Thousands of years ago, Vienne, on the Rhône River in southeastern France, was a bustling capital city of Gaul and subsequently an important Roman colony. Today, despite its industrial look and commercial food trade, it's hard to imagine the commune as a major urban hub. Surrounded by green, bucolic hills, it has only one main street lined with trees down the center. Downtown is a two-minute walk from the port.
What We Love
Théâtre Antique: All summer long, this well-preserved Roman amphitheater hosts concerts several times a week, ranging from opera to classic rock to reggaeton. The annual International Jazz Festival is the most famous event.
Ancient History Museums: Vienne has a rich history that dates back to even before the Roman Empire. You'll get tidbits of it from perusing artifacts at Vienne’s Musée Archéologique Saint-Pierre and Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie.
Best Known For
Roman Ruins: The Caesars left a strong imprint on Vienne, where a few Roman ruins still remain: the Temple of Augustus and Livia; the Roman Théâtre Antique; and the Gallo-Roman Pyramid portico (L'Aiguille).
Food: Good news for culinary buffs: Vienne is a commercial center for the food industry. On Saturday morning, the second-largest open-air food market in France takes place. There are also smaller markets scattered around town Tuesday through Sunday.
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Who It's Best For
History Nerds: Just give it a chance — Vienne’s history is thrilling enough to inspire a dozen Hollywood movies. Ideally, you should tour the town with a really good guide.
Market Shoppers: If you consider yourself a foodie and are a true supporter of small farms and regional products, you'll find a bounty of pleasures and treasures at the markets and small shops of Vienne.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Be Careful About Customs Regulations: Not all the delicious delicacies of this region will make it past U.S. Customs. Even seemingly innocuous items, like country sausage and local cheese, might be on the list for confiscation. Know the rules before you spend your entire budget on edibles.
Shut Out: If it’s overcast or drizzly — which it often is in these parts, even during the summer — the town shuts down, even for tourists. Wander down the main street midday, and cafés won't have tables out, and you'll see just a few old men smoking glumly in the drizzle.
Lena Katz is a New York-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Brides.