From the vineyards of Beaujolais in Southern Burgundy in the North, to the French Alpine mountains in the East and the scenic Ardeche area in the West, the Rhone Alpes region is full of contrast and variation
The Ardeche area
Running along the western banks of the Rhone and sandwiched between the volcanoes of the Auvergne and the sunflower fields of Provence, this area offers some of the most beautiful and dramatic scenery in France. Within easy reach of the autoroute which runs south from Burgundy to the south coast, it is an ideal location for the outdoor enthusiast and is one of the best areas to learn about geology and the prehistoric era: caves, gorges, swallow holes, concretions, galleries – all provide a fascinating and beautiful insight into the way the local landscapes were formed. You will find rugged mountains and breathtaking gorges, prehistoric caves filled with stalactites and underground pools, not to mention the beauty of the Cevennes National Park. Here, you can go canoeing or kayaking, canyoning, climbing, mountain-biking,horse-riding, hot-air ballooning and much more! The 'must sees' of the area include the Orgnac swallow hole, classed as a “grand site de France”, the Musée régional de Préhistoire at Orgnac, the exhibition of the Grotte Chauvet in Vallon, the Pont d’Arc and the villages of St-Montan, Viviers, Voguë, Balazuc.
The Ardeche Verte
This is the very green area situated to the north of the département between the Rhone valley and the foothills of the Massif Central - it offers a whole range of different holiday themes and visits. In the Haut-Vivarais you will find impressive natural sites such as the Doux valley, with its gorges, places steeped in history (for example, the château de Crussol which keeps guard over the Rhone Valley), fortified villages (Desaignes), or the Peaugres safari park. Gourmets will also appreciate the local products : fruits from the Rhone valley, picodon, and local meats. Children will love 'Lou Mastrou' which is a little steam train which runs between Tournon and Lamastre.
To the north of Lyon you will find the Beaujolais, a multi-facetted area which is ideal for country breaks : scarlet vines in the autumn, the villages of Pierres Dorées whose golden stones are bathed in light, delicious local farm products from the wooded slopes.
The Beaujolais area is first and foremost a massive vineyard. There are numerous wine tasting cellars where you are guaranteed a warm welcome… Wine growers, restaurateurs, farmers and guides are all happy to share with you their knowledge, their trade and above all their commitment to the label “Secrets de terroir” which guarantees high quality standards. 'Must-sees' of the area include“Plaisirs en Beaujolais ” at Romanèche-Thorins - created by Georges Duboeuf at the former station of Romanèche-Thorins, offering an insight into vines and wine production.
“Les Sources du Beaujolais” at Beaujeu - study of wine growing through history, shop selling local products, wine tasting.
Cloister at Salles-Arbuissonnas en Beaujolais - 10thC priory, founded by Cluny monks. 11th C church built of golden stone is a fine example of Romanesque period, including a gallery of arches. Village of Oingt - a warren of little streets with unforgettable names. Numerous craftsmen are based in the village - painters, potters, weavers, toymakers
The Roannais area
Located in the Loire département, this is an area which is particularly renowned amongst gourmets. From the Troisgros establishment in Roanne, the mecca for French gastronomy, to country inns, you can be sure of an excellent range of local dishes. Set between the hills of Forez and the “morning” mountains (Monts du Lyonnais), this is a very rural area dotted with abbeys like Charlieu, priories – Ambierle, Pommiers; and picturesque villages such as St-Jean-St-Maurice, Le Crozet… a land of gastronomy and sacred art! If you follow the Loire river, you will come across the superb Loire gorges and on a bend in the river, set on a little rocky island, the Château de la Roche.
North-east of the city of Lyon, the Ain département lies between Burgundy and Beaujolais, the Jura mountains and Switzerland. Ain consists of two different geographical zones: the mountainous regions to the north and east, and the plains and floodlands of the Dombes.
To the north-west is la Bresse: a mixture of woodland and green, fertile expanses. La Bresse is also renowned for its blue-legged chickens, the only ones to carry an appellation d'origine contrôlée.
La Bresse is sometimes said to be "blessed by the Gods" for its gastronomic delights, including Bresse chicken in cream sauce, vonnassienne crêpes, gateau de volaille … There are numerous restaurants housing some of the most noted chefs in France, Georges Blanc being perhaps the most famed.
The area is also rich with fine examples of architecture: especially Romanesque churches, farmhouses with clay walls, exposed beams and 'Saracen' chimneys; and the lavishly carved church of Brou in Bourg-en-Bresse.
Thousands of migrating birds cross this region each year. Many species, however, make their permanent home here — herons, mallards, teals and coots to name but a few. All these and many more can be found at the bird park at Villars-les-Dombes. Nearby, Pérouges, a former weaving centre, is a perfectly restored and conserved medieval village, and is regularly used as a film set.
To the extreme south of the Jura mountains, le Bugey is a landscape of lakes, woodland and wild flowers. Winters are cold in the Bugey, making it a paradise for the cross-country skier. In summer it is ideal for those who enjoy hiking, mountain-biking and other outdoor activities.
To the north-east, the Pays de Gex offers excellent skiing and splendid views of the Alps.
This undiscovered gem of the French Alps, east of Valence, with it’s principal village being Villard de Lans, rises up above the Isère and Drac river valleys to form a natural mountain “massif” which stretches from Grenoble in the north to Die in the south. Access to this natural regional park is limited to a few natural gorges which open out into magnificent settings of mountains and forests, providing a rugged plateaux enclosed by alpine summits. This is the perfect altitude (1000m to 2000m) as an endurance training venue for the summer and winter sports enthusiast, only 35 kms from the town of Grenoble. Other activities in the area include horse riding, golf, guided nature treks, indoor & outdoor swimming pools. Extra winter pursuits include a network of trials to explore by snow shoes/racquets or ski rando touring. Villard de Lans also has a public ice rink with shows and regular ice hockey competitions.