As we started our 2017 journey down the Saône and Rhône we had penciled in Valence as the turnaround point. But things had changed. We had learned Port Napoleon near the mouth of the Rhône had several boatyards that could potentially make repairs to Wanderlust, including ones that could possibly do the paintwork. It seemed advised to visit the port and see if we could get quotes for the works.
Now that we had committed to taking Wanderlust all of the way down the Rhône we had a several places in mind where we hoped to moor. Les Roches-de-Condrieu, Tournon-sur-Rhône, Valence, Avignon, and Arles were on the wish list. So far we struck out at Condrieu, due to a lack of a comfortably accessible mooring spots, and in Tournon, due to siltation of the port. The next place on the list was Valence.
In theory we could have continued on and made it to Valence rather than attempting what in practice proved to be a difficult mooring in la Roche-de-Glun. But we did not have a good feel for whether the mooring in Valence was going to be workable for Wanderlust either. Was it going to be tight like Condrieu? Could we comfortably reach the berth without a bow thruster?
We had some information. The guides showed two options: A quay near Valence’s old town and a port de plaisance a couple of kilometers further downstream. The quay received mixed reviews. And there was also some confusion about whether Wanderlust would be too large for the port. From the maps, it wasn’t clear that we could comfortably maneuver in the port without a bow thruster. It looked tight. The best move seemed to be to stop short of Valence first so that we would have time to move on down the river if the commune’s mooring options did not work out. This reasoning led us to stop in la Roche-de-Glun for the night; from Glun it is a short cruise to Valence.
As Wanderlust reached Valence’s more central riverside quay the mooring did indeed look sketchy. It’s on the wrong side of the busy autoroute from the old town and the quay itself had an uneven wall with periodic concrete protrusions spaced about 20-meters apart. For longer and shorter boats Valence’s quay might be OK. But for a 20-meter barge exactly it looked to be an awkward place to moor, particularly with the Rhône’s strong current. (That said we felt better about this option when we inspected later from the shore.) Thus we decided to first try the port de plaisance a short distance further on.
Before we arrived at Valence’s port Becky called the capitaine on the cell phone. She was told us there was space to moor inside the port and confirmed that Wanderlust was not too large for the pontoons. Armed with details of how to reach a suitable mooring spot we continued down the river.
From the river a series of buoys define a narrow route from the river into Valence’s port de plaisance. The marked channel is tight, winding, and navigation in was complicated by the river’s flow. Presumably the channel is set to avoid some unseen underwater obstructions. But you never really know what is under the water or how conservative the markings are. Nonetheless we were able to keep Wanderlust from being washed out of the channel, even without a thruster, and kept within the lines of buoys as we navigated to the pontoon. Once inside the mouth of the port it was a straight shot to Wanderlust’s assigned mooring on the hammerhead end of a pontoon.
Under the conditions moving Wanderlust into the port was not a challenge. But if there were a strong wind, a real concern now that we were in Mistral territory, it could be a serious problem to back out of the narrow channel without a bow thruster. Wanderlust simply does not turn quickly without a thruster. But at least we had the option of waiting for good departure weather. Initially we told the capitaine of the port that we would stay three nights, realizing that we might need to adjust the date depending on the weather. In the end extended our stay to a total of five nights. We liked Valence enough to stay eight more nights on the way upstream.
Valence’s port is near a green space, which made our canine companion Gigi happy. There is also a good bike path along the Rhône that we could use to ride up to the old town. The center of the commune, three kilometers upriver, is not super-convenient from the port, but it is functionally close enough by bike. On the far side of the autoroute from the port, within foot or bike range, are two massive hypermarkets, the French equivalent of American superstores. It is a good place to stock the bulk items.
The town center of Valence, with its museums, old church, and medieval street plan, is interesting. The character of the town is definitively Provençal. The outdoor market reflects the flavors of the region; the Mistrals blow through periodically, a reminder of where in France Valence is located.
Valence warrants a visit by the tourists whizzing through on the autoroute, but then there are plenty of places in the region that also make for interesting visits. Consequentially Valence competes as a visitor destination but is not overwhelmed by tourists. That’s a plus.
Another advantage to Valence is the food and wine. Valence qualifies as a genuine foodie and oenophile destination. Across the river, within biking range, are the Northern Rhône wine appellations of Saint-Peray and Cornas. It is possible to taste and buy wine from the producers there. In Valence’s outdoor market you can buy the fresh ingredients for a high quality meal. But if you are not inclined to cook there are also good restaurant options. Indeed is the commune is notable for its three Michelin-star restaurant, Anne Sophie Pic.
From the Rhône, across the river from Valence is the most visible sight, the Château de Crussol, a mostly-ruined 12th century limestone castle. This too is reachable from the port but with some effort. We decided to check out the ruins by bike necessitating a lung-busting ride up the steep access road. On reaching the château’s visitor center we locked the bikes and waited for our heart rates to drop before we climbed the rest of the way to the top by foot.
The visit to Château de Crussol served as a reminder of the strategic history of the region. Valence’s roots, like many of the towns along the Rhône, go back to Roman times. Though the old now blends in with the new, it is not hard to imagine how life once was.
Wanderlust stops in Valence were in August and September of 2017.
Covering the distance from la Roche-de-Glun to the port de plaisance to Valence Wanderlust’s engine ran 2.2 hours. There are 14 kilometers with one lock in between. We stopped in Valence on both the journeys upstream and down for a total of 13 nights.
Clicking on this link should bring up a map of this segment.
Note: We understand that the port in Tournon-sur-Rhône has been re-opened in mid-2018.