We elected to join an optional tour to the medieval walled village of Perouges, France, on the afternoon of day 6 of our Viking River Cruise. When I read the description of Perouges as “The Most Beautiful Village in France,” I definitely wanted to see it.
We were transported 25 miles (40 km) from Lyon by coach to the village. We entered through a fortified gateway called the Barbican into a village with so many original buildings, I felt immediately transported back in time to the Middle Ages, although undoubtedly a cleaner and better smelling version. Movies such as The Three Musketeers (1973) have been filmed here due to the authenticity of the setting.
The Barbican at the Upper Gate to Perouges
Immediately inside the gate, we stopped first at the Eglise forteresse (fortified church) Saint-Marie-Madeleine that comprises part of the city wall. The narrow windows prevented intruders from gaining access and the arrow slit below allowed defenders to shoot from inside.
Eglise forteresse Saint-Marie-Madeleine
Narrow window with arrow slit below
Entrance to the church
Inside Eglise forteresse Saint-Marie-Madeleine
Interior of church
View of the countryside from the hilltop at Perouges
WWI Monument (obviously not from the Middle Ages)
Building in Perouges
As you can see in the photo below, the uneven cobblestone streets in Perouges could be treacherous for anyone not wearing sensible walking shoes.
The Place du Tilleul is the center of Perouges. Our guide pointed out the sundial on the building below, the liberty tree planted following the French Revolution over 200 years ago, and Ostellerie du Vieux Perouges where President Bill Clinton visited in 1996. You can read President Clinton’s speech here.
Sundial on the front of the building
Place du Tilleul
Liberty Tree in Place du Tilleul
Ostellerie du Vieux Perouges
Interior of Ostellerie du Vieux Perouges
I loved the corn hanging from the ceiling to dry at a cafe terrace on the square.
Kathy and Jerry resting a moment
Cobblestone street in Perouges
Lori in Perouges
Galette de Perouges is a local favorite
Scenes from Perouges
Our guide serving us galette de Perouges
Medieval well that was part of the original fortified castle
View of the countryside from Perouges
I later discovered 155 villages in France carry the designation Les Plus Beaux Villages de France. If the others are nearly as captivating as Perouges, I would like to visit each one. Until then, I would agree Perouges is the most beautiful village in France.
As we returned to our ship, the Viking Buri, after our tour of Lyon on day 6 of our river cruise, we were greeted by a French accordion player. He treated us to traditional French café music as we filed into the dining room for a luncheon of regional dishes from Provence. Lyon, France, is actually in the Rhône-Alpes region but we began our cruise in Provence just south of our current location so we were still in the general neighborhood.
French accordion player on the Viking Buri
While all of the food on our cruise was superb, this meal was my favorite. Not only was the food excellent but the scene was set to provide us with a full Provençal experience. The tables were set in Provençal style and even the wait staff stayed in character.
French flag at the entrance to the dining room
Table setting with Kathy and Jerry
Provençal dishes on the buffet
The ratatouille was so amazing I asked Chef Pascal for the recipe which he willingly provided. His recipe was actually no different than I make at home so I can only conclude that everything tastes better in France.
My favorite ratatouille
And who could ever complain about French bread?
The dessert bar featured a fountain of chocolate but many other delicacies tempted us as well.
Macarons, made of almonds, sugar, and egg whites are typically gluten-free, so they have become my French favorite.
Decadent chocolate dessert
My plate: please don’t judge me; it was so good
Enjoy a snippet of the French café music we enjoyed at lunch and imagine we’re together in Provence. But don’t linger too long because after lunch we’re bound for Perouges, a medieval walled town that is the subject of my next post.
Located at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône Rivers, Lyon is the third largest city in France and sometimes considered the more friendly and likable little sister of Paris. As a UNESCO World Heritage site and the gastronomy capital of France, Lyon offers obvious appeal but we enjoyed some unique and lesser-known attractions as well.
We arrived in Lyon at 8:30 AM on day 6 of our Viking River Cruise and started off with a bus tour of the city.
This small boat pulled up to our ship following our arrival in Lyon
The Place Bellecour is the third largest square in France and the “beautiful heart” of the city. Created in 1708 by Louis XIV, a statue of the Sun King adorns the plaza.
View from Place Bellecour toward Basilica Notre-Dame de Fourviere atop the hill
Place des Jacobins
St Nizier Church Lyon, France
La Fresque des Lyonnais is, without a doubt, the most impressive trompe l’oeil I have ever seen. The mural features well-known Lyonnais including the Lumière brothers who invented the cinématographe in 1895 and the Little Prince, created by author Antoine de St.-Exupéry in 1942. I could gaze upon this for hours, it is so fascinating to me. Everything is painted, even the windows, doors, and railings. It is all illusion. Fortunately, our bus stopped to allow us the time to take photographs and I took many.
