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ViaRhôna, roaming along the Rhône river

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Terroir flavours & tastings

The Rhône Valley is very strongly associated with vineyards, gastronomy and notions of terroir. Following the river’s course using the ViaRhôna cycle route enables you to explore many appellations, reputed either for their wines, their fruit or for other agricultural produce. On top of that there are further specialities and crafts to discover, plus world-renowned chefs with restaurants to tempt you – the fine dining options are numerous. Read on to find out more.

Terroir flavours - Gourmet selection:

Gâteau de Saint-Genix

This brioche (or sweet bread) is filled with pink crunchy pralines (pieces of sugar-coated almonds). A culinary tradition that has made the name of Saint-Genix-sur-Guiers, it’s been produced to a well-guarded secret recipe for over 200 years. Its origins are associated with Saint Agatha, a 3rd century Sicilian martyr; after the Duchy of Savoie (in which Saint-Genix-sur-Guiers traditionally lay) acquired control of Sicily in 1713, the legend of St Agatha was lovingly adopted in these parts. On the saint’s day, on 5 February, the tradition then arose of creating special cakes in her honour.

www.valguiers.com
 

Rhône Valley fruit

From north to south, the Rhône Valley is packed with varied fruit orchards. In Savoie, the apples and pears have been awarded IGP (Indication géographique protégée, similar to an AOC) status. South of Lyon, apricots, peaches and nectarines abound. In the Pilat Range just below Lyon, apples are the speciality. In addition, cherries, raspberries and blueberries are plentiful in many parts. In season, enjoy tasting these wonderfully diverse fruits as you go along the ViaRhôna route. You can buy them at many local producers, or in markets. Delicious fruit juices and fruit jams are also produced locally.

 

Grenoble walnuts (from the département, or county, of Isère)

Grenoble walnuts were awarded Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée status as far back as 1938. Harvested in September, three varieties benefit from the AOC Noix de Grenoble coverage – Franquette, Maillette and Parisienne. They can be tasted fresh, dried, in walnut wine, powdered, or then in other forms you can use in cooking. They are very good for your health. At Vinay, in the midst of the walnut groves of the beautiful Sud Grésivaudan area, you can visit Le Grand Séchoir, an historic farm with its walnut drying barn now turned into a museum dedicated to Grenoble walnuts.
Le Grand Séchoir at Vinay - Maison du pays de la Noix

www.legrandsechoir.fr

 

Chocolate

Famous chocolate makers along the Rhône Valley include: Weiss in Saint-Etienne; Voisin, Bernachon and Sève in Lyon; Bonnat in Voiron; and Le Paradis du Chocolat at La Côte Saint-André. Many of these regional chocolatiers have in fact gained an international reputation thanks to their skills. Perhaps the most famous producer of all is Valrhona, to be found along ViaRhôna at Tain-l’Hermitage. It has opened a dedicated visitor centre, La Cité du Chocolat, with tours involving a multisensory appreciation of chocolate, alongside a spacious shop offering a wide variety of chocolate products as well as free tastings. There are also courses in chocolate preparation and pâtisserie avaliable at Valrhona.

www.citeduchocolat.com 

 

Pogne de Romans (Drôme)

The word ‘pogne’ indicates a kind of confection based on a yeast-based dough. It entered the dialect of Romans-sur-Isère long ago. The local pogne can be traced back to the Middle Ages. It seems to have appeared from as early as 1339, at least. Made only for Easter time originally, it was quite different from today’s pogne, which is a lovely brioche in the shape of a crown, its golden crust flavoured with orange blossom. This pogne is one of Romans’s most reputed products, still made by craft bakers striving to maintain the quality of the tradition.
La Boulangerie Pascalis – Musée de la Pogne, where you’re invited to watch how pogne is made in the oldest boulangerie in the Romans/Bourg-de-Péage area

www.museedelapogne.com

 

Ardèche chestnuts

The département, or French county, of Ardèche is the leading producer of chestnuts in France, accounting for 50% of national production. The AOC covering chestnuts in the Ardèche concerns 65 varieties, the best known being Comballe, Merle, Bouche Rouge and Précoce des Vans. The harvest takes place in autumn and is celebrated with numerous festivals, known as ‘castagnades’, held from mid-October to mid-November. The chestnuts go into the making of many products, including fresh chestnuts, dried chestnuts, chestnut pieces, chestnut flour and chestnut purée. The most prestigious product though is the marron glacé, an entire, carefully candied chestnut, an internationally known delicacy that’s particularly appreciated around Christmas time.
The chestnut museum in the town of Joyeuse is devoted to this emblematic Ardèche fruit and bears witness to the many activities linked to chesnuts and chestnut trees that have proved so important to families in these parts, where the chestnut tree was traditionally known as ‘the bread tree’.
www.chataigne-ardeche.com

