Tucked in between the French Alps (to the east) and the Massive Central (to the west), Valence is the gateway to Provence in the South of France. It might easily be overlooked in favour of the nearby cities of Lyon and Avignon, but if you venture to this historic, chilled-out city, in the heart of La Drome region, you're in for a treat.
Valence's history dates back 2,000 years, it is France's largest producer of organic food, and is renowned for its fine cuisine and the wonderful Rhone wine. It's just 2 hours 10 minutes by high speed TGV from Paris and less than 6 hours by train from London.
Here are a few of things I saw on my recent trip to the city as part of our Great InterRail Adventure with Rail Europe, plus a selection of the many tips that have been sent in by readers via our twitter account: @greentraveller and via the Green Traveller Facebook page. Thanks to all those who sent in recommendations.
What to do 1. Explore the canals Valence was originally settled by the Romans who built a town on four terraces at the edge of The Rhone. The waterways created by the Romans remain on show today weaving through the town's parks and streets. Walking along the network of canals will take you past old mills and locks as well as through pockets of fauna and flora; duckweed, willows, alders, trout, ducks and insects.Tours are available to fully understand the unique ecology and history of these canals and in June it is possible to float down them on a small dinghy - perfect on a hot summer's day! Valence Tourisme.
2. Chill out in the city's green spaces In the very heart of Valence, Jouvet Park is home to tranquil shady spots alongside playgrounds, canals, a miniature railway and water fountains. I cycled over here from the city centre and carried on through gorgeous woodland all the way to the marina (see below). You can hardly believe you're minutes away from the city centre.
3. Visit the historic Maison de Tetes This 16th Century house, adorned with magnificent sculptured walls and heads symbolising the elements, is easily the most photographed attraction in Valence. The facade and inside of the building is a fascinating example of the transition between gothic and renaissance architecture during this period and well worth a visit. La Maison de Tetes is open from 08:30 to 17:00 each day, except Sunday when it opens at 14:00. It closes for lunch (12 - 13:30) every day. In July and August it does not open until 09:00 and 09:30 on weekends. Tel 0475792086 for more information.
4. Pick up a picnic at an organic food market Every Saturday morning, the Place des Clercs in Valence becomes home to an impressive organic food market. The perfect place to buy a picnic lunch before heading off to one of Valance's many parks. If you cannot make the organic food market there are plenty of other market options, including flea markets, flower markets and traditional food fairs. Valence Tourisme's Market Guide.
5. Cycle over to L'Eperviere Marina Valence is home to France's first River Marina, L'Eperviere, from where boats travel down all the way to the Mediterranean in a day. As well as hundreds of moorings, this area is also home to many of Valence's leisure activities; massage centre, bowling alley, tennis courts and a botanic walkway. Even if activity is not on your agenda, it is a great place to cycle to from the city centre and spend an afternoon relaxing in the refreshing mistral breeze, as it wafts off the river.
Where to eat and drink 1. I had dinner on the first evening at Bistro des Clercs, a hotel and restaurant close to the Maison des Têtes in the old quarter of Valence. Napoleon once stayed here, and there's a plaque above the entrance dedicated to him. The restaurant provides traditional French food in a classy Parisian-style dining room or outside in a lovely square by a fountain. It is open Monday to Saturday for lunch 12-2pm and dinner 7pm-11pm, on Sundays it is open only for dinner. A three course set menu costs 35-40 Euros.
2. I had lunch on the second day at Un tablier pour deux, 164 Avenue Victor Hugo, which serves organic and mainly locally sourced food. Set menus are approximately 15 Euros for 3 courses, there's wine by the glass or as I did, try the local beer, it's delicious. During the week, the restaurant doubles up as a tea and coffee shop between 8am and 17:30. Tel. 04 75 44 14 68.
Where to stay I stayed at Hotel de France a smart, modern, newly refurbished hotel, conveniently just a 10-minute walk from Valence Ville train station and in the centre of the city (opposite the tourist office and close to one of the city's bike hire stations). Rooms for between 1 to 4, from 80 Euros per night per room. Breakfast costs an additional 6 -12 Euros per person.
Getting Around Valence Like an increasing number of French cities, Valence has its own government-funded bike hire scheme: in Valence it's called 'Libelo'. There are 20 stations throughout the city where you can access the bikes. A 1 Euro charge and a 150 Euro deposit will give you access the bikes for 1 day, with additional charges if you use the bike for more than 2 and a half hours. A whole day with one bike will cost approximately 6 Euros. Libelo Bike Scheme.
Valence and the surrounding area have an excellent public transport network on coaches and buses, with 38 regular lines. Information and timetables are available from Tourist Offices or tel 08 10 26 26 07 or visit CTAV Valence Bus Map to plan a journey.
Local information Tripbod's Avignon representative, Marjorie, is available to help plan your journey or give you local information. Tourisme Valence produce a useful PDF English Guide to Valence including a map and local attractions, in case you want to take a look before you arrive.
Valence is just 2 hours 10 minutes by high speed TGV train from Paris (Gare Lyon) or 3 hours 30 minutes from Lille (Lille Europe). Travelling from London can take around 5 hours 32 minutes, including a station change at Paris (from Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon). For more information about changing trains in Paris, see our guide: How to change train stations in Paris. Taking the 09:00 train from St Pancras will get you to Paris by 12:17, allowing for an easy transfer to the 13:20 TGV to Valence, arriving by 15:30. If you are staying in the centre of Valence then there is a short local train service from the TGV station to the centre of town.
For more information on the journey to Valence by train (which continues south to Marseille) see our Overland Journey Planner: Train from London to Marseille (year-round) and London to Marseille by train (summer only, direct service). For more information on how to transfer in Paris see our guide to: How to change train stations in Paris.