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Fair Stood the Train for France




Clive Nicholls packed his cameras and headed for the foothills of the Alps and some wonderful food and wine. 

I’m setting off on a train journey that will see me in the south east of France later this afternoon. I’m on a tour that will take in fabulous vineyards, dining to die for, historic cities, and all in an area that’s beautiful and dramatic in equal measures.

First leg of my journey, the train from Newark to King’s Cross and I start my dining experience with a bacon roll topped with lashings of brown sauce. Yes, I know it doesn’t really qualify as fine dining but at 6.00am, it comes pretty close.

My Eurostar at Paris – we squashed a few flies along the wayKing’s Cross station to St Pancras is little more than a hundred yards walk and I join the queue for Eurostar. All of the formalities are done here. Check out of the UK and go through passport control for France. I’ve just got a new, blue, British passport (which I’m proud of) and I get my first stamp in it from the France border control lady, even though I’m still in London.

The train is busy but once we are moving, I find a better seat, just behind me where I can get a great view out of the window – I don’t want to miss a thing on my journey to Paris. Through a longish tunnel and then we’re speeding through the Kent countryside and, before I know it, I’m in the Channel Tunnel. In less than 50 minutes from St Pancras, I’m out the other side and in France. The train speeds up and in a bit over two hours from London, the train rolls into Paris Gard du Nord.

The_TGV_at_Gard_de_Lyon_in_ParisI’ve got to swap over to Gard de Lyon to catch the TGV train south. It’s simple enough and I’ve got an hour to make the change, two stops on the Metro and the ticket is just €2.10 (well under £2.00). The only problem is with the ticket gates. When you put your ticket in, you need to move a bit sharpish. They are snappy and I only just made it through before they were trying to grab my suitcase. At Gare de Lyon, I had half an hour to spare. There were no seats at the station so I sat on a wall outside. Two security guards were throwing out a drunk – he was kicking off but they were robust and he had to leave, still shouting and gesticulating with his fingers but leave he did.

Lyon_Saint-ExuperyThe TGV is a bit like a double decked Eurostar. I found my train without any bother, left on time, and within a few minutes I was being whisked along at 150mph according to the little screen in the carriage. I try to stay awake but the early morning start is catching up with me. I wake with a start, embarrassed but no one seemed to have noticed. Had I missed my stop? I had a ticket through to Grenoble but was planning to get off at Lyon St-Exupery. It took me a couple of minutes to get my bearings but all was okay, I’d still got half an hour to run before getting off at Lyon, which turned out to be bit of a flashy station.






My hotel is near Vienne but there’s time to take in a vineyard visit before checking-in – I’m in the fabulous Rhône valley after all.


Laurent, my guide, knows exactly where to go; Domaine de Corp de Loup. A beautiful vineyard set on a steep slope – in the valley. Just a nice place to be but even better when you can sample their wines – and I did. A Cote – Rotie 2019 red slipped down a treat, so smooth, so full of everything, it soon became my favourite. I was mentally working out how many bottles I could get in my suitcase but then I checked the price! Ouch! So good but a bit beyond my budget. Still dreamers can always dream.

Cottage_de_ClairefontaineI’m staying at Cottage de Claire Fontaine, just south of Vienne and am eating in their restaurant. (Le Cottage) just a couple of hundred yards away in the village. It is evening I’m certainly a bit peckish, I haven’t eaten since my bacon roll early this morning. The restaurant is lovely,Wine the local wines superb. I ordered the Chonarine salad for starter and pink trout for mains, little did I know that I was in for a big surprise.


I nibbled on bread enjoyed the wine. The surprise was the salad – it was magnificent and genuinely the best salad I’ve ever eaten. Ingredients mainly from their own garden or locally from the village with a poached hen’s egg from their own chicken. I like salad but normally reach for the pepper to add a touch of spice but something told me to try it first. I did, it was melt in my mouth perfect! The taste, texture and yes, even the smell, it was just fantastic. The trout that followed was good but it’s the salad that I’ll always remember – thank you.

