I would be an awful host if I didn’t take my Valence guests to the Valrhona chocolate shop, so during my friend Randall’s visit we took a 10 minute train ride to Tain l’Hermitage. There are a little over 5,000 citizens of Tain l’Hermitage, but it gets a steady supply of visitors thanks to the delicious chocolate and wine grown on the hills behind town. You can see the vineyards in the above picture, although everything is dead right now. We started by sampling some of that amazing chocolate in the Valrhona store, along with about 20 Japanese tourists that seemed to have come out of nowhere and were buying the place out. Which was good, because then I didn’t feel guilty about not purchasing anything. I was very poor at the end of February.
The departments of Drôme and the Ardèche are divided by the Rhône river, and across from Tain l’Hermitage in Drôme is Tournon-sur-Rhône in the Ardèche. We took the bridge over and walked around Tournon, which has about twice the population as Tain l’Hermitage. It also apparently produced a wine that Charlemagne liked. I unfortunately did not find this wine (although I really didn’t look), but Tournon had good French charm and was nice to explore. Oh, there’s a castle, Château de Tournon, which you can see in this picture and is said to be one of the most beautiful castles in the Ardèche. As you may guess, the Ardèche is not celebrated for its castles, but the natural landscape is stunning and makes up for it, I promise.
After crossing the river back to Tain l’Hermitage, we decided to walk around the vineyards overlooking the town. It was gorgeous and incredibly steep. The vines are dormant now, but the sun was setting and the lighting was amazing.
I really don’t know how some of the vines were planted without the workers tumbling down to a rocky crevice, or how anyone could drive up the terrifyingly narrow road we were walking on. I can understand why the wine from Tain l’Hermitage is so expensive with all the effort it must take to grow and transport the grapes.
The crowning achievement of our walk was making it up to the tiny church on the top of the hill. It may look easy from the above picture, but we somehow took a wrong turn and had to scramble up what seemed like a 50 degree angle with no traction. I’m probably exaggerating. It was worth it though and I don’t think any of the pictures I took really show how spectacular the view was from up there. Originally, the vineyards were planted so that pilgrims to the church would have some wine to drink when they got there. There was no wine for us, but I like that story anyway.