Valence is a commune in south-eastern France, the capital of the Drôme department and within the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region.

By its geographical location, Valence is one of the points of compulsory passage between Paris and the Mediterranean Sea. Its position at the centre of the meridian axis of the Rhône river valley places the city at the mouth of the Valley of the Isère (path to the Alps), in the west of the historical province of Dauphiné, within the natural and historic region of the Valentinois, and the boundary of the department of Ardèche (from which it is separated by the Rhône). The city is surrounded by several mountain ranges, including the Massif Central and the Ardèche hills to the west, and the Vercors Massif in the French Prealps to the east.

Valence is an important administrative and service centre, as well as a commercial centre for the fruit and vegetable products of the Rhône river valley. The town’s industries include metallurgy and the manufacture of electrical equipment, electronics, textiles and jewellery. Its industry has merged with that of Lyon and Grenoble. Valence has an industrial port on the Rhône.

The commune, founded in 121 BC after the Romans invaded it under the leadership of Gallia Narbonensis, quickly became the largest crossroad behind Lyon. With its growing importance, Valence got the status of Roman colony. Over the centuries, the town grew rapidly. Today, many vestiges of the Middle Ages, Renaissance, but also from the seventeenth century, eighteenth century and nineteenth century are traceable in the city centre.

Tourism and main attractions

The Saint-Apollinaire Cathedral is the oldest monument in the city of Valence in the Drôme department. Located on the Place des Ormeaux in the Old Valence district, it is listed on the list of historical monuments of 1862. It suffered extensive damage in the French Wars of Religion, but it was restored in the first decade of the seventeenth century. Pope Pius VI, who had been taken prisoner and deported from Italy by troops of the French Directory, was imprisoned in the fortress of Valence. After six weeks he died there, on 29 August 1799. The church contains the monument to Pope Pius VI.

The House of the Heads (Fr. Maison des Têtes) was built between 1528 and 1532 by Antoine de Dorne, professor at the University and Consul of Valence. On his death in 1551, the house passed to his son François, adviser to the Dauphiné Parliament, then at the end of the sixteenth century, it returned by marriage to Barthélémy de Marquet. He completed the decoration work, and opened three sculpted doors onto the garden, one of which is kept at the Museum of Art and Archeology in Valence.

The Museum of Fine Arts of Valence is the only museum of its kind in Drôme, its collections bring together paintings, drawings, sculptures, decorative arts from the sixteenth century to the twentieth century. Its collections, a wealth of more than 20,000 works, offer a broad overview of the history of man and the arts, from regional prehistory to contemporary art. The museum has two sections: the archaeology section retraces the history of societies that have lived in the middle Rhône valley, from modern periods going back to prehistoric times; the Art section, for its part, paintings, drawings, sculptures and decorative arts. The building also houses a library of nearly 10,000 books and magazines specializing in art and archaeology.

The Valence Pendant is a Renaissance-style funerary monument built in 1548 in Valence, in memory of Canon Mistral. The Pendant is classified as a historical monument by the 1840 list. It is located at 1 place du P Pendant, in Old Valence just north of the Saint-Apollinaire Cathedral, near the Place des Clercs and the Museum of Art and Archeology. The architectural design is new for the time: if, traditionally, the pendants are spherical triangles which serve to effect the transition between a hemispherical vault, therefore of circular plan, and a support of square plan, here, there is no break in continuity between the pendants and the dome. The pendants come together to form the vault, they are not built by horizontal courses but by following the four semi-circular arches of the supports, according to a complex apparatus.

The Saint-Ruf Abbey of Valence is a former religious establishment located in the Saint-Jean district. In the eighteenth century, the last Abbot Jacques de Tardivon had an abbey palace built to the north of this complex, just before the secularization of the order. All that remains is the door of this abbey hotel, which housed the prefecture of Drôme until its destruction by a bombardment in 1944. Saint-James Church, for its part, became the temple of the Supreme Being, then the Protestant temple of Valence following an imperial decree of 1806. In the apse is placed a monument where the heart of General Championnet is kept. The temple is classified as historical monuments by decree of 17 May 1921 and various elements (portal, facade, staircase) are listed by decree of 28 April 1999.

The Peynet kiosk is a bandstand dating from 1862 located in the centre of Valence. It inspired Raymond Peynet to his famous “lovers” in 1942. Work of the architect Eugène Poitoux, the kiosk has been classified as a historical monument since 1982.

The Armenian heritage centre is a place of history and memory that addresses the original news around major themes: Migration, the memory of conflicts and the history of peoples and cultures. Indeed, Valence has one of the largest Armenian communities in France. The Armenian heritage centre is installed in the former Faculty of Law at the heart of the pedestrian centre of Valence, close to the historic Valence quarter of Armenian origin.