Fruit BasketI love breakfast in hotels, in the UK I go for the ‘full English’ in France, fresh crusty bread packed with ham and cheese and that’s my plan this morning. The bread is spot-on and I make my butties as planned. There’s a fruit basket that looks so good that I feel a bit of a spoilsport digging in – but I do anyway, juice dribbling down my chin, I plan the day ahead.


I start off with a tour of Vienne in Isère, sitting on the Rhône and steeped in Roman history. It’s walkable but a touch uphill in places. The Roman theatre is a cracker, you can get a great view from the hill just above it. The main stage for the Jazz Festival. The Romans used to pack 13000 into hereThe Roman’s used to pack it with 13,000 and it’s still in use today as the lead venue for the annual Jazz Festival – quite remarkable. Down the hill in the town the Temple of Augustus still stands proud and the Saint-Maurice Cathedral is definitely worth a visit, but a must-see is the Gallo Romain Museum.

Temple_of_Augustus Vienne


Saint_Maurice_CathedralVienne; old but beautiful


Mosaics_in_the_Gallo_Romain_MuseumThe mosaics are exceptional, some remarkably well preserved and it’s a relaxed visit, half in a purpose-built museum, half outside with footings, walls, still as they were 2000 years ago. Vienne has seen Roman_mosaics_in_Viennemany changes since the Roman era. Conquerors come and go: the Burgundians, Franks, Moors and even the Germans in the Second World War. Today it’s very peaceful and welcoming.


Now back to my culinary extravaganza. I’m booked in at the Hotel Mille Pas in Voiron. Roast squash and goat’s cheese followed by breast of veal is my choice. It’s still warm enough to eat outside and I really enjoy my lunch but I’m definitely going to start my diet as soon as I get home.







Not more than 100 yards away from the restaurant is the visitor centre for the Caves de Chartreuse. I’m not sure about this one. It’s the story about how the monks created the elixir and how it grew into a worldwide business. They don’t make it here anymore – it’s produced about ten miles out of town but here’s the thing: only three monks know the recipe for this potent elixir of life. It took 160 years to develop the juice containing a high percentage of alcohol and a mix of 130 plants. When one of the three wants to retire, they train a replacement. They can’t travel together in case of an accident. They produce (only) one million bottles/year to keep demand high, they seemed to have got it taped. If they wanted to diversify they could launch a new business ‘The Marketing Monks’, – I’m sure they would be onto a winner.

Bedroom_at_RockyPop_Hotel_GrenobleTime to move on; next stop Grenoble, about an hour’s drive away. I’m staying in the RockyPop Hotel in the city centre so it’s pretty handy but probably designed for a younger audience but it’s actually really good. I leave my bag and head out straight away. Grenoble is surrounded by mountains, the city is flat but rises up steeply on all sides so I need a cable car to get to the summit of La Bastille Hill, where I’ve got my supper planned.Cable_car_up_to_the_top_of_Bastille_Hill



I love cable cars. The views are so different – I always try to get a pod to myself – I love taking pictures and that way I don’t bother anyone else. The ride is over too soon but I have another treat in store.

Laurent_Gras_on_his_terrace_overlooking_GrenobleAt the top I meet Laurent Gras, owner and chef of Chez le Per’Gras restaurant – we share a couple of bottles of wine from his own vineyard, and a wonderful cheeseboard on his terrace overlooking the whole of Grenoble. The weather is a bit drizzly but we put up a table brolly and brave it. I had such a marvellous time – he’s such easy company and the story behind the restaurant is fascinating. It’s been in his family for generations and was open during the Second World War. The German military used to dine there but what they didn’t know was that there’s a secret room beneath the main restaurant that the French resistance fighters used as a base, a place to store supplies and their own dining room. Laurent showed me the room, which is now part of his wine cellar, it’s amazing to think that while the Germans were banging their tankards on the tables upstairs, these brave people were preparing their next attack, just beneath them.

