March 02, 2013

French Wine, Chocolate and Music

Tournon, July 2012 - This morning we entered the Ardèche region of France, which is known for its chestnuts. We began our day with a walking tour of the town of Tournon, on the west bank of the Rhone.

Tournon sur Rhone, France

Across the river lies the renowned wine town of Tain L'Hermitage and its steep hillside vineyards.

Vineyards of Tain l'Hermitage on the Rhone

Tournon is one of France's oldest medieval cities and still surrounded by fortifications.

Fortifications, Tournon

The gothic Collegiate Church of St. Julien dates largely from the 14th century.

Collegiate Church of St. Julien, Tournon

Tournon Castle was first built in in the 10th century but most of what remains today is Renaissance. The castle houses a museum with a section dedicated to engineer Marc Seguin, who built the first suspension bridge across the Rhone River in 1825.

Entrance to Tournon Castle
Wall Mural, Tournon Castle

The town of Tournon is located at the base of granite hills laced with vineyards.

Granite Hills and Vineyards above Tournon
Tournon, France
Tournon, France

It was market day and the locals were out to do their shopping.

French Bread at the Tournon Market
Cheese at the Tournon Market
Chickens for sale at the Tournon Market
Paella at the Tournon Market

I saw some interesting shoes in one shop window but unfortunately the stores weren't open for business yet. Passengers travelling on some cruise itineraries may have the opportunity to spend time in Tain l'Hermitage to visit the Valrhona Chocolate Factory and sample the local Cote du Rhone wines. But we set sail mid-morning for the next stop on our journey, Viviers.

Cruising the Rhone River south of Tournon

With the greater part of our day spent sailing, we had the opportunity to get better acquainted with the Avalon Scenery (a separate post). Tours of the wheelhouse and galley were very popular. And in the late afternoon we were treated to a tasting of Valrhona chocolate. This company was founded by a French pastry chef, Monsieuer Guironnet, and produces luxury chocolate for both professional and personal consumption. They also have a school for professional chefs, Ecole du Grand Chocolat, which focuses on the use of chocolate in cooking.

We sampled three different flavors: Praline (milk chocolate with almonds and hazelnuts); Palet Or (Black chocolate with a soft sugary filling); and Ganache Granite F.V. (red currants and black currants with a soft fondant cream). The latter was my favorite.

The Walk to Viviers

Upon arrival in Viviers we departed for a walking tour of the town, followed by an organ recital at the Cathedral of St. Vincent. Transportation was available for passengers with walking or breathing difficulties due to it's hilltop location.

Viviers Fountain

Viviers is one of the best preserved medieval towns in southern France, which is evident while strolling through the narrow, winding streets.

Medieval Streets of Viviers
Viviers, France
Viviers, France
Viviers, France
Viviers, France
Viviers, France

St. Vincent is Romanesque and the smallest cathedral in France. During the evening organ recital we were able to sit back and admire the cathedral's soaring vaulted ceiling, the ornate 18th century altar, and 17th century tapestries depicting scenes from the Bible.

Interior of St. Vincent Cathedral, Viviers
High Altar of St. Vincent Cathedral, Viviers
Gobelins Tapestry, St. Vincent Cathedral, Viviers

After the concert we returned to the ship and dinner was served at 8:00 p.m., an hour later than usual. Then members of our crew entertained us with a talent show - there were some very good singers and musicians among them.

And at 2:00 a.m. the Avalon Scenery set sail for the City of Popes, Avignon.

Next:  Avignon and the Pont du Gard

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