The Valence town hall, located at 1 place de la Liberté, is the current town hall of the city of Valence. It hosts the activities of the town hall, with the offices of the mayor, the municipal council and administrative services. In addition to its monumental staircase, the mayor’s office, the wedding and deliberation rooms have their original decorations: murals, mosaics and painted ceilings. The building was inaugurated in 1894 by Jean-François Malizard, then mayor at the time. Its architecture is particular, since it has a belfry, a secular bell tower symbolizing the independence of the city from the Catholic Church, a classical facade and a roof of tiles of different colours. Town halls under the Third Republic were designed to exalt Republican values. Valence Town Hall is characteristic of late nineteenth century eclecticism.

The Monumental Fountain, the work of architect Eugène Poitoux and dating from 1887, is a fountain located at the corner of Bancel and Maurice Clerc boulevards in the city centre. A few earlier, in 1848, a statue of liberty breaking its chains was erected on the site of the future fountain. It was destroyed three years later under the Second Empire. The fountain was surmounted by a winged genie standing on a ball and holding a torch in one hand and a mirror in the other. This statuette was destroyed in 1954, when lightning struck the column. In 2005, the fountain was renovated and moved a few meters to better integrate into the perspective of the renovated boulevards. In 2006, a copy of the winged genius was replaced at the top of the column.

Valence Harbour is located at the southern exit from the city. The biggest river marina in France, it is located within the Épervière Park, a vast, green space of seven hectares featuring an arboretum, orchard, flower meadow, fun sports trail for children and a water fun centre.

Shopping

Markets:

  • Markets fairground on Wednesdays and Saturdays all day on the boulevards;
  • Food Markets in the old center (instead of the Clerics) Thursday and Saturday morning;
  • Cities Market (last Saturday of September).

Cuisine and restaurants

Don’t leave Valence without having tasted its delicious speciality, the Suisse. This little shortbread man, flavoured with candied orange peel and orange blossom, is the ideal accompaniment to a cup of tea or coffee! The name, shape and decoration of this biscuit are inspired by the uniform of the Swiss Guards of Pope Pius VI who died in Valence.

In every restaurant, you’ll come across another speciality, the tiny Raviole du Dauphiné, made of white cheese and parsley.

There are five Michelin list restaurants in the city:

  • Pic, 285 avenue Victor-Hugo, 320 EUR • Creative (three stars)
  • La Cachette, 20 rue Notre-Dame de Soyons, 50 – 120 EUR • Creative (one star)
  • Flaveurs, 32 Grande-Rue, 38 – 98 EUR • Modern Cuisine (one star)
  • André, 285 avenue Victor-Hugo, 39 – 87 EUR • Traditional Cuisine
  • Le Clos Syrah, Boulevard Pierre-Tezier, 30 – 58 EUR • Traditional Cuisine

Transport and how to get to?

The nearest international airport is in Lyon. Valence-Chabeuil Airport, located in the commune of Chabeuil, is co-managed by the General Council of the Drôme and the Chamber of commerce and industry of Drôme. Welcome mostly sports aviation.

Valence has two SNCF railway stations. Commissioned in 1865, the role of the Valence-Ville railway station has refocused on regional transport since the 2001 commissioning of the gare de Valence TGV, or simply Valence-TGV. Valence TGV railway station, on the Lyon-Marseilles LGV Méditerranée line, is located 11 kilometres (6.8 mi) north-east of the city centre.

Distances by car: 

From Paris (tolls): 5 hr 22 min (563 km) via A6

From Lyon (tolls): 1 hr 10 min (103 km) via A7

From Biarritz (tolls): 6 hr 35 min (740 km) via A64 and A9

From Nantes (tolls): 7 hr 26 min (756 km) via A85

From Bordeaux (tolls): 6 hr 5 min (652 km) via A89

From Toulouse (tolls): 4 hr 11 min (438 km) via A61 and A9

From Monaco (tolls): 3 hr 57 min (393 km) via A8 and A7

From Marseille (tolls): 2 hr 5 min (214 km) via A7

From Andorra (tolls): 5 hr 52 min (565 km) via A9

Main information

Area: 36.7 sq. km

Population: 64 000

Languages: French

Currency: euro

Visa: Schengen

Time: Central European UTC +1

GPS coordinates: 44°56′00″N 4°53′30″E

See here France travel guide

See here Spain travel guide

See here Pyrenees travel guide

See here Andorra travel guide

Read more: The cities of the Pyrenees and around with Andrew Morato ...