If you are driving from the UK to the South East of France then the chances are you will be driving through the Rhone Valley south of Lyon.
As you drive the climate becomes noticeably warmer and the countryside noticeably Mediterranean in appearance as you approach the southern city of Valence.
Surrounded by grape vines, olive groves and fields of lavender, Valence sits on the edge of the Rhone River.
Valence is a lovely city, its historic centre is quite small and easy to explore by foot. The old town is spread out between the long Boulevard Maurice Clerc and the Rhone River. Valence experienced a golden age of growth and prosperity in the 15th and 16th century and many of its key buildings date to this period.
Exploring the streets and squares of the old town reveals many fine buildings and it has lots of outdoor cafes and restaurants to tempt you to spend time savoring the architecture and the atmosphere.
Some particular buildings to look out for are:
The Cathedral of Saint Apollinaire, this was built in the 12th century and renovated in the 17th century. One of its highlights is the ‘Pendentif’, a funeral monument which is just outside the cathedral. This is built in the shape of a triumphal arch reflecting the interest in all things ancient during the Renaissance period. The Pendentif was one of the first monuments in France to be listed as a ‘Monument Historique’.
The Maison des Tetes is a beautiful and very ornate 16th century building whose façade has been sculpted with heads – hence the name. The sculptures include representations of the Winds, Time, Fortune, Law, Theology and Medicine. The corridor and inner courtyard also contain various sculptures.
The Maison des Tetes is open for visits most days.
The most famous monument in Valence is the Peynet bandstand in the Champ de Mars park area on the edge of the old town. Raymond Peynet painted the bandstand with two lovers . The picture became famous and the bandstand with it.
The Champ de Mars gives great views over the Park Jouvet which extends over 7 hectares – impressive for a town centre park. The park is planted with lots of trees and has flower beds, canals and fountains. It is a lovely spot for a picnic.
There is another park, the Jean Perdrix Park which is on the edge of town. This is home to remarkable twin water tower designed by the Greek sculptor Philolaos and are tall slender curved towers which are a piece of beautiful sculpture as well as practical water towers.
Foodies will be interested to know that Valence is home to the Maison Pic, a three-Michelin starred restaurant whose chef is Madame Pic. Enjoy a meal there if you possibly can – and if you can’t then consider their bistro which is rather cheaper.
Valence is also home to the largest river Marina in France so if you are a boating enthusiast it is a great destination. As well as the docks there are sports facilities, a botanic path and a health spa.