Summer short breaks and the top ten things to do in Vienne, France

Travel to Vienne from Grenoble is quickest by train via Lyon, unless the car hire option is taken. Hertz may allow one-way journeys. The simplest way is to separate the two cities, and either fly to Lyon St Exupéry then take the short train journey or travel by Eurostar and TGV.

Drawing a pipe of Cote Rotie wine to tasteThe contrast between the two cities is great: size matters and Grenoble, with its science research institutes, business centre and university has a population many times larger than the 33,000 of Vienne. Contrast quality with quantity and the wines of the Côte Rôtie, cultivated since Roman times, and Condrieu stand out, and there are restaurants to compare with the best. La Pyramide, with two Michelin stars, is where Paul Bocuse was trained: it is easily recognisable by the obelisk outside. This marked one end of the former Roman circus. Muse at 4-6 rue du Musée has a wonderful menu at really affordable prices and is so popular that only advance notice will secure a table. A few steps away and turning a corner of the old market hall, it will not be the food that makes people gasp: confronting them is the temple of Augustus and Livia. Floodlights make after dinner drinks at the Bar du Temple essential.

Temple of Augustus and Livia at nightRoman and Gallic antiquities abound, not only in Vienne but in St Romain-en-Gal across the river. The Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie stands close to the Garden of Cybele, easily spotted by the half-timbered medieval house nearby. There are two amphitheatres, Odéon and the more substantial Théatre Antique, still used for events like the jazz festival.

To emphasise its viticulture as well as its antiquities the Tourist Office has a ‘wall’ of Rhône wines, while its bookstall offers Roman recipes and two ‘Secrets’ books, on gastronomy and wine. There is also a splendid kitchen where visitors can enrol on cookery courses, including sometimes a party in the gardens outside. The Côte Rotie offers wine tastings and tours of vineyards, all identifiable from the helpful Tourist Map.

'Wine Wall' at the Tourist Office, VienneA tourist train will take visitors who wish to avoid the steep walk up to the Belvédère de Pipet for a panorama of the city and the Rhône. It is almost directly above the Roman theatre.  And gives views across the river to the Valois tower and the Gallo-Roman museum and archaeological site.

From medieval times Vienne was the seat of an archbishop and numerous vestiges of that history remain. The church of St André le Bas has a cloister that few locals know about and the cathedral of St Maurice is magnificent. The Heritage Room (Salle de Patrimoine), close to the bridge and St André, has more to show.

The regular train service from Vienne reaches Condrieu in a few minutes, where another fine restaurant is Bar et Gourmet. Walking down the three-course lunch at less than €20 may take more than the hour or two required to reach Philipp Bruneton’s shop, where his artisan jams are unrivalled for variety and fidelity to ingredients. Those unwilling or unable to walk will need either a taxi or a car. Whatever the mode of transport it is a journey well worth making. His salon de thé serves pancakes, even offering breakfasts, and it is possible to watch him at work to understand why each individual ingredient used, many from his own herb garden, becomes a separate taste within the confection.

Top ten things to do in Vienne and District

  1. Philippe Bruneton at workEat at one of the 15 restaurants in Vienne (Les Evenements map from the tourist office), including, if the wallet can cope, the La Pyramide**.
  2. Taste wine on the Côte Rotie, or the Condrieu and St Joseph vineyards (same map).
  3. Visit the Roman sites and Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie of Vienne.
  4. Visit the Gallo-Roman Museum and archaeological site at St Romain-en-Gal, just across the river.
  5. Take the tourist train to the Belvédère de Pipet for spectacular views of the city.
  6. Visit St Maurice Cathedral.
  7. Follow the Heritage Trail around Vienne city centre.
  8. Follow the Designers’ Trail in the centre.
  9. Visit the Centre d’art contemporain at Halle des Bouchers.
  10. Visit Philippe Bruneton at 80 route de Sainte-Croix, 69420 Longes.

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