671km (417 miles) SE of Paris; 100km (62 miles) S of Lyon
Follow the Rhône river south from Lyon and you’ll reach this unassuming market town whose identity is now inextricably linked to its star attraction: Anne-Sophie Pic, France’s only female three-star Michelin chef. A former Roman colony, it later became the capital of the Duchy of Valentinois, set up by Louis XII in 1493 for Cesare Borgia. Today Valence is a market town and distribution point for Rhône Valley fruit and vegetable producers. It’s fitting that François Rabelais, who wrote of gargantuan appetites, spent time here as a student. Valence is a convenient day trip from Vienne or stopover on your way further South to Provence.
Gastronomy is the essential draw of Valence, but we’d recommend visiting the Musée de Valence Art et Archaéologie (place des Ormeaux, www.musee-valence.org; [tel] 04-75-79-20-80), that re-opened in December 2013 fresh from an awe-inspiring renovation by architect Jean-Paul Philippon. A fusion of ancient and modern architecture, the museum focuses on landscapes, art collections spanning 16th-century to contemporary art. The new wing is topped by a 360-degree panorama over the Rhône valley towards the Vercors mountains. Open Tuesday to Sunday 10am-6pm (Tues from 2pm); entry fee is 5€.
It’s unusual for a small market town to have a Michelin-starred restaurant, but Valence has no less than three: the intimate Flaveurs, 32 Grande Rue ([tel] 04-75-56-08-40); the well-regarded La Cachette, 16 rue des Cévennes ([tel] 04-75-55-24-13) and the incomparable Maison Pic (see below). Check out Anne-Sophie Pic’s Scook, (243 avenue Victor Hugo; [tel] 04-75-44-14-14; www.scook.fr), a cooking school and shop selling kitchen utensils, cookbooks and aprons: ideal as souvenirs from this gastronomic hub.