Vienne is a small city about 35 kilometers south of Lyon. It’s a major stop for river cruises along the Rhône, due to its history & architecture – it was a major center of the Roman Empire. Before the arrival of the Roman armies, Vienne was the capital city of the Allobroges, a Gallic people. Transformed into a Roman colony in 47 BC under Julius Caesar, Vienne became a major urban center. The town was also an important early bishopric in Christian Gaul. At the Council of Vienne, convened there in October 1311, Pope Clement V abolished the order of the Knights Templar. Rumors continue to this day that it’s the burial site of Pontius Pilot.

Building in the 1960s revealed that what was believed to be a series of houses was actually a very large town on the opposite side of the river, now part of a very large museum complex. The ***Musee-Gallo-Romain is new, thoughtful, and really very good – one of the best Roman museums we’ve seen. It’s a mix of interiors, focused on life in the town and very impressive mosaics, and then a grand expanse outdoors over the original roads, looking at the remains of the town.  

Vienne is also a foodie destination – the historic **Restaurant De La Pyramide was at one point a Michelin Guide 3-star restaurant. It was widely regarded as the greatest restaurant in France while its owner Fernand Point (1897–1955) was alive. Visiting well after that point, Michael Mondavi claims his experience at the restaurant inspired him to set off on his own as a winemaker. Today, it has two stars (new owner, who built the restaurant back up after a long period of decline). The associated hotel is elegant, but definitely set up for sleeping off your meal, not a multi-day destination. The food is very good, regional, and service very well managed. It’s “food” not “foam” – well executed dishes you recognize.

What did we think of the whole town? It’s a worthy stop, if not quite a destination. The tourist office, or your hotel, have a nicely mapped walking tour, and for 8 Euros you can get access to all of the local museums. We did the tour in about 2 hours, and enjoyed exploring the area, which is slightly down at the heels but friendly and safe. The monuments are impressive and very “lived in” – they’re very much in active use, a part of the town. Also hard to photograph as everything is very dense. For the best shots, climb up the hill to Belvédère de Pipet. The Musee-Gallo-Romain was the highlight.

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