After sailing all night on the Rhone, we are docked at Tain L’ Hermitage, France for a visit to the twin cities of Tain L’ Hermitage and Tournon. After breakfast, we walked over to the historic Romanesque church built on the site where King Charles V of France and his cousin Joanna of Bourdon were married on April 8, 1350. A statue outside commemorates the event. I remarked to Boris that I thought the statue was of two children and he told me that Charles V was 12 at the time of the marriage. I guess I was right.
Some of the passengers slept in, but those that got up were treated to an organ concert featuring Bach, Mendelssohn, and Handel and performed by a guest artist Alexis Platz from Strasbourg. The church was simple, but I just closed my eyes and enjoyed the music. The organ is considered one of the best in the area and the concerts have been organized to draw in visitors. This morning concert was exclusive to the ship’s passengers.
The city is at the base of the Hermitage Hill. The hillside is covered in vineyards and at the top of the hill is a small chapel. It is said that a hermit left society behind and went to the top of the hill where he lived out his life, hence the name of the hill and the town. It was a lovely view looking up. The city is also known as the home of the Valrhona Chocolate Factory and many passengers indicated a desire to walk over. Some days you can smell the chocolate from the dock. After the concert we walked back to the ship for a brief recharge and to collect our listening devices which we use for most excursions. Our cruise director affectionally calls them gizmos.
This afternoon our walking tour is being led by Jeanette who is originally from The Cotswolds in England. She fell in love and followed a French man home. The relationship didn’t work out, but she embraced her life and the people of France. Years later when she needed an electrician for repairs to her tiny apartment, she met her future husband. She has lived in France for 30 years and she and her French husband have a daughter. Jeanette had retained her British citizenship, but given Brexit, she is now in the process of becoming a French citizen. According to Jeanette, the British ex-pats, about 20% of British citizens, were not allowed to vote in the Brexit referendum.
Jeanette led us across the attractive, wooden-floored, pedestrian bridge that links the towns of Tain and Tournon. Tain L’ Hermitage is on the more affluent side of the river which has the benefit of the hill and vineyards. Tournon, our destination, is on the other side of the Rhone in one of the poorest counties in France. We started our Tournon tour with the stop along the river with a marker recognizing the engineer Marc Sequin who constructed the first suspension bridge over the Rhone in 1825. Across the street at the base of rock is an impressive war memorial. It was not unusual for poorer counties to see many more of their boys sent to the front lines, and the losses were often heavy. The memorial is set against the stone mount upon which the Castle Museum set in the tower ruins sits.
Winding through town we stopped at a unique church built into the rock. It has been heavily damaged. The rose window frame is in place, but it is empty and behind the façade the church is shaped like a box. At one point the church was so in debt that it sold off its chapels. Along one street, a house and the church share a wall and the owner has a washing line hung attached to the church. On the side street, the spaces where there would have been chapels are now businesses that open to the exterior, rather than the interior of the church. One was a pizza place. Inside the church, the ceiling has been replaced with one made from the local chestnut wood, so the whole interior is very dark. On the right side is an alcove adorned in candles, on the left is a remaining side chapel which is decorated with wonderful medieval frescos. The rest of the left side wall is smooth due to the sold off chapels.
The “Gothic…church of St Julien [was] [p]robably built on the site of a Roman temple and certainly in the place of a Romanesque church…[the church] is dedicated to St Julien, a Roman centurion beheaded in Brioude (Auvergne) during the reign of Emperor Diocletian (245-313). Erected as a collegiate church between 1316 and 1348, the church of St Julien constitutes a rather surprising architectural ensemble: the offset bell tower, the chapels replaced by houses, the Italian-style ceiling give it an atypical character.” Religiana.
The city is rather charming and coming into its own. Jeanette said that just years ago all the shops were closed and now (and in spite of COVID), new shops are opening and the town is seeing a revival. I found it very attractive. Regular Travel by Natasha readers know I love to photograph windows and doors, and Tournon was a treasure trove to me. Boris was struggling with the heat and the hills and he cut his tour short and headed back to the boat. I pressed on if for no other reason than to take some interesting photographs.
After winding through the picturesque streets, we found ourselves at the city’s administrative building. To the side was the entrance to the tower ruins. We are having a reception on the Castle Museum terrace and enjoying some of the wines from a regional producer. There was a white and two reds to sample. Syrah grapes are the ones used to produce the more plentiful red wines in the region. None of the selections overly impressed me, but I loved the fabulous views of the twin cities, the Rhone and the Hermitage Hill on the opposite side of the river. It was very hot and luckily there was some shade. Some of the ship’s guests hiked through the vineyards on Hermitage Hill as an alternate excursion. A select few chose the masterpiece tour and had a tasting at a local winery.
I headed back to the boat and found Boris cool and rested. This afternoon the boat will cruise the Rhone towards our next stop Viviers. In addition to the views, there is a chocolate and wine pairing to enjoy. Natasha, as one of only about five people in the world who does not like chocolate, will pass on that option; Boris did indulge. I actually did a little writing for the blog and emailed Rocky who is back at home with Peabody as I sat next to our French Balcony. After his wine and chocolate, Boris napped. When I realized the time, I headed to the Lounge for a presentation on Cezanne who spent some time and painted areas we will be visiting later in the week. Jeanette is the featured lecturer. She is both knowledgeable and entertaining.
Tonight is the reception for returning guests, River Heritage members. It is a nice opportunity for a few private words with the Captain, Hotel Director, Housekeeping Director, Chef, and Restaurant and Bar Manager. I did learn that Uniworld will be introducing mystery cruises where all is arranged by the cruise line and you only find out where you are going three days before departure. They will be starting in 2022 or 2023.
We are now past the halfway point in the cruise. Hard to believe there are only three more days of touring. Natasha will be back tomorrow from Viviers, France, further south along the Rhone.