The Ardèche department stretches from Annonay in the North to Vallon Pont d’Arc in the South. It shows so many different landscapes, sceneries and architecture from one place to another that it’s really worth exploring.
We cycled on the ViaRhôna section from Saint-Pierre-de-Boeuf to Tournon-sur-Rhône in 2 days. Taking our time to enjoy the sceneries and stopping for the night in Saint-Vallier. The surroundings of the cycle route are different from the precedent regions. There you will be surrounded by fruit trees and, if you cycle in Spring like we did, by beautiful poppy fields !
Wine tasting at Jamet Wine Estate
We stopped in Arras-sur-Rhône to try Catherine & Pascal Jamet’s wines. We were warmly welcomed by his father who showed us around their vines. We saw the workers in action on the steep slopes hard working under a blazing sun.
Their rather small vineyards are within the heart of the Côtes du Rhône and they produce Saint Joseph and Viognier amongst others. If you travel on the Côtes du Rhône wine route, stop by their domaine to say hi from us and try their wine !
Unfortunately for us, the Rhône valley can be very, very windy. And the day we arrived in Tournon-sur-Rhône the wind was coming from the south, which means we had it in our faces for 2 hours. It was so strong we had to walk beside our bikes !
But that was not going to stop us from enjoying our stay in Tournon-sur-Rhône and visiting its castle. At least, we didn’t know yet that Antoine got his pneumonia that day…
The beautiful town of Tournon-sur-Rhône
Tournon is located 90 kms south of Lyon, on the right bank of the Rhône River, opposite the town of Tain-l’Hermitage, also a nice place to visit, which is located in a different department, the Drôme.
The area is famous for its wine, and especially for Saint Joseph, which is a wine that requires many strict conditions like hand picking and ploughing, a harrassing work (but that makes a great wine!).
Like many towns in the Rhône Valley, Tournon has foundations dating back to the Antiquity giving its crucial location on the Rhône River, and developed through the Middle Ages around its castle.
We’ve often passed by Tournon with my parents when going on holiday, but we never stopped to visit the town. Thus I didn’t even know there was a castle until recently ! It’s a work out to get to the entrance doors but it’s worth it.
Tournon’s castle is one of the most beautiful castles in Ardèche, and one of the rare castles to be in such a good state.
Built mostly between the 14th and 16th century, its architecture is a mix between medieval and Renaissance. The lords of Tournon were a wealthy family and lived there up until 1644. After they were gone most of the furnitures, sculptures, paintings, books and tapestries were taken away and the castle was turned into a prison in the middle of the 17th century. You can still see the prisoners graffitis on the walls !
It’s only when the prison closes in 1926 that the castle was listed as a Historical Monument and that the renovation work started. In 1928 it opens as the Rhône Museum, displaying collections linked to the Rhône river that are still displayed today, like the boat models and marine crosses.
But over the years the museum diversified its collection to acquire many great artworks. The Tournon family was linked to the Kingdom of France and especially François the 1st. The son of François the 1st died in the castle in 1566. It is said he was poisoned by his cupbearer, while on their way to fight Charles the 5th. He was sent on a boat to stay in the castle, welcomed by the Tournon family. The Cardinal de Tournon was also a counsellor for François 1st and passionate about art.
Helen’s chambers were reconstituted in Renaissance style with cabinet. She was a female companion to Queen Margot, and died of a heartache. Queen Margot reported her story in her memoirs. It is said that this story has inspired the character of Ophelia in Hamlet.
The chapel was mostly destroyed during the Revolution and hosts today a triptych showing scenes of the Passion of the Christ by Giovanni Capassini. The triptych was originally hanged in the High School chapel.
The multiple terraces of the castle offer great views on the town of Tournon and the Rhône valley. You can see the hanging bridge linking Tournon-sur-Rhône and Tain l’Hermitage, replica of the first hanging bridge built by Marc Seguin in 1849 and used as a toll booth between the two cities.
Tasting local food & wine at Carafes en Folie
After getting our dose of cultural visit it was time for us to enjoy some dinner in one of the best restaurants in the area : Carafes en Folie.
This restaurant and wine bar close to the river banks is a must try if you like to eat organic and local. They have around 350 wines on offer, many are natural and organic, fresh and seasonal products, and for reasonable prices : lunch menu 15€, dinner menu 30€).
The waiters helped us choose our wines accordingly to our meal so we could enjoy our experience at its best. It was a firework of savours and discoveries, a true experience for the food and wine lovers that we are !
For first course, we had a white asparagus cream with an emulsion of matcha green tea and breaded calf’s brains stuffed with dried fruits and nuts. For main dish we had veal chops with tarragon juice and coconut with chorizo, and a lamb leg preserved in star anis. And for desserts, we had a rhubarb mousse with a hazelnut biscuit and a strawberry mousse with chocolate on a Joconde biscuit (almond biscuit).
This exquisite meal was accompanied with a dry and flowery White Roussane, a typical Côtes du Rhône red 2014 Crozes Hermitage by Natacha Chave and an amazing and surprising organic white 2012 Crozes Hermitage by David Reynaud.
After such an intense day and wonderful evening we were glad to relax and get a good recovering night in our comfortable room at our hotel. We did camp a lot on this trip, and couchsurfed too, but sometimes it is just luxury to be able to sleep like a starfish in your king size bed and just lie there after a hot shower… isn’t it ?
Jokes aside, if there is one thing I learned about bike travel is that, sometimes, you just need to pamper yourself. If it means eating like a king in an amazing restaurant, trying out so many wines you get immediately asleep as soon as you lie down under the covers of your king size bed : do it.
Walk on our footsteps
Organise your trip in Ardèche : http://www.ardeche-guide.com/
Fares : 3-4€. Free every 1st sunday of the month.
Opening hours : March 20th – Nov. 2nd : every day, 2-6pm. Nov. 2nd – Dec. 18th : every day from 2-5.30pm. Easter & All Saints Holiday : every day 10-12am/2-6pm. July – August : every day from 10am to 7pm.
Restaurant & Wine bar : Carafes en Folie
Lunch menu : 15-19€, dinner menu : 29-33€
Hotel : Hôtel Les Amandiers
Double room : 84€