Day Hike: Tournon-sur-Rhône Loop

The first thing I saw when I got off the train in Tain was green-and-beige-patterned hillside, vineyards under blue May skies. “Drink ya later,” I thought, and walked into town. I passed store fronts selling the same grapes in red wine form and crossed a bridge into Tournon-sur-Rhône, another pretty little town dominated by a historic château, school, and hillside ruins.

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looking across the tracks at the vineyards near the train station in Tain

I’d grabbed this trail guide to help me find some hikes accessible by public transportation from Lyon, and planned to make a one-day attempt at a two-day route in the Ardèche region south of the city. As you can see from the doctored map below, I realized at around 20-21 km that my new and too-small hiking shoes were not going to allow me to continue without drawing blood. Up until that point, though, it was a completely delightful walk through vineyards, orchards, woods, and tiny hamlets, with sweeping views of the Rhone’s serpentine course through the valley.

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black line = screw the hills, time to shuffle through town on flat sidewalks

The first segment of the hike was a steep climb above Tournon-sur-Rhône, wrapping around a crumbling stone tower to an overlook that could only be called majestic.

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tower (vineyard hills in the background)

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feeling queenly on the majestic overlook above Tournon-sur-Rhône and Tain

Up in the hills high above the river, the breeze was gentle and fresh and full of damp soil and growing things. Gorgeous red poppies glowed here and there, their petals like fluttering tissue paper.

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Have you ever seen so fertile a view?

Most of the route was a hilly amble through one tiny hamlet after another, each one a mere cluster of houses. There were fields of buzzing insects and wildflowers, and little marshes populated by cackling amphibians. In a few places the trail skirted farmland and the air was perfumed with freshly-cut hay, skittish lambs leaping away from me as I went by. It was oh-so-idyllic.

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The hamlet of Le Bec

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If only I could have bottled the smell in this field…

As my shoes began to feel increasingly murderous, I passed through one last hamlet and ignored the falling-rocks sign warning me not to take the path up onto a sort of ridge that was specified in my guidebook. I didn’t want rocks to fall on my head, but I also didn’t want to figure out an alternative route or backtrack in my painful shoes. Spoiler alert: no rocks fell on my head, and I got to walk through corridors of Queen Anne’s Lace, dewy and exquisite.

Shortcutting my way back to the train station, I briefly considered trying to swing a wine tasting at one of the wine cellars, but decided I was just slightly too covered in dirt and sweat. Instead, when I got back to Lyon at the end of the day, I picked up a nice Crozes-Hermitage at the grocery store. It tasted even better than usual. Côtes-du-Rhône and Saint-Joseph, too, will always hold a special place in my heart now that I’ve ogled their grapes in person.

The logistics for this really lovely hike: 

Travel time and cost: TER trains run regularly from Lyon to Tain. Each way costs about 15 euros and takes about an hour.

Walking time: somewhere in the neighborhood of 7-8 hours. The trail mostly follows part of the GR 42. It’s blazed, but I definitely recommend a guide or map.

Difficulty: There were some strenuous hills, but nothing out of reach for the average hiker as far as terrain goes. With excellent fitness (and shoes), the whole 30-31 km hike described in the guide could probably be done in a day.

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