La Fresque des Lyonnais
La Fresque des Lyonnais
The Little Prince
La Fresque des Lyonnais
La Fresque des Lyonnais
Lyon was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its political, economic, and cultural importance since the 1st century B.C. when the Romans founded the city and called it Lugdunum. Roman ruins are still evident although we only viewed them from the bus.
Roman ruins in Lyon, France
Roman ruins in Lyon, France
We stopped at the top of Fourviere Hill for a visit to Basilique Notre-Dame. Built in the late 1800’s, it became a basilica soon after its consecration. One of the most beautiful cathedrals I’ve seen, it was built entirely with private funds.
The views of the city from atop the Fourviere Hill reminded me of the views from Sacré Coeur in Paris. Even the bit of smog in the air hanging over the city seemed familiar.
After our visit to the Basilica, the bus delivered us to the old town for a walking tour. I was fascinated by the traboules, secret passageways through buildings that connect one street to another. Originally, the traboules were used to access water at the river more quickly and later they were used by weavers to transport silk to markets in the city center. Today, the 30 or so of the more than 300 existing traboules which are open to the public are marked by a shield next to the door as shown in the photo below.
Door to a traboule
Lori inside a traboule
Inside a traboule
The silk industry began in Lyon in 1466 under King Louis XI and less than 80 years later, King Francois I granted a monopoly to Lyon for the production of silk. Silk remains an important industry in Lyon today and many of the shops we saw in the old town sold scarves. (A few were even made from locally produced silk.)
Jerry, Lori, and Jim outside a shop in Lyon while Kathy shopped
Street in old town Lyon
As I said earlier, Lyon is considered the gastronomy capital of France. My palate is not refined enough to appreciate a 3-star restaurant (and my pocketbook can’t afford a 3-star palate anyway). You can still enjoy a great culinary experience at a reasonable price at a bouchon Lyonnais, a local eatery that features regional cuisine.
Our guide tells us about the bouchon Lyonnais
One last view
We had too little time in this impressive city. I definitely needed more time to adequately explore the Roman ruins, learn about the silk industry, and eat in a bouchon Lyonnais. A return trip is definitely on my list.
One of the oldest towns in France, Vienne traces its roots back to Roman invaders, who in 37 B.C. wrested control from the Allobroges, a tribe of Gauls. Does the name Pontius Pilate ring a bell? Local legend claims he was buried in Vienne after his banishment from Rome and subsequent suicide. Swiss legend, however, has him buried in a lake on Mt. Pilatus in Lucerne, Switzerland. I’m traveling to Switzerland in October 2017 so you can expect more on this later.
At any rate, a treasure trove of Roman monuments and ruins still exists in the town of Vienne (pop. 30,000), 20 miles south of Lyon, and we were keen to see it. Offered a choice between two included afternoon tours on day 5 of our Viking River Cruise, we selected the Vienne Roman Architecture Tour. Our coach delivered us to the door of the Gallo-Roman Museum where we began our tour with typical alacrity.
The museum, built in 1996 on an archaeological site discovered in 1967 during construction of a school, is a structure dominated by glass which allows visitors to see the excavation site outside while viewing the recovered artifacts inside the museum. This struck me as conceptually similar to the New Acropolis Museum in Athens, Greece, where the use of glass allows visitors to see the Acropolis on the hill above the museum while viewing the artifacts inside the building and excavation occurring under and around the museum. It’s kind of history heaven for nerds like us.
Looking out the windows of the museum
Excavation is currently occurring in this area protected by the covering
The museum houses an exceptional collection of mosaics unearthed here. Not all of them are complete but the quantity and quality of these exquisite artifacts are unlike anything I’ve seen before.
One of many exquisite mosaics
Close-up of preceding mosaic
In addition to the mosaics, many other artifacts, some discovered here and some on loan from other facilities, tell the story of daily life in ancient Roman times.
A few reproductions such as this ship loaded with barrels and amphorae tell the story of Vienne’s position as a trading center and the transport of goods such as olive oil, wine, and fish on the river.
Roman bed with statue behind
Our tour guide led us outside to the archaeological site named Saint-Romain-en-Gaul to see the excavations, including the paved street below, the remains of homes, and even a public bath.
Across the river in the city center stands the city’s best-preserved Roman monument, the Temple of Augustus and Livia, built around 20 B.C. During his visit in 1787, Thomas Jefferson remarked that it looked like a Praetorian palace. Thankfully, the Gothic windows installed in the Middle Ages when the building was used as a church have been removed and the temple has been restored to a semblance of its former glory.
Roman Temple of Augustus and Livia
Temple of Augustus and Livia
Temple of Augustus and Livia
Original walkway around the temple
Plaque commemorating the visit of Thomas Jefferson
The nearby Garden of Cybèle isn’t as well-preserved but it’s historically significant, nonetheless.
