed 3%.
Our adventure begins in Vienne, in Isère, about thirty kilometres south of Lyon, in the heart of the Côtes du Rhône vineyards. As the ViaRhôna section linking Lyon to Vienne has not yet been designed, this is where most cyclists start their journey to the South of France, after a few minutes by train from Lyon.
Vienna, the beautiful ancient city
Located on the banks of the Rhône, the Isère town of Vienne has a rich heritage dating back 2,500 years. Since ancient times, Vienna has been one of the great commercial ports of the Rhone Valley. From this sumptuous period, Vienna has preserved some real architectural treasures. You have to climb a few flights of stairs to discover its famous ancient theatre with 8,000 seats, which hosts the annual Jazz à Vienne festival. From the stage, you feel tiny: the stands are 34 metres high! But Vienne is a time machine: as you stroll through its cobbled streets, you will cross the centuries. On a square, here is the Temple of Augustus and Livia (built in 20 BC); a little further on, the majestic Saint-Maurice cathedral, built in the 12th century; there, an old Benedictine cloister... And on the other side of the Rhône, the Gallo-Roman site of Saint-Romain-en-Gal. The visit would not be complete without taking the time to discover the wines of the surrounding domains: Condrieu, Côte Rotie or Château-Grillet, all great names! Then you just have to cross the Rhône to get on your bike on the ViaRhôna.
In the vineyards of Tain-l'Hermitage
It's time to climb into the saddle to discover the pleasures of cycle touring. We set off on the secure track in the fresh morning air, the sun in our eyes. All around us, fields of wheat, corn, and especially orchards. At each fork in the road, the ViaRhôna signs indicate the direction to take and the remaining kilometres. Time for the calves to pull a little, and here we are at our second stage: on one side of the Rhône, the town of Tournon; on the other, that of Tain-L'Hermitage. Here, we discover in particular the great cellar of Tain, from which no less than 5 million bottles come out per year. A short diversions to the Cité du Chocolat , an extraordinary museum invented by the chocolate maker Valrhona, and then the day ends with the highlight of the show: a climb up the Hermitage hill to admire the view of the surrounding vineyards. Surrounded by vines on stilts, you can contemplate the Rhône River which winds its way below, and is more majestic than ever.
In the heart of nature along the Rhône
The next day, when it's time to get back in the saddle, you grimace a little: your buttocks remember the 50 kilometres you did the day before... But it only takes three pedal strokes to rediscover the immense pleasure of cycling. On the Rhône, autumn mornings are magical: the forests emerge from the mist that rises from the river. The cycle path is in the middle of nature. You cross landscapes of forests and marshes, always with the Rhône as your companion. Thanks to the ease offered by the electric bike, the mind is 100% available to dream, lulled by the sound of the wheels on the asphalt. A great way to clear your head! In this area, the banks of the Rhône are wild, and sometimes you cross the river on a large hydraulic dam: beware of vertigo! At the bend in the road, the cyclists stop: there, close by, on a post, is a great grey heron watching the river.
Urban escapade in Valencia
Here we are in Valencia! Here, "bike boxes" allow you to leave your bike and your belongings, so that you can visit the city hands-free. From the large esplanade of the Champ de Mars, in front of the Peynet kiosk, you can admire the Ardèche mountains that rise up on the other side of the Rhône. If you turn towards the East, the Vercors reveals its crests. You then take the time to discover the town. It is very pleasant to walk around, as a whole part of the town centre is pedestrianised. On Saturdays, a large market animates the Place des Clercs. You can sit on the terrace and enjoy the local produce, a salad of ravioles and Bleu du Vercors. Valence is definitely a city of the South, where one takes the time to live. For an evening out, check out the programme of the LUX or the Comédie de Valence, two national stages. And why not book a dinner at la Maison Pic ? But beware, with three Michelin stars, you have to make a reservation in advance!
We leave the Drôme for the Ardèche by pedalling over the vertiginous Himalayan bridge at Rochemaure. A little further on, the arrival by bike in Viviers is unforgettable. The autumn weather is capricious this morning, and rain is not far off. We pedal on a cycle track, in the middle of nature, listening to the birds. At a bend in the road, Viviers appears. On the other side of the Rhône, after a red iron bridge, we discover the village overlooking the river. Its beautiful houses huddle around the Saint-Vincent cathedral, the smallest active cathedral in France. The most courageous will reach it by bike (be careful, it climbs!), to discover the historical centre of this Ardèche village. If you can, you should push open the door of the Maison des Chevaliers, a building from the Middle Ages that courageous inhabitants are trying to restore. From the upper town, you can contemplate the sublime roofs of the lower town. A few kilometres by bike from there, the town of Bourg-Saint-Andéol marks the end of our journey: here, you should not miss the Palais des Evèques (open to visitors on reservation), a superbly restored 13th century residence.
Good to know before departure
- For beginners, allow 17 km/h on an electric bike.
- Provide a saddle cover to increase the comfort of the seat.
- Most of the ViaRhôna itineraries are safe green lanes, separated from the road and dedicated solely to soft mobility, but some sections must share the road with cars: beginner cyclists should check their itinerary carefully beforehand.
- All along the ViaRhôna, there is accommodation with the "accueil vélo" label. Often at low prices, they offer all the equipment necessary for cyclists and are located less than 5 km from the ViaRhôna.
- The route is dotted with reception areas dedicated to bicycles, sometimes including a "bike box", often with a place to inflate tyres, and most of the time a place to recharge the batteries of the electric bike.
Discover the ViaRhôna