Laurents_kitchenRainbow trout at Le Per’GrasCheese board to die for at Le Per’Gras on the summit of Bastille HillWhitebait

For my own meal, I went fishy with whitebait followed by rainbow trout and a bottle of the Pape Chardonnay from Laurent’s own grapes. It’s a splendid evening and I’m sad to leave.



Grenoble on the Isere RiverGrenoble sits on the Isère river – it’s pretty, without being beautiful. In some ways it’s set in the past with Roman origins but it had a big makeover in the 1960s ready for the 1968 Winter Olympics. Look beyond the history and it’s state of the art with a world leading scientific research centre with its Synchrotron Radiation Facility – that big circular atom splitting thing that we see on the news from time to time.Shopping streets in Grenoble Autumn in Grenoble. Quiet and rather lovely

It’s a bit beyond me but the thriving universities on the outskirts of the city feed it with the next generation of super-scientists. Me, I stroll the back streets, walk the riverbank and grab a coffee to work up an appetite for my lunch at Le Fantin Latour – a Michelin-starred restaurant.Le_Fantin_Latour_Michelin_starred_restaurant

Sitting in the restaurant garden, I did feel just a little bit posh – everything was just so and even the cockerel in the corner seemed to have an upper class squawk. The staff were brilliant and when the food and wine started to appear I felt really at home. For starters a trio of dishes: salmon, foie gras and quinoa followed by the chief’s signature dish – I couldn’t work out all the ingredients but truffles, egg, tiny mushrooms, croutons and spinach were all in there, plus a few other delicacies that I couldn’t identify – It was brilliant. Trout followed and it was a rather lovely experience.

Starters at Le Fantin Latour: salmon, foie gras and quinoaOne of the chef’s signature dishes – every mouthful teases your taste budsSpectacular trout – just melts in my mouth


Monster Rubens picture (on the left) is my favourite in the Genoble MuseumThe artworks in the Museum of Grenoble are stunning. You can’t miss the 5m tall canvas by Rubens, painted in 1607, the more recent Picasso from 1901 or Andy Warhol’s 1964 artwork of Jackie Kennedy. So very different but each fascinating in its own right. Me, I’d go for the Rubens – his sheer scale is always going to dominate any exhibition.
I know that Picasso has got a bit of a name but give me the Rubens any day of the week

You don’t have to visit a museum to see artworks in Grenoble. Street art: Rose Girl by Shepard FaireyStreet Art is alive and kicking. This isn’t graffiti but genuine works of art, sometimes on a giant scale. My favourite is Rose Girl by the artist Shepard Fairey. He’s the guy who designed the Obama/Hope posters back in 2008 and he’s certainly brightened up the student quarter of Grenoble. Let’s hope that no one sprays graffiti over the top of it.

The pear in a bottle trick - but there is no trick!

My time is short as I’ve got to head back towards Vienne with a stop along the way at Maison Colombier where they make pear brandy and also produce these full-sized pears inside a narrow-necked bottle – how do they do that? The secret is, there’s no secret. They hang a bottle upside down over a tiny pear shoot. The pear grows to maturity inside the bottle; you snip it off and Bob’s your uncle. Stephan Jay shows how he grows pears in a bottle I meet owner Stephen Jay. He’s so enthusiastic about his brandy that he soon has me tasting samples that range from strong to very strong. I’m out of my comfort zone but get sucked in and soon start enjoying myself – it’s just as well I’ve got a lift to my hotel afterwards.

Stephan Jay encourages tasting of his pear brandy. It’s strong but slips down easy

Impossible to resist. My new friend at Beaurivage a CondrieuI’m staying in Hôtel Beau Rivage à Condrieu on the banks of the Rhône. I’m eating here tonight so it’s a bit more relaxed. I should have plenty of time, except… I meet a beautiful ginger cat on the terrace who leaps up onto a table beside me. He’s a charmer and so hard to resist. We spend a quarter of an hour together and then I have to dash for a lightning-quick shower before my dinner.