Garden of Cybèle
Sculpture in Garden of Cybèle
The medieval Chateau de la Batie on the hilltop north of the city overlooks Vienne like a vigilant parent keeping silent watch. While it’s not Roman and not open to the public, the juxtaposition of this and other medieval buildings with Roman ruins increases the historical interest and value of Vienne.
Around the corner from the Garden of Cybèle, this medieval building still stands from the 1200’s.
The 11th-century Cathedral of St. Maurice is a combination of Romanesque and Gothic styles and was under restoration when we visited. Nevertheless, the building was most impressive late in the day with the lighting highlighting the intricate detail.
Gargoyles adorn the cathedral
Our guide pointed out a creative modern project that the city adopted to deal with the abundance of chewing gum discarded on sidewalks and streets. They simply painted it and called it art.
Speaking of creativity, I couldn’t resist taking a picture of the door knocker on this lawyer’s office. It’s one of the most imaginative I’ve seen.
Although we signed up for the Roman Architecture Tour, several important Roman monuments in Vienne were notably absent from our tour. I would enjoy a return trip to Vienne to see the 13,000-seat Roman Theater on the slopes of Mt. Pipet, unearthed in 1922 and used for theatrical performances today, and the Pyramid that is the sole remnant of the Roman Circus where legend has it that Pontius Pilate is entombed.
The Train de l’Ardeche began operating in 1891 to transport goods, people, and mail between Tournon-sur-Rhône and Lemastre. Today it is a designated historical monument. The narrow gauge track follows the Doux River through beautiful verdant gorges that are otherwise inaccessible without locomotives specially designed to handle the tight curves. Locomotive 403 has been in operation on the line since 1903, joined in 2015 by sister Locomotive 414 which was built in 1932.
Passengers have three choices but trains don’t operate every day and tickets sell out so check the website and book ahead. Le Mastrou is an all day journey with time to spend in Lemastre for 21€ round trip or 19€ one way. The second option, Le Train du Marché, operates only on Tuesdays at 8:30 a.m. to deliver passengers to the market at Lemastre with a return departure at noon. I assume ticket prices are the same as Le Mastrou but they are not listed on the website. The third option, included in our Viking River Cruise, is Le Train des Gorges, a half-day excursion leaving at 10:15 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. to the station at Colombier le Vieux – Saint-Barthélémy le Plain where passengers can watch the locomotive turn around for the return trip. The cost of this option (had it not been included in our cruise) is 15.50€.
Upon our arrival at the train station on day 5 of our Viking River Cruise, we were directed to pass through the clean, new station (offering opportunities to shop for souvenirs), then stop briefly in the restrooms before boarding our train.
Tournon-sur-Rhône St-Jean-de-Muzols Station
I also checked out the sign that showed the train route along the Doux River.
Sign at Tournon station showing route
Excited for the journey ahead, we boarded the train and found plenty of seats available at this time of year and, since we were armed with our quiet vox headsets, we could hear our guide wherever we sat. The crisp morning air in early November made us appreciate the closed car although in warmer months the carriages are open.
All Aboard with Jerry, Kathy, Jim, and Lori
As the train rumbled out of the station, I soon learned, however, that photos through the windows showed too much reflection. Instead, I stood outside on the platform between the rail cars to photograph the incredible autumn scenes we passed. The average speed of the train is just 20 mph (32 km/h) so I felt quite safe if a little chilly.
We’d barely left the station when we were treated to views of Le Grand Pont (bridge), built of stone during the Middle Ages.
Le Grand Pont
Next came the Barrage de la Ville, a dam surrounded by spectacular foliage, followed by one breathtaking view after another.
Barrage (dam) de la Ville
Barrage (dam) de la Ville
Viaduc de Troye
Scene from the train of the Doux River
Le Doux River from the train
I especially like the effect of the smoke from the locomotive lending an aura of nostalgia for bygone days to my photos.
Tunnel du Mordane and Usine Électrique (electrical plant)
Canal des Allemands
Le Pont des Étroits
Station at Clauzel
I wasn’t the only one taking photos
View from the train
When we arrived at the station at Colombier le Vieux – Saint-Barthélémy le Plain, we got off the train to look about and watch the locomotive turn around on the swing bridge for the return trip.
Train station at Colombier le Vieux – Saint-Barthélémy le Plain
Bridge across the river
These chickens added to the rural ambiance
In less than a minute, two men turned this locomotive around with the aid of what’s called a swing bridge. Watch it here.
You can see the steam locomotive and more rail cars in this photo
Pastoral scene just before our arrival at the station
According to Trip Advisor, the Train de l’Ardeche is the #2 rated attraction in Tournon-sur-Rhône. Number 1 is Le Jardin d’Eden (the Garden of Eden) which we did not visit so I won’t quibble but the train was #1 with our group.