The Rhône-Alpes region of France has impressive scenery stretching from wide river valleys to lakes and high mountain peaks. It has many fine cities and towns, offering a wide range of outstanding historic buildings, riverside walks, attractive parks and museums.
My tour of the region in a cold but dry week in February commenced in Lyon, France’s third largest city, before moving down the Rhône valley to historic Vienne and then south-east towards the Alps and Grenoble, the self-proclaimed ‘Capital of the Alps’.
Travelling from Grenoble up the Isère river valley, flanked by magnificent snow-capped mountains on either side and views of Mont Blanc in front, led on to the lakeside city of Annecy. My final stop was Bourg-en-Bresse to view some of its outstanding religious buildings before returning to Lyon.
It had been thirty years since I had last visited Lyon. I remembered a bustling city with a an Old Town on a hillside and riverside walks stretching along the banks of the River Rhône and River Saône to their confluence in the south of the city.
Much of course remains the same, with Lyon Cathedral and the Roman Theatre in the old town still being very impressive sights, as is the view from the Cathedral precinct, particularly at dusk.
One outstanding new attraction in Lyon is the Musée des Confluences, an ultra-modern structure of steel and glass built in 2014 where Lyon’s two rivers meet. Three hours passed very quickly and enjoyably as I wandered through the four areas of the permanent exhibition: Origins – Stories of the World, Species – Web of Life, Societies – Human Theatre, Eternities – Visions of the Beyond.
I like visiting botanic gardens and on a cold sunny afternoon, the Parc de la Tête D’or in the north of the city proved a great place to spend a few hours. As well as the small, but well maintained Jardin Botanique, there is a Zoo and 300 acres of landscaped parkland around a large lake. Entry to the Parc de la Tête D’or, including the Jardin Botanique and the Zoo, is free of charge.
Vienne, a small town 20 miles south of Lyon on the River Rhône, is almost like an archeological museum in itself. Up above the town are the ruins of a medieval castle which look down on a reconstructed Roman Theatre.
The Roman Temple of Augustus and Livia sits rather incongruously in the centre of the town in the Place du Palais de Charles de Gaulle. It is difficult to appreciate its fine architecture as it is tightly hemmed in by surrounding buildings.
Nearby is the Cathedral of St Maurice, which dates back to 1130, and a short walk away is the Plan de l’Aiguille, a Roman pyramid resting on a portico with four arches.
When visiting Grenoble, I recommend you first take the cable-car to La Bastille, the fortress overlooking the Old Town. As well as getting your bearings for when sight-seeing in Grenoble, you also get superb panoramic views of the city and surrounding mountainous countryside.
Seniors get a 45% discount on the cable-car, but that’s only for those who are 75 years and older!
Annecy is twice blessed. In addition to a beautiful lake frontage on Lake Annecy, laid out with gardens, there is also an attractive Old Town along the banks of the River Thiou.
A great place to just wander around, admiring the views at every turn.
The main tourist attraction in Bourg-en-Bresse is the Royal Monastery of Brou, about a mile from the town centre. When I visited, the monastery church was closed for renovation, but the monastery itself and its museum proved of great interest.
Within the town centre is the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, with a Renaissance façade but Gothic interior. There are half-timbered (colombage) houses nearby and an imposing 15th Century archway, the Porte des Jacobins, which was formerly the entrance to a convent.
I flew from Stansted to Grenoble with Ryanair. The outward and return flights were on a Tuesday with a return fare of only £22, which confirms my article Fly on a Tuesday! You now pay extra with Ryanair to take your cabin baggage on board with you. However, as a senior traveller, I’m not unhappy to have my cabin baggage placed in the hold free of charge rather than lugging it around the plane.
Much of the driving on my 300 mile tour was on autoroutes, with toll costs amounting to about £50.
In Lyon I stayed at the Holiday Inn Vaise near the Old Town. This is a smart hotel with free parking – very unusual nowadays for city hotels. I stayed just outside Grenoble at the Holiday Inn Express Bernin. This hotel nestles in the Isère valley, with great mountain views all around.
POSTED 27th MARCH 2018 by STEVE HANSON