 

Olives from Nyons (Drôme)

Olives from the Nyons area have been awarded their own Appellation d’origine contrôlée status and can be enjoyed in many forms, as well as pressed for olive oil.
At the Espace Vignolis, run by the Cooperative du Nyonsais, you can find a whole range of products, some distinguished by AOP or IGP status, including olives, olive oil and local wine. As to the attached Musée de l’Olivier, it can teach you more about the history and traditions of olive-growing here.
www.vignolis.fr

 

Nougat de Montélimar (Drôme)

This delicious sweet for which Montélimar is famed in France counts among the 13 traditional Christmas desserts served in Provence, but it can of course be enjoyed year-round. Montélimar can certainly claim to be French capital of nougat. There are some 15 producers around town, a dozen of which work on a craft scale. Most are open to the public. In earlier days, nougat, or nougo, as it was called in the historic Oc language of southern France, was in fact a walnut cake. In time, walnuts were replaced by almonds, introduced into these parts c.1650 by a famed botanist, Olivier de Serre. These were mixed with egg whites, honey and more to obtain the irresistible confection.
Nougaterie Arnaud Soubeyran - www.nougatsoubeyran.com
Nougats Gerbe d’Or - www.nougat-chabert-guillot.com
Nougats Diane de Poytiers - www.nougatdiane.com
Le Palais des bonbons - www.palais-bonbons.com

 

Black truffles from the Tricastin (Drôme) and the Vaucluse

The Tricastin area, in the southwest corner of the Drôme département, is the leading producer of truffles in France. Here, in the little city of Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux, the Maison de la Truffe et du Tricastin visitor centre enables you to discover much more about the mysterious world of the black truffle, the Tricastin being one of the places where it thrives most easily.
www.truffle-and-truffe.com

A truffle is known by the word ‘rabasse’ in the old Provençal language and in the Vauculse département, it is revered, in almost cult-like fashion by some, who even dedicate a renowned mass to it, making it the centre of attention. One of the most iconic items in French gastronomy and a luxury product, the ‘black diamond’, as it is sometimes nicknamed, is mainly unearthed in three parts of the Vaucluse: in the former papal enclave around the town of Valréas; at the foot of the Mont Ventoux; and in the Lubéron. Several dedicated truffle festivals and markets take place in season from November to the start of March. www.provenceguide.com or see the Maison de la Truffe et du Vin website: www.vin-truffe-luberon.com.
 

Papalines (AVIGNON)

This chocolate speciality is flavoured with Origan du Comtat liqueur. In 1835, a liqueur-maker from Avignon gathered 60 plants, some picked on the lower slopes of the Mont Ventoux. Following maceration, distillation and the addition of honey, this splendid tipple was born. The recipe has remained unchanged since. In 1960, it was chosen by the Master Pâtissiers of the Vaucluse to add to a chocolate speciality they were creating, the Papaline. Look out for the special sticker placed on local pâtisseries and confectioners’, indicating that they sell this delectable sweet.
www.avignon-tourisme.com

 

Tarasque, Délice de Tartarin et Bézuquettes (TARASCON)

Sample these local sweet treats, kinds of cake and chocolates, each with a name reflecting a local tale, all created by Régis Morin.  Pâtisserie & Salon de Thé La Tarasque- 56, rue des Halles – 13 150 Tarascon- Tel 04 90 91 01 17
 

Camargue rice

Rice cultivation in the Camargue (the marshy Rhône Delta on the Mediterranean) is essentially a post-war phenomenon. In recent times, between 10,000 and 20,000 hectares of rice have been regularly cultivated. Annual production averages c.70,000 tonnes for sale. The rice is grown in fields irrigated using  fresh water, while major drainage initiatives have enabled the improvement of salty soils round and about. The annual cycle of production begins in spring, when the rice fields are levelled. The rice is then sown in May, springs out of the water in early June and is harvested in September or October. Around that time, the Fête des Prémices du Riz takes place in Arles. Since the year 2000, Camargue rice has been awarded IGP (Indication géographique protégée) status, so people buying packets of rice indicating the Camargue as the place of origin can be sure this rice has been grown according to strict specifications and quality tests, as well as meeting the clear criteria of provenance.
Maison du Riz at Albaron : www.maisonduriz.com. - To learn more about Camargue rice: www.rizdecamargue.com

