We are back from riding part of the Via Rhona route along the Rhone River in France.
We opted to start in Lyon, instead of the origin in the Swiss Alps. The complete route is 895km.
It was convenient and fast to take the train directly from CDG airport to Lyon; the third largest city in France. Both the Rhone and the Saone Rivers run through Lyon, separating it into three sections. Each section has a different character and sites to see. There are several renown museums, cathedrals, Roman ruins, parks, zoo and fountains, as well as a much used riverside path.
We especially enjoyed Vieux Ville (old town). The funicular zips you to the top to visit the cathedral and enjoy the spectacular viewpoint and then work your way down past the Roman Theater, down to the warren of streets in the old town, with nice little restaurants.
We had arranged for rental bikes from France Bike Rentals and they delivered directly to us in Lyon and would be picking them up at our conclusion in Avignon. This is an excellent service, if you are not taking your own bike. France gets more bike friendly with each time we visit. This is evident with the city bikes, bike lanes and pedestrian/bike bridges. Lyon even has a bike friendly tunnel through part of the center that is totally away from cars and buses, who have their own tunnel.
Stage One: Lyon to Vienne
After getting familiar with our rental bikes, we were off to Vienne. We waited out a thunderstorm, which ended a hot spell and cleared the air and then headed out.
We stayed nearby Par-Dieu Rail Station, so we made our way on a bike lane to reach the Rhone and ride beside the left bank and then over the recently opened Pont Ramond Barre bridge at the Confluence.
This is a dual bike lane/light rail bridge that will lead us out of Lyon. The segment thereafter to Givor was mostly on roadway with not much in the way of a bike lane, if any, and not much in the way of signpost; but, after Givor, things were much improved to Vienne.
Vienne is a compact town of 30000; packed with Roman monuments, including the noted Musee Gallo-Romain.
For a great overview of the Rhone, climb to the Chapelle Notre Dame de Pipet on the hilltop.
Stage Two: Vienne to Serrieres
We woke to a beautiful sunny day. We headed out of Vienne on a nice cycleway that took us to the pedestrian/cycle bridge over the Rhone and then onto the path beside the Rhone, heading south.
There were plenty of others out enjoying this lovely summer day. Most of the ride today is on cycle path or small roads. Hillsides are covered with vineyards. After crossing a section of the Rhone on the St Pierre-de-Boeuf Dam, we’re beside the roadway on a path for several kilometers before reaching a nature reserve. We eventually reach Sablons, where we cross the Rhone to stay overnight in the small town of Serrieres. Most of the town is along one street; but, there are things to see. The Musee des Mariniers du Rhone, housed in the former Church of Saint-Sornin and located on the south end of town, was well worth a visit.
This area of the Rhone is also known for its Jousting events and you may see these flat bottomed boats moored along the river shore. If you’re lucky, you may see an actual jousting event or practice, where the loser is knocked into the water by a joisting pole.
Stage Three: Serrieres to Tournon-sur-Rhone
We cross the bridge back over to Sablon and continue south on a quiet road down the left bank of the Rhone; passing orchards. Soon we turn off onto a designated cycle path and then onto a quiet road again to cross over the Sablon dam and locks. We are alternating between quiet
roads and cycle tracks as we pass some wooded sections and reach St Vallier, where we cross the Rhone again. What a great view of the bridge and the town from the other side.
Continue on to cross the Rhone again at Sarras and follow the route toward Tournon on small roads and cycle tracks with more and more vineyards, orchards and wooded sections. So pretty! One more bridge to cross before Tournon. This is over the Doux River.
Another wonderful old suspension bridge from 1825 has been re-purposed for pedestrians and cycles. The bridge deck is wood.
Next morning we headed over the repurposed suspension bridge to Tain-l’Hermitage to visit the Valrhona chocolate company for a tour. It’s not only informative; but, there are lots of samples and who doesn’t like chocolate? Then we returned to our hotel and checked out.
Stage Four: Tournon-sur-Rhone to Valance
We ride south, beside the Rhone, on a cycle path on the right bank. Today, the dark clouds threatened rain; but, we were lucky only to get a very brief sprinkle. Continue, mainly on cycle path, to reach and cross over the dam, after Glun and then a bridge. We’re on the highway off and on; but, there is a return to the cycle path past the confluence of the Isere and Rhone rivers and then on to the outskirts of Valance. Cross the highway on the crosswalk, with the light and continue into the centrum on well marked cycle lanes. If you care to continue on today, you pass right through town and over the bridge over the Rhone. There is a lot of traffic in this town of 65000.
