The Wine Towns of Tournon-sur-Rhône & Tain l’Hermitage
It was a warm Sunday and Olivier and I decided to spend the day in the charming towns of Tournon-sur-Rhône and Tain l’Hermitage. Just a short drive from our home, it was a pleasant change of pace.
Tournon-sur-Rhône is a charming town located in the heart of the Rhône valley, just 20 km north of Valence. It has a rich history dating back to Roman times when it was known as Tournus and was a chic suburb of the nearby Roman city of Muzolium. We parked the car and strolled along the Quai Farconnet, perusing the menus of the many cafes and restaurants. We settled on a place called “Le Concept,” and we were not disappointed!
I decided on a simple chicken salad. The lettuce was tender, the tomatoes were juicy and sweet, and the corn, croutons, and shaved parmesan added the perfect balance of flavors and textures. It was easily one of the most delicious salads I have ever tasted. For dessert, we shared a tasting tray featuring a variety of miniature desserts, including a chocolate fondant, pistachio macaron, crème with caramel topping, a little cake with lemon cream, a creamy mousse with a chocolate spoon, and even a little espresso. The service was attentive and friendly, and we were satisfied from beginning to end. There are many cafés like this in France and what might be considered a bit fancy in the United States is fairly typical fare here.
From there, we wandered around the town of Tournon-sur-Rhône. As it was Sunday, the shops were closed but the history and architecture were enough for me to feel happy.
We happened upon the Chapelle du Lycée Gabriel Faure constructed between 1673 and 1720. What struck me was the roof in a chevron pattern of black, red, green, and yellow. The weather was hot and it seemed like a great idea to venture inside. The interior was designed in a fairly plain, white classical style; cool, calming and peaceful. It also served as a space for artists and we enjoyed looking at the figurative metal sculptures and paintings.
We stepped out into the hot, blazing sunshine and crossed the bridge over to Tain l’Hermitage, a thriving town of over 6,000 people. It is home to a number of world-class wineries, including Cave de Tain and Michel Chapoutier. The town is also a popular tourist destination, thanks to its charming historic center and its proximity to the Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage vineyards.
To give a bit of history, Tain l’Hermitage town was founded in Gallo-Roman times under the name Tegna and was located on the Domitian road, which connected Rome to Spain. It depended on the nearby Roman colony of Vienne. Archaeologists have discovered a wealth of Roman artifacts, including vases, medals, columns, tombs, and even a taurobolic stone, which was used in a religious ritual.
In the 11th century, a priory was founded and the town began to grow around it. Wine has always been important to Tain l’Hermitage, and the town’s motto is “A bon Taing, bon vin” (Good Tain, good wine).
In 1920, the town was renamed Tain l’Hermitage to remind travelers and tourists that Hermitage wine is harvested in the area.
We came upon crowds of people lining the street. Olivier asked someone what was happening, and as it turned out, everyone was waiting for the “corso” during the “Fête des Vendanges” (grape harvest festival). A “corso” is an Italian word meaning “course” or “parade”, so a corso is an annual parade of flower floats for any variety of events.
In this case, the corso celebrated the wine harvest and crowned the new grape harvest queen.
The last float featured Bacchus, the Roman god of wine. There was a barrel of wine and we were offered little cups of the good stuff. It was good local fun!
The town center is home to several historic buildings, including the Church of Notre-Dame de Tain and the Taurobole Square. You can also visit the Musée du Chocolat Valrhona to learn about the history of chocolate making in Tain l’Hermitage.
If you are interested in wine and history, Tournon-sur-Rhône and Tain l’Hermitage are a great places to visit. The towns have something to offer everyone, from wine lovers to history buffs.