 

Camargue bull meat

Camargue bull meat was the first meat in France derived from cattle to be awarded its own AOP status, in 1996. This meat owes its specific characteristics to the way the cattle are allowed to graze widely on salt meadows known as sansouïres. These bulls have for a long time played a major role in helping maintain biodiversity in the Camargue. Reared on typical Camargue farms known as manades, or ganadearias, the bulls give a meat that is best known for being prepared in a Camargue dish known as gardianne, cooked in red wine, accompanied by rice. There are quite a number of manades that open their doors to visitors.
For more information on the AOP Taureau de Camargue, see: www.aoptaureaudecamargue.com

 

Camargue salt (from the départements of the Gard and Bouches-du-Rhône)

Around the hamlet of Salin-de-Giraud and the historic port of Aigues-Mortes, sitting either side of the Rhône Delta, you can spot extraordinary long white hillocks, huge piles of salt known as camelles. The Camargue’s white gold is stocked on these sites much of the year, from its harvesting in September until its distribution to clients both in the food industry and the chemicals industry, plus to companies involved in gritting icy roads in winter! The production of salt in these parts dates back to Roman times, but moved to an industrial scale in the 19th century, when factories were established in the Camargue.
Maison des produits de Camargue: a new eco-construction where you can buy a wide range of locally made produce from local farms.

 

Bouzigues oysters (Hérault)

The little port of Bouzigues lies beside the huge Etang de Thau lagoon (behind the port of Sète on the Mediterranean) and is almost entirely devoted to rearing shellfish. Local producers offer tastings right on the water’s edge. The village is a great place to head to for tasting seafood platters, bruscades and other specialities. Already back in Roman times, the oysters of the Languedoc coast were reputed for their flavour, with their hints of hazelnuts, their fine salty-sweet balance and their crunchy texture. Nowadays they’re reared on ropes hanging down from tables that can be submerged and then lifted out of the water to imitate the effects of the tides. 
www.bouzigues.fr

 

Tielle (Sète)

A speciality of the port of Sète, a tielle is a round pie with crimped sides with a filling made from octopus chunks cooked in a slightly spicy tomato sauce. The Tielle Sétoise derives from the Italian Tiella di Gaeta. The name in fact comes from the dish employed to cook it in, the Tiella, in Neapolitan speak, from the Latin tegilium, something used as a cover. The Tielle enabled farmers and fishermen to go out and about with their rounded dish that could last a day or two. It developed into a veritable institution in Sète gastronomy. You can find it on sale now in many craft bakeries and shops and also in numerous local restaurants.
www.tourisme-sete.com

 

Good addresses to try out:

Bistrots de Pays 

Bistrots de Pays are specially selected rural village cafés serving food, and more, year-round. Independently run, these locally important cafés allow customers and visitors not just to have a drink, but also to enjoy a meal in a warm atmosphere. Certain of the selected bistrots offer further services, such as a grocery corner or even accommodation. Bistrots de Pays also sign up to act as tourist information points and places for hosting festive and cultural events. Prices for meals are mid-range (< €25). The cooking is often in the traditional, authentic French family style, bringing to the fore local products and recipes.
www.bistrotdepays.com

 

Les Maîtres Restaurateurs

The name of this nationwide grouping reflects a joint desire by the French State and dedicated professionals in the field to identify and give recognition to restaurateurs committed to using fresh, quality produce, the cooking done on the spot by expert chefs, supported by a professional team, so that they can be awarded the title of Maître Restaurateur.
www.maitresrestaurateurs.com


Les Halles Paul Bocuse, Lyon’s main covered food market (Rhône)

Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, named after Lyon’s stellar chef, is a superb indoor food market in the great gastronomic city of Lyon. At time of writing, there were some 58 shops and artisan producers in the Halles, all passionate about food, attracting food lovers galore. Excellent produce and keeping up Lyonnais and regional culinary traditions are the order of the day here. Many of the wider region’s gastronomic specialities are celebrated, including fabulous Saint-Marcellin cheese at La Mère Richard and stunning charcuteries at Colette Sibilia, not forgetting Giraudet quenelles (creamy dumplings made with rich ingredients), Sève chocolates and Bahadourian spices, among many others…
http://halledelyon.free.fr

