Benefiting from excellent wine, food, climate, a stunning landscape and good transport connections, the Rhone Valley makes for an attractive holiday destination.

Thanks to Eurostar and the superb TGV services – which can all be booked through Voyages SNCF – much of southern France is accessible within a few hours of leaving St Pancras. To explore the region, we gradually worked our way south, taking a Eurostar train direct to Lyon before switching to a TGV for the short onward journey to the city of Valence, the capital of the Drome department.

With its proximity to the A7 motorway, most visitors to this part of the world drive straight past Valence, which is a pity. Anyone who does stop in this city will enjoy strolling along its attractive boulevards and squares, or visiting its Romanesque cathedral.

Valence will also appeal to lovers of fine dining, thanks in no small part to Anna-Sophie Pic’s business, which has a three-Michelin starred restaurant as well as a bistro in the city. We ate at the bistro, named Andre, where high-quality food and wine were served at a reasonable price with attentive service.

Both eateries are based at the Maison Pic complex, which also includes a five-star hotel. For those visitors on a more modest budget, then the four-star Hotel de France is an excellent choice.

Situated in the heart of the city, it has a fresh, contemporary and stylish interior with large and comfortable ensuite rooms.

Close to Valence is the town of Tain l’Hermitage, home to spectacular vineyards and the factory of Valrhona, a long-established, high-end chocolate manufacturer.

The museum at La Cite du Chocolat provides a clear and fascinating guide to the art of chocolate-making. Anyone with a sweet tooth will find it difficult to resist leaving empty-handed from Valrhona’s fully-stocked shop.

Given the temptations that lie there, it would perhaps be wiser to visit Tain l’Hermitage’s vineyards before making your way to the chocolate factory.

I found taking a Segway ride was a great way of touring the vineyards in the hills, though guided tours are also available via electric bike or on foot. You can then try out, and buy, the wines at the excellent Cave de Tain.

For wine lovers keen to learn more about the art of tasting, then a visit to the Universite du Vin in Suze-la-Rousse – just over 50 miles south of Valence and about 15 miles north of the city of Orange – where we were given an informative lesson on the basics of wine tasting, is worth considering.

The university offers a range of courses, starting from a basic half-day session to full-time courses for budding sommeliers, though for those drinkers who take it less seriously, there is a museum on the heritage of wine at the chateau.

From there, we moved to another chateau nearby, in the beautiful village of Rochegude, for the second night of our stay.

By now, we were in the Provence region and the luxurious Chateau de Rochegude hotel prides itself on offering local produce in its restaurant, both in terms of its wine list and sumptuous food. It has gastronomic fayre as well as a set-price three-course menu.

The four-star hotel is an impressive complex with period features and an attractive courtyard.

The original 12th century fortress was rebuilt after being badly damaged during an attack by the Huguenots in the 16th century – and it was a similar story at the chateau in the village of Grignan, a short drive north of Rochegude. That Renaissance gem was left in ruins after the locals gradually stripped its interior and exterior, but fortunately, thanks to the vast wealth and attention to detail of a rich, childless widow, it was rebuilt in the early 20th century and looks much as it would have done 500 years ago.

The chateau in Grignan owes its fame to the 17th century letter writer Madame de Sevigne, through the vast number of letters she wrote to her daughter, Francoise, wife of the marquis of Grignan.

In tribute, there is a statue to her in the centre of Grignan, a quaint village that is also home to Clair de Plume, an expanding hotel and restaurant business. Clair de Plume has a number of sites in Grignan, including an estate on the outskirts of the town that has some bedrooms and an attractive garden with an organic swimming pool and excellent view of fields and the chateau on the hill.

At Clair de Plume's main base in the heart of the village, we enjoyed a fantastic lunch in the conservatory; for me, the highlight was the risotto, which was a perfect consistency and was topped with finely cut truffle mushrooms.

Clair de Plume has recently converted a farmhouse in the town into bedrooms and a bistro restaurant, leaving the main site to concentrate on gastronomic dining.

After the fine dining we had enjoyed to date, the lunch on our third day was a welcome change of pace as we got back to basics and also nature. We headed to the pretty village of Brantes (population 80), set high up in a hill close to Mount Ventoux, to the delightful house where Les Aventurieres du Gout is based. Our guide, Jacqueline, who is affectionately referred to as a ‘witch’, led us on a walk around the village, pointing out the toxic and edible wild-growing plants as we collected the latter.

It was then back to the kitchen as each of us in the group was given a job to do in preparing the food before enjoying a simple but delicious meal outside on a warm day in this picturesque location.

While the landscape of this region has an abundance of pretty villages and mountains, it is lavender fields that many foreigners associate with Provence.

Lavender lovers can also find out more about the plant, how it is harvested and turned into aromatic oil at the visitor centre at Bleu Provence distillery in Nyons. Not only are there are a variety of aromatic products in its wonderfully scented shop, but you can also tuck into lavender- or geranium-favoured ice cream at its cafe.

Continuing the theme of natural oils, the following day, we visited the Huile & Sens store in Crestet, which offers workshops on making treatments; we learned to make face cream. As our instructor told us, the use of oils and chemicals to make beauty products that someone will be putting on their body is not something that should be done without training. 

When we visited the region, in late September, the Lavender plants’ colour was fading. However, we were in the area to see the start of the grape harvest, and, what’s more, we were in the perfect place – a wine estate. For Domaine de Cabasse in Seguret – which comprises a three-star hotel, gourmet restaurant and vineyard – was the delightful destination for our third and final night in the Rhone region.

From my room, there was a fantastic view; the terrace looked out on to the vines metres away and the attractive buildings of Sablet in the distance. The room itself was large and comfortable with a clean, modern bathroom that had a walk-in shower.

After a wine-tasting session with her genial and welcoming owner, Benoit, we enjoyed an excellent meal in the gourmet restaurant.

On the morning of our final day, we headed to nearby Rasteau, for a tour around the distillery and wine tasting session at the cave there.

Drinkers in Oxfordshire now have the opportunity to sample the wines produced by the co-operative associated with the Cave de Rasteau, for the Oxford Wine Company, which has a number of premises in the city, has recently registered as a supplier.

From Rasteau, we made our way to Avignon to catch the TGV to Paris on our way home.

There was not enough time to fully explore this historic city on this occasion and, indeed, after four days in the region, I felt that I had barely touched the surface of what this part of the world offers.

My farewell to this wonderful part of France, therefore, was ‘a bientot’ rather than ‘adieu’.


Fares from London to Valence (changing from Eurostar to TGV at Lyon) start at £111 return. Visit or call 0844 848 5848.

For more information about the Drome department, see

For more information about Vaucluse department, see

For more on Rhone Valley wines, see