5 cultural highlights of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes

In Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, there’s no need for a time machine. Ancient remains, medieval fortresses, UNESCO World Heritage Sites and Renaissance and Romanesque structures take you on a fabulous journey into the region’s past. Contemporary art is everywhere – and the food and wine has worldwide acclaim. Here are five highlights of this vast region of central and eastern France.

1/ Lyon: the region’s foodie capital

Perhaps more than any other city in France, Lyon (External link) embodies the French ‘art of living’, the joyful synthesis of all that makes life worthwhile: food, wine, culture, friends and family. From its old-town warren of cobbled streets to the slopes of the Croix-Rousse and the beautiful squares of the Presqu’ile, Lyon is made for exploring – either on foot or by bike. Its UNESCO-listed historic centre is also packed with bouchons, restaurants with an informal atmosphere serving traditional Lyonnaise cuisine.

2/ The Chauvet cave replica

Discovered in 1994, the Chauvet cave (External link) contains the oldest human masterpiece: hundreds of animals drawn from life, dating back more than 36,000 years. In order to preserve the original drawings, paintings and engravings of this astonishing UNESCO-listed site, but also share them with the world, an exact replica of the cave was created, known as Chauvet 2. After marvelling at the cave (audio guides available), go behind the scenes at the permanent exhibition to learn the challenges of its restoration.

3/ The classified ‘Most Beautiful Villages’

An incredible 22 of France’s 159 listed ‘Plus Beaux Villages (External link) ’ are situated in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes alone! Our favourites are Vogüé, set against the cliffs on the banks of the Ardèche, with its amphitheatre-like streets lined with arcades and vaulted passages. Lavaudieu has a Romanesque cloister and Byzantine-inspired mural painting. Grignan, further south in Drôme, is a more recent addition to the association – and boasts the largest Renaissance chateau in the south-east.

4/ Saint-Etienne: capital of design

In 2010, Saint-Etienne became the first French ‘Creative Design City’ to join the UNESCO network, and the second European city to join after Berlin. Its dedicated Cité du Design is a symbol of the city, located in a former arms factory and now a place of creation, research, training and exhibition for design. The Modern Art Museum is another popular cultural spot, with one of the largest European collections of contemporary art and design, while Firminy is an architectural complex designed by Le Corbusier.

5/ Local food and wine

Given its abundance of Alpine pastures, orchards and vineyards, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes is great for eating and drinking. Much of the local produce has protected status, including Bresse poultry, Ardèche chestnuts, Grenoble walnuts, Nyons olives, Puy lentils, and no less than 17 cheeses. If you love cheese, look out for mountain specialities including raclette and tartiflette. The famous Rhône valley vineyards make up one of 10 winegrowing areas in the region – try the Hermitage and Côtes du Rhône AOCs – and 11 places have now been awarded the ‘Vignobles & Découvertes’ label for their contribution to wine tourism.