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Visiting any country this summer is bound to be a little different from what we’re all used to. Yet, in Valence, France, all is done to cultivate that relaxing feel this beautiful city on the left bank of the Rhône River is known for. There, at the heart of this sunny region, holidays are already in full swing. Whether you are looking for a quick getaway or for a couple of weeks basking in the lovely atmosphere of Southern France, Valence has something for everyone.
If you’re looking for a little nature break while visiting the city, Parc Jouvet won’t disappoint. The perfect spot for an outdoor lunch or for a whole day out with the kids, the parks is beautifully landscaped and features a really fun playground. Jean-Perdrix Park, the largest in town, covers 64 acres and houses countless native trees alongside modern architectural wonders.
Vieux Valence – the historical part of the city – has much to offer to those who love admiring sumptuous building. Many of them have been standing there for centuries, the most ancient one, The Cathedral of St. Apollinaris, dating as far back as the 11th century. Its polychromatic façade truly is one of a kind. As beautiful exteriors go, don’t miss out on the House of Heads, where multiple carvings of heads adorn a flamboyant 16th-century structure, one of the most splendid examples of the Gothic to Renaissance transition. The Orientalism-inspired Mauresque House, the Church of St. John and the oldest house in the city, the Draper’s House, should also be high on your list!
Drôme, in the Rhône Valley, happens to be a wonderful location for those who enjoy alternating between visiting the city and soaking in the splendour of nature. If you are willing to take the couple-of-hour-drive, the breathtaking Vercors Massif is well worth the effort. A little closer, the Gorges d’Omblèze, with their stunning waterfall, offer 72 metres of watery beauty. Finally, if you are lucky enough to be there between late-June and mid-July, be sure to indulge in a relaxing walk through the lavender fields.
Valence is also famous for the vastness of its culture. In the city’s museum, 4,000 years of history await you! From ancient mosaics to Roman-time sacrificial altars to Dutch Golden Age paintings by Gerard van Honthorst, you’re in for an unforgettable experience.
Valence University’s former law faculty is home to the Centre du Patrimoine Arménien, an institution dedicated to showcasing and preserving Armenia’s rich culture. There, you will hear poignant accounts of the 1915-17 genocide and learn about fascinating historical overlaps between France and Armenia.
If the history of shoemaking is a topic that piques your interest, then you won’t regret taking a short trip to nearby Romans-sur-Isère. The town is well worth a few hours of your time in and of itself, but it is also famous for its International Shoe Museum. The Convent of the Visitation lends its remarkable backdrop to the most unusual attraction, which is much more fascinating than it sounds. The museum has thousands of pairs of shoes, some of which dating all the way back to 2,000 BC, and all neatly organised in the small cells where nuns used to sleep. From medieval Cracow shoes to musketeer boots to beautiful examples of footwear from around the world, you won’t regret setting foot there!
Valence is not just a great place for French gastronomy enthusiasts… it is in fact so serious about celebrating good food that it normally houses a yearly Gastronomy Festival! While the 2020 event has been cancelled, the city’s Gastronomic Rally (yes, another food-related gathering!) is set to happen on September 5. It consists in speed-tasting a wide variety of dishes to discover the wealth of culinary wonders the region has to offer, from locally made artisan delicacies to scrumptious morsels concocted by Michelin-starred chefs.
The city itself also boasts an incredible array of fine dining experiences to choose from. A certain André Pic founded one of the most renowned establishments in the entire country: Maison Pic. Now in the hands of his granddaughter, Anne-Sophie, Pic is the city’s pinnacle of gastronomic grandeur. If you prefer to keep your food budget on the reasonable side, head to Miss Pic’s brasserie next door. Affectionately named “André”, the place serves beautiful classic dishes in a very chic, wine bar-like setting.
For a more laid-back jazz vibe, Flaveurs is a great – still Michelin-starred – alternative. If you are in the mood for amazing traditional cooking, dinner at L’Epicerie promises an outstanding experience.
Valence has much to offer to anyone is willing to embrace the tranquil pace of Southern French living, if only for a few days. Between the ever-clement climate, the friendly atmosphere and the delightfully epicurean approach to food, you may never want to leave! Take your time, slow down and enjoy one of the most underrated destinations in France.