Taking to the countryside with the ViaRhona cycling route
by Kevin Bonnaud
From joggers to pedestrians, roller skaters to bikers, the Rhone banks look almost like a motorway on sunny Sundays.
Muriel Vandermeulen, a bike-loving young mother, is trying to slip through the crowd with her kids aged 2 and 5.
“Urban biking can be stressful as a parent because of walkers using the wrong path”, though French are getting a little less undisciplined,” she says, with a chuckle.
The active family came back from a 3-day bike trip in the Rhone Valley overseeing one section of ViaRhona: an 815-km cycling route which will connect Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean Sea by 2020.
Easy-biking for families
Over 600 km have already been built along the Rhone river including a 200-km car-free section between Vienne and Pont St Esprit.
“It’s an easy section, without slopes, well-suited for families as there are a lot of playgrounds and water points,” Muriel told This Is Lyon. Riders are not adventurers on their own.
“There are bike rentals, bike repair shops along the path including mobile repairers in certain sections and a growing network of accommodations with bike parks”.
The GPS track makes the journey much more enjoyable thanks to a list of sites to visit, tasting addresses and railway stations.
Most local trains (TER) have dedicated spaces for bikes. It can be very convenient if you feel tired or want to skip some sections.
“From Lyon, take the train to Givors as the bike route in the south of the agglomeration has not been completed yet.”
You’d better prepare your trip in advance though: choose an itinerary that matches your physical conditions, the area you want to visit and make the bookings if necessary.
Pedal through Natural and Heritage Sites
ViaRhona is designed for families like Muriel’s, and not for race bikes who pedal for long hours without stopping.
“Travelling by bike is a friendly and healthy experience. Tourists can stop wherever or whenever they want, depending on their desires, to discover new places and tastes.
That’s the well-known French art de vivre foreigners are looking for,” says Raphaelle Nicaise, ViaRhona press manager for Auvergne Rhône-Alpes Tourism, the agency in charge of promoting tourism in the region.
One out of four riders are foreigners from the Benelux, Switzerland, Germany, the United Kingdom, Scandinavia and North America.
ViaRhona along with la Route du Rhone (Rhone route), which covers 350 km in Switzerland, joined EuroVelo, a European biking network which will total 70,000 km when completed.
The shortest of the network’s 15 cycle routes (1115 km) named Rhone Cycle Route (EuroVelo 17) is very diverse in terms of landscapes crossed, heritage sites bikers can stop by not to mention local restaurants and wineries.
“My kids and I appreciated the natural reserves of Ramieres, Printegarde and Ile de Beurre (Pilat natural park), Peaugres safari and the crocodile farm in Pierrelatte,” Muriel Vandermeulen says.
History buffs enjoy the ride too with the archeological site and museum of Saint Romain-en-Gal, roman vestiges in Vienne old town, many castles (Roussillon, Charmes-sur-Rhône, la Voulte-sur-Rhône, Cruas or Tournon) medieval villages and old bridges such as the so-called Himalayan Gateway in Rochemaure.
“This bridge is better crossed on foot. It’s for people who do not have vertigo”.
Tastes from the Rhone Valley
Travelling at a slow pace allows riders to taste prestigious wines from terraced vineyards. Condrieu, Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage, St Joseph, Cornas, St Péray.
“They can go to “Les Vins de Vienne” cellar in Chavanay, Le bistrot de Serine wine bar in Ampuis, visit Vidal Fleury domain, the oldest winery of the Rhone Valley or attend a workshop in the prestigious Chapoutier property in Tain L’Hermitage,” Raphaelle Nicaise told This Is Lyon.
If you miss riding a bike so much, rent an electric bike to ride across Crozes-Hermitage and St-Jospeh vineyards (www.ausommelier.com).
“ViaRhona is also a food trail with 20 Michelin-starred restaurants located around the bike path especially around Valence, the home of Anne-Sophie Pic: the only female chef with three Michelin stars,” Raphaelle Nicaise adds.
Tasting local specialties on your way is a good reason to take a break. Try the Rigotte of Condrieu in Vienne or Ampuis (raw milk goat cheese with nutty aromas), Valrhona chocolates in Tain L’Hermitage, The Pogne from Romans (pastry dough forming a crown scented with orange blossom) or the Suisse from Valence (shortbread little man cookie flavoured with candied oranges). Don’t forget Montélimar’s nougat and Tricastin black truffle…
At the end of your bike trip, you may not be as fit as you may have hoped but you will certainly know what the Rhone Valley really tastes like.
Valrhona cycle route (from Lake Geneva to the Mediteranean):
Find an itinerary and plan your bike trip at https://en.viarhona.com/
See the Rhône Valley like never before from land and water.
What to visit, where to eat, and what to buy in the “Venice of the Alps”.
Discover truffles, raviolis, great wines, beautiful landscapes and other local specialities by visiting Valence, Romans, Tournon-sur-Rhône and Tain l’Hermitage in the Rhone Valley, only one hour from Lyon.