After a hectic week marking three hundred odd copies, I had a strong desire to prendre l’air and escape the city for a few hours. I didn’t fancy travelling far and after debating the various merits of a few nearby towns I settled on Vienne, which many moons ago was a hub of the Roman Empire under Julius Caesar. The lively town centre is filled with winding streets, squares bordered with cafés and traces of the Roman era.
The train journey was short and sweet, and I arrived in Vienne barely twenty minutes after leaving Lyon. Upon arrival, I spotted a huge mural paying tribute to the 763 Viennois who died during the First World War; it was only unveiled on Armistice Day last year, so is a relatively recent addition to the town.
The tree-lined Cours Romestang was filled with market stalls selling household goods; further on, in Place de Miremont, fruit and vegetable stalls sold apples by the crateful, peppers on steroids (I’ve never seen any so big!) and baskets upon baskets of field-fresh strawberries. With over four hundred stalls and dozens of artisans adhering to strict criteria – for example, products sold must be cultivated or produced within 25km of the town – Vienne’s Saturday market is considered to be one of the south east’s foremost traditional markets. Leaving the frenzy behind, I passed through the Jardin de Cybèle, an archaeological site comprising of several stone archways and walls.
The Théâtre de Vienne is located just beside the Jardin de Cybèle, and a large mural covers its rear wall. Even though I’d done a spot of Googling the night before, I hadn’t come across this in my search – so it made my little discovery all the nicer!
Since I’m a sucker for aerial views, I decided to pass by the Théâtre Antique (where the annual Jazz à Vienne festival is held) and head on up to the Belvédère de Pipet. The view across the white-washed red-rooved town was beautiful, especially with the lush rolling hills of the Parc Naturel Régional du Pilat in the background and the Rhône snaking through the middle. If you don’t fancy paying to visit the Théâtre Antique, rest assured that you can enjoy a pretty good aerial view of it from the Belvédère de Pipet. (This perhaps explains why I only saw one or two people pay to venture inside it.)
While I was up there, I popped into Chapelle Notre-Dame de la Salette (known amongst locals as Notre-Dame de Pipet). Over the years, there have been castles, fortresses and fortifications atop the hill; it was only in 1873 that the current chapel was built and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. After soaking up the sunshine vitamin for the best part of half an hour, I decided to head back down the hillside and potter around the streets of Vienne.
Every now and again, an architectural gem would rise out of nowhere. The Église St. André le Bas (as opposed to Église St. André le Haut, which I didn’t actually take note of) was one such example, with its majestic masonry and imposing size.
From here, I wandered along to the Temple d’Auguste et de Livie, one of only two surviving Roman temples in France (the other being the Maison Carrée in Nîmes). The Temple d’Auguste et de Livie seemed more authentic than the Maison Carrée; more weathered, less polished. This was probably my favourite sight in Vienne, though the Cathédrale St. Maurice came a close second.
The Cathédrale St. Maurice has a stunning façade; the north tower was destroyed by fire in the late 1800s, hence it looking like a rather recent addition to the building. During the French Revolution, the cathedral served as both a military barracks and a hayloft; its cloisters and chapels were torn down shortly after, so that the stone could be used to rebuild the town. Entry was free, so I popped inside for a look around. I wasn’t expecting a huge amount from it – after all, Vienne isn’t that large a town – but its mixture of traditional and modern stained glass, worn tapestries and impressively high ceiling blew me away. As I left the cathedral, a homeless man called after me “Vous m’avez vu zozo?” (Yes, I did. And for the record, if you call me an idiot, then I’m even less likely to want to help you.)
Having seen most of what Vienne had to offer, I decided to cross the bridge to St. Colombe and go for a wander along the riverside. The Musée Gallo-Romain is said to be worth a visit, but as it was such a nice day I gave it a miss.
After admiring the blooms and the views of Vienne’s medieval castle – or rather, the remains of said castle – I plonked myself down on a bench by the river. After lunch, I wandered back across the bridge and – feeling a little weary after a busy week – decided to catch a train back to Lyon.
- The Belvédère de Pipet is roughly a 10-15 minute walk from the Jardin de Cybèle. Follow signs for the cemetery (cimetière) up Rue Pipet, and you’ll then pick up signs for the Belvédère de Pipet.
- Entry to Vienne’s municipal museums and sites is reasonable – and free for everyone on the first Sunday of every month – but if you plan to visit multiple sites, you may want to purchase a Billet Passe. For more information, check Vienne’s tourist website.