The ViaRhôna is a bike route along the Rhône river, going for 815 kilometers from the Mediterranean Sea to Geneva, Switzerland. We joined it at the town of Veviers, north of Orange. And we were not alone. France has four holidays in the month of May, and a good number of citizens decided to spend their vacation following the section we were on. We were going north, and most everyone else seemed to be going south. I am sure that is because the mistral winds blow generally from the north, but for a couple of days we had an anti-mistral tailwind while those poor folks were bearing down to make progress. Initially we would say a hearty “bonjour” as we passed, but there were so many it became a “jour” and by the end of the day it was just a nod .
Some sections of the route are newly developed with nice shiny signs detailing the history of the local area and benches every five kilometers. Other sections are along minor roads. But there are directional signs on every intersection pointing the way. Except for an older stretch of several kilometers that was slow going due to tree roots distorting the path surface, it was easy to follow and hardly a hill.
Campgrounds along the route are tuned to the needs of cyclists. In the campground at Touron sur Rhône the proprietress placed us in a shaded lawn not far away from the “sanitaries” (toilets and showers). And, she added in accented English, if we want a table and chair, there is a blue set around the corner, and “it is possible” to carry it to our campsite. Campgrounds in France are inexpensive, 10 to 15 euros a night, but a table to eat on is a rare thing. And it was the beginning of a trend for the next four campsites. Sweet!
Another campground in Condrieu had a dedicated area with a canopy and picnic tables at each site. When we arrived it was empty, and there was some wishful thinking that we might have it to ourselves. We went off to shower, and by the time we returned to our campsite the whole scene had changed. There were kids on mini-bikes everywhere, five family tents were set up, and the one little girl making laps had a clown horn that she honked, giving the whole place a circus feel. Another guy had just arrived with a formidable bike trailer for his gear and his spaniel and was setting up right next to us. But they were good neighbors, and we still marvel how the families took it all in stride when it started to rain heavily after dinner. They all just sat under the canopy and talked and joked and made the best of it. French parents are so mellow. And our dog-loving neighbor spoke good English, and when we discovered the seam tape on our tent was leaking, he wrote out how to ask for “seam sealer” in French.
The section of the trail that we traveled from north of Orange to Vienne was largely industrial -- manufacturing plants, nuclear and hydroelectric power plants, but often there were cherry and fruit trees in between and vineyards on extremely steep and terraced slopes. Other than being flat and mostly off the main roads, the route was a bit uninspiring. We took a diagonal off the route to avoid Lyon -- we didn’t want to deal with the the traffic of France’s third largest city -- crossing a high plateau of wide open wheat fields. We rejoined it at the Pont d'Évieu, and followed the route that was now going east for the next couple of days. This section was very picturesque -- canyon walls of limestone, narrow gorges, high bridges. And lots of French families enjoying the Via Rhona, just like us. We even said “bonjour” to a few as we passed them by.
|View from one of our many bridge crossings of the mighty Rhône.|
|More two-wheeled travelers.|
|Pont de Rochemaure in 2015|
|Pont de Rochemaure in the19th century|
|The closest I have ever been to a nuclear power plant...just a hop over the fence.|
|Terraced vineyards across the river in Touron sur Rhône.|
|Our little blue table and chairs!|
|The Temple d'Auguste et de Livie in Vienne is an island of antiquity in an otherwise ordinary town.|
|Acres and acres of wheat fields on the plateau southeast of Lyon.|
|The east-west section of the Rhône, a more scenic stretch of the river.|
|All is well when the sun shines.|
|Maybe John and I should get a tandem, or bike naked, or both.|
|The mountains are calling...we are heading to the Alps!|