As you head south from Lyon on the A7, a twenty-kilometre stretch of oil refineries and factories, steel and chemical works may well tempt you to make a beeline for the lavender fields of Provence further south. However, a short detour off the autoroute leads to Vienne, which, along with St-Romain-en-Gal, just across the river, once prospered as Rome’s major wine port and entrepôt on the Rhône.
Many Roman monuments survive to attest to this past glory, while several important churches recall Vienne’s medieval heyday: it was a bishop’s seat from the fifth century and the home town of twelfth-century Pope Calixtus II. The town has undoubtedly maintained its character and sense of purpose, and the compact old quarter makes for enjoyable wandering. Moreover, Vienne takes great pride in hosting Jazz à Vienne, one of the country’s foremost international jazz festivals, which takes place in the first two weeks of July (wjazzavienne.com) and stars some of the very best musicians in the world.