We actually did not find Valance had too much to offer in the way of historic spots. If you can handle a longer ride, you may just skip Valance and keep going to Le Pouzin.
Stage Five: Valance to Le Pouzin.
We diverted from the route in Mike Wells “Cycling the River Rhone Cycle Route” to leave Valance. It made more sense to head straight out Champ de Mars in the bus lane and across the bridge over the Rhone in the bike lane. Take the first right after to bridge and wind down to the riverside path and under the bridge we just crossed. The path continues and flirts with the Rhone as we pass some woods and orchards. Occasionally we are beside rail tracks. Ride beside the Embroye River and then up to the highway to cross to the cycle track on the left side of the bridge to cross the Embroye. Then continue on to cross the Turzon River bridge and also ride beside rail tracks to reach and cross Beauchastel locks and dam. This is a bit of an out and back to get over to where we may cross the waterway. Cross the old bridge over the Eyrieux, and then immediately left to ride along a quiet wooded path. At La Voulte-sur-Rhone we cross the narrow old suspension bridge and take in the view back at the bridge and town with it’s castle on the hill.
We cross La Drome River on a nice pedestrian/cycle bridge and continue on the left bank of the Rhone on a nice path. Just before Le Pouzin, we cross the highway to ride over the bridge on the narrow lane on the left side. The limestone,cave filled hills rise up around town. This was once a mining hub; but, it’s origins date to prehistoric times. Don’t miss seeing the 2nd century stone Roman bridge.
This small town is at the entrance to the Ouveze gorge. It makes for some nice small hikes around the hills.
Stage Six: Le Pouzin to Montelimar
We head straight out of town on the path on the right and then crossover at .4 of a km to ride on a nicely paved two way cycle path. At about 1km we pass the flower bedecked ore cars; a sign of the iron ore industry here in the past. Cliff are on the right; many with interesting looking caves? We follow the path past blooming sunflowers. Can’t miss this photo op. There’s a nicely placed picnic area, just before crossing a pedestrian/cycle bridge and then we’re on the highway for only a bit, before reaching Baix. We can tell that this is a work in process for the cycle route. We wind through town and stop for a few pictures and then head to a new section of the trail that avoides the highway. Surprise! Those wonderful folks who manage the Via Rhona are always looking for ways to make improvements. A section of the Rhone is on the left and there are rail track for a while on the right. Keep going past the cement plants and the ominous cooling towers of Cruas power station. Skirt around all this on the path. Soon we are back beside the Rhone. We reach; but, don’t cross the dam and head on toward Rochemaure. We see this from a long ways off and the ruins and city wall are something to see.
After photos, we head over a wonderful cycle/pedestrian bridge over the Rhone. This can get a little tough in a strong wind. One of us rode and the other, me, walked part of this.
We’re on a quiet road for a while; before turning onto the highway with a wide cycle lane. Another Rhone River crossing on the Pracomtal bridge to set us up for our route to the town center. The town is noted for its Montelimar nougat, which has origins in the 12th century and Google seemed to like it enough to pay tribute in this street art.
There is also a castle on the hill, museums and as fate would have it, there was a cycle race around the central town circuit that evening. What fun to watch.
Stage Seven: Montelimar to Pirrelatte
Pirrelatte is not actually on the Via Rhone route; but, we thought it worth the detour to stay overnight; if for no other reason than to visit the crocodile farm, just outside of town. We left Montelimar by retracing our route into town, back over the Pracomtal bridge and then carefully cross left onto a small road that leads to the cycle track. Wind along the dyke path, beside a Rhone canal and cross the Chateauneuf-du-Rhonedam. Before long, the Cathedral St Vincent gleams in the sun on the hill in Viviers. We cross the Chateauneuf-du-Rhone bridge and head into Vivier to check out the cathedral and view from the hillside. Both are spectacular.
Then it is out of town on quiet road to reach the canal path and ride beside the Rhone with the looming limestone cliffs of Donzare gorge on the opposite bank. We relish the shade of the trees as the day is heating up quickly. Eventually it is up to a separated path beside the roadway and takes us all the way into Bourg St Andeol, where we negotiate the roundabout and cross the Rhone on the bridge. The separated path picks up for a while after; but, then we are on the busy roadway; but, the cycle lane is wide, thankfully. We press on to the turnoff to Pirrelatte, find our lodging, drop our bags and head off to the crocodile farm.
This was very well presented and very enjoyable. Back in town, we explored, snapped pictures of the windmill, churches and “rock” and enjoyed a quiet rest.
