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Rhone Valley France

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The Rhône Valley forms the crossroads between Eastern Europe and the Atlantic, the Mediterranean Sea and northern France. It is in the Rhône Valley that the Romans originally planted vines in the first century BC, and the region is now famous for producing fine wines.

The wine growing area is split into two parts: the north produces full bodied red wines such as Hermitage; the south is famed for its Châteauneuf du Pape.

The banks of the river Rhone are heavily industrialised and consequently unattractive, so it is not really worth trying to drive alongside it. There are, however, numerous interesting towns dotted along the Rhône Valley that make it a good place to spend some time. Not least of these towns is Lyon (sometimes spelt Lyons), which is the gastronomic centre of France. It is here that the cuisine from the north and south of France meet and there is a plethora of dishes to sample, especially the fine patisseries made with chocolate. Lyon is known for its sophisticated bars and restaurants, but it is also an important commerce and banking town, and the town grew rich by making silk.

South of Lyon is the Roman city of Vienne, and if you were to follow the route from Vienne to Valence you would pass a number of fruit orchards and vineyards. Vienne was one of Rome's most important wine ports and served as a halfway point between Italy and Northern Europe. To this effect, there are many Roman monuments in Vienne. The town was also an important medieval religious seat and a number of churches attest to this fact.

Lyon and the Rhone Valley also serve as a gateway into the Alps, the huge mountain range that is distributed over France, Italy and Switzerland and contains Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe. In the summer the area's proximity to the Alps opens up the possibility of hiking, rock climbing and canyoning, cycling and hang gliding. It is also a paradise for nature lovers. In spite of its industrial zones, the Rhône is a picturesque region with pasture land, rivers, lakes and gorges in the north and towards the Alps, growing drier and more 'Mediterranean' as you move south into Provence.