Courgette flowers with pike mousse and tarragon sauce at Beaurivage a Condrieu


How about this for a starter? Courgette flowers with pike mousse and a tarragon sauce. It was excellent.

Chicken and artichoke, simple but oh so tastyMain course: chicken and artichokes with a chocolaty dessert. It went down a treat.

I’m not big into desserts but I just couldn’t miss out on this spectacular pud



In the morning I’m making my cheese and ham rolls and pondering my day ahead. It will be a bit different. Later this evening, I’ll be back in Lincolnshire but before that I’m visiting the WAM waterpark and then cycling along the banks of the Rhône – I think I’ll have an extra cheese roll.

An early morning angler tries his luck at Wam water parkAt the waterpark the mist is still rising off the lake when I arrive. An angler is trying his luck (he doesn’t seem to be having any) and the coffee shop is just getting its first brew going. Like a go-kart on water; exciting but safe at Wam ParkThe new attraction here is the Water Karts, like a go-kart but on water – I’ll give it a go. It’s great fun. The batteries (the are electric) can be moved forwards or backwards to change the attitude of the boat and increase or decrease the performance. After a confidence-building first lap, the next step is to go for maximum performance, foot hard down, they really are quite exciting. I manage to bring it back to the dock without getting soaked – pretty essential as I’m traveling in the clothes that I’m wearing.

My e-bike on the banks of the RhoneNext, it’s my Ebike tour of the dedicated cycle routes along the Rhône. I love Ebikes – you can bowl along all day almost effortless, but more importantly, hills and head winds hold no threat. There’s a lot of conservation work going on and even otters are returning. I didn’t see any, or much else for that matter, but it was in the bright midday sun when I was riding. I think in the early morning or late evening the riverbanks would be alive with activity. I can’t manage that today. I’ve got lunch in Vienne and then a drive to pick up the TGV in Lyon for my trip north of Paris.

The trip to Paris was on-time, smooth and efficient, At Gare de Lyon in Paris, things went pear-shaped. The station was heaving and just to get off the platform required a bit of pushing and shoving but I made it to the Metro only slightly worse for wear. At Gard du Nord there was a short queue for passport control but once on Eurostar I could reflect on what had been a magical trip. The food and wine has been exceptional, and not that expensive, it’s a great place to be. Warm in summer, ski in winter and out of season, just perfect for me.

Fact panel

For more information about Isère Tourism visit  

For more information about Vienne visit 

For more information about Grenoble visit   

For more information about Vienne Condrieu visit


Return direct flights from London Gatwick to Lyon Airport cost from £36 with easyJet 

Return train via Paris from London St Pancras to Lyon cost from £152.94. 


Rhône Trip/Clive’s Driver was Laurent /+33 (0)6 95 84 25 40. 


A one-night stay at Cottage de Clairefontaine is priced from £47.50pp based on two sharing. Breakfast is not included. 

A one-night stay at RockyPop Hotel is priced from £39pp based on two sharing. Breakfast is not included.

A one-night stay at Hotel Beaurivage à Condrieu is priced from £67pp based on two sharing. Breakfast is not included. 


Musée Les Caves de Chartreuse: guided tour from €12/£10.41pp 

Tour of the Saint-Romain-en-Gal : guided tour from €3/£2.60pp 

Via Rhôna: free admission to cycle route, e-bike hire from €32/£28 per day 

Guided walk Vienne from €7.50/£6.51pp 

Wam Park  water kart from €17/£14.75pp for 10 minutes 


Cottage de Clairefontaine

Restaurant Le Glacier

Mille Pas Restaurant restaurant

Le PèrGras Le Fantin Latour 

Hotel Beaurivage à Condrieu:

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