Stage Eight: Pirrelatte to Pont-Saint Esprit ( short route today)
As of 2017, Pont-Saint Esprit is officially the end of the well organized Via Rhona signed route; but, there are sections that are greenways and we have hopes this will someday continue on to the Sea. From Pirrelatte, we headed back to the highway from the center of the old town (about 2km). The highway has a good wide bike lane and we keep on this for just over 3km to the turnoff left, before reaching the Rhone bridge. Note the sign on the highway for the Gorge d’Ardeche. We are heading in that direction. It’s nice to be on a quiet road, passing crop fields. Just before reaching another highway we nearly missing one of the Via Rhona signs (behind a dumpster), as the quiet road turns right and passes more crop fields and then vineyards. Eventually we meet the highway at Le Bout du Pont and from here we are on this into Pont-Saint Esprit. There is a new bridge over the Rhone, just to the south; but this route over the ancient, multi-arched Roman bridge gets lots and lots of traffic. The bridge is narrow and we simply hold our own in the lane with traffic and carefully take glimpses of the view of the River and the old town ahead. It is nice to arrive and do our town sightseeing on foot.
We went back to snap more pictures of this imposing bridge as well as the ancient churches. The Musee d’Art Sacre du Gard was a surprise find that our hotel owner marked on the town map. This is on a class with some of Paris fine museums and at the time of our visit, it was free.
Stage Nine: Pont-Saint Esprit to Chatauneuf-du-Pope
This route into the heart of wine country is partially marked and part of our own concoction. We headed down to the small road beside the Rhone and out of town with the river to our left and then out of sight; replaced by orchards and vineyards. After a small unpaved section of farm road, we meet and join a roadway; but, the traffic is light. There are more and more vineyards as we go and eventually the road becomes more of an undulating highway with cliffs rising up on one side. Soon we have the Rhone to our left again at St Etienne des Sorts. After leaving, we are on a highway as we skirt around a power facility and on to cross over a section of the Rhone on a dam and then on to cross another Rhone section of locks. The highway continues after for a while until a short; but, welcome section of greenway trail. Unfortunately, this only lasts a few kilometers and then we are back on the D road with the traffic. From here, we are in the home stretch and simply following the signs to where we turn off right for the final few kilometers into Chatauneuf-du-Pope after another Rhone bridge crossing. Traffic gets heavier, this time of day as this is a popular tourist stop. More and more vineyards, right and left, as approach town.
On the little climb into town, we catch our first glimpse of the castle ruins on the hill.
We settle in and climb to the castle ruins for the outstanding view. Then a reward of some fine wine tasting.
Stage Ten: Chatauneuf-du-Pope to Avignon
Our last riding stage for this tour. Hard to believe. We retraced our way back over the Rhone bridge to the roundabout, just beyond and took the spoke to Roquemaure. Then, there is a path that bypasses park Amazonia; with part of the path rough dirt and gravel. This does not last long. Soon we cross over a little stream to reach pretty little Roquemaure, with it’s ruined 12th century castle. We didn’t linger long, as we were anxious to get to Avignon. It’s a nice quiet route for quite a while, until we reach the highway; but, are only on this for less than a half kilometer before we turnoff left onto a nice little road beside vineyards and orchards, crop fields and some woods. After about 5 kilometers, we rise to enter the highway, where we cross over the Villeneuve dam and then across the Rhone bridge over the Canal des Papes. After nearly 4 kilometers, you reach a roundabout. This will be the start of your back door way into Avignon. Ride this quiet little tree lined lane and watch for a turnoff left. It is not well signed; but there are barriers and a paved path that will open up for a spectacular ride beside the Rhone with the Saint Benedicts Bridge ahead and the Palais des Popes above. There are park benches and many people enjoying the quietude of the park area, so close; but, do different from buy Avignon. The passenger/bike ferry crosses this narrow section of the Rhone and deposits you just across the street from a path the circles the old walled city of Avignon.
Best part, besides the wonderful view, is that they ferry runs frequently and is free. We navigate the path beside the wall to reach our hotel and this is where we leave the bikes and continue by foot and train for the rest of our tour.
Avignon gets lots of tourists and there is much to see here. We enjoyed finding some of the little squares, away from the busy more touristy areas. Note, that if you come in July, it is Arts Festival and the city is jam packed with people; tourists, artist and performers.
We enjoyed a side trip to Arles, to the south. We have been there before, a number of times and never get tired of the Roman ruins and museums as well as visiting the sites made famous by artist Vincent Van Gogh in his paintings.