 

For traditional fine produce from the Gard département, and for information on artisan producers and restaurateurs, look up great Gardois addresses at www.militantdugout.gard.fr

Tastings, cookery courses and culinary outings

 

Cookery courses at the Maison de Fogasses in Avignon

Across the seasons, the Maison de Fogasses organizes culinary workshops and morning-long culinary experiences with their resident chefs, plus specially invited chefs, focusing on authentic cuisine and traditional family cooking. The produce is sourced from local artisan suppliers. Themes covered include pâtisserie workshops, cooking like grandma, the story of spices, the secrets of coffee and its roasting, high-quality varieties of coffee, detox cuisine, after-work cocktails and vin sur vingt, the last dedicated to wine. You need to reserve in advance for workshops and they cater for 8 to 12 people. They take place in a magical spot in the heart of the papal city of Avignon and the workshops include spending more time with the top chefs involved by sharing the meal that you’ve prepared together.

 

Visit producers of Provençal sweet specialities

The aroma of honey, almonds, sugar syrup and cocoa floats in the air in the workshop. Each craft confectioner here has their own cauldron! Slices of melon, cherries, plums and pears are plunged into a sugary bath and emerge as fruits confits, candied fruit that melt in the mouth.
The almonds impart their crunch to the nougat produced in these parts. As to honey, be it filled with the flavours of lavender or of the garrigue (the Languedoc’s herb-covered shrubland), it’s greatly enjoyed by the people of Provence not just for its delicious taste but also for its health benefits. In Carpentras, the famed boiled sweets known as berlingots come in mint, strawberry and typical Provençal aniseed flavours, among others. You can seek out the craft producers of all these sweet treats, as they happily open their workshops to visitors.

 

Provençal cookery workshops at Jean Martin’s

A few kilometres from the heart of the Parc Naturel Régional des Alpilles (just 20km from the ViaRhôna cycle route), take part in the creation and presentation of original recipes with the chef of the Maison Jean Martin, a firm specialized in making readymade typical Provençal dishes and olive products from the Vallée des Baux.
www.jeanmartin.fr

 

Discovering the profession of rearing shellfish…

At Port-Saint-Louis-du-Rhône, rearing shellfish is the traditional activity par excellence. The mussels of Carteau come from the Bay of Carteau southwest of town and prove very tasty and fleshy. They sell well across Europe thanks to their quality and freshness.
The Ferrigno family company has been going for three generations and runs the only French seafood cannery on the Mediterranean coast. By advanced request, you can visit the shellfish filtration and purification centre and the cannery, plus there’s the possibility of a tasting out of doors, weather permitting. Get further information at: http://www.ferrignosa.com/

 

Gourmet break in the Rhône Valley (Vaucluse) 4 days / 3 nights

Luxury, craft and a condensed experience of Provençal life are all on the cards during this special break in the midst of splendid vine country, in the heart of the Dentelles de Montmirail hills. You’ll stay in the gorgeous village of Beaumes-de-Venise, in a gem of a B&B, located in an old house that has been magnificently restored. Then comes your programme of activities: a private cookery class run by a chef in your hosts’ kitchen; a cycling outing on an electric bike taking in the breathtaking scenery; and a driving tour through the vineyards with a chauffeur who knows their wines and takes you on a visit to fine cellars. Although you’ll only be away for 3 nights, you’ll do so much that you’ll feel more like you’ve been away a fortnight!

www.provenceguide.com

 

Gourmet short break in the Pays de Thau (from Sète to Bouzigues)

Stay in exceptional watery surrounds, between the Mediterranean and the Etang de Thau lagoon, with the intriguing canals of Sète between the two. Your accommodation will be either in a fine B&B or a charming hotel. Explore the two local gastronomic capitals, the ports of Sète and Bouzigues. Climbing Sète’s hill, admire the grand views from the top of the Mont-Saint-Clair, while down by the sea, wander around the fishermen’s village at the Pointe Courte headland. Next, head along the coast to Frontignan to taste its reputed sweet Muscat wine. Then it’s on to Bouzigues, a port on the Etang de Thau dedicated to rearing shellfish.
www.herault-tourisme.com