Saint-Marcellin (Population: 6,500). The church dates from the 5th century, with a Roman belfry. Here are remnants of the town wall and a 13th-century chateau.
Romans-sur-Isere (Population: 35,000). The town was originally founded by St. Bernard in 837. Important leather tanneries for shoe manufacture are located here.
Just beyond Romans, you cross the Isere, on an old toll bridge, which is why the village here is called Bourg-de-Peage.
Valence (Population: 70,000). The Romans settled this town because of its strategic location on the river. The town forms a kind of "balcony" that sweeps up the hillside, forming terraces. This gives it a charming Mediterranean look (that contrasts with the mountains you've just left). The town once belonged to the Grimaldi family (of Monaco fame). As the capital of the Duchy of Valentinois, it exercised political power throughout the Rhone valley. Back in 1785, four years before the French Revolution, a young artillery lieutenant named Napoleon Bonaparte was stationed briefly in Valence.
You will drive through the town center, passing the fountain, Place de la Republique, and Parc Jouvet, and cross the Rhone.
Montelimar Like Valence, this city was once ruled by the Grimaldi family, which controlled most of Provence during the Middle Ages. Many picturesque houses remain from the 18th-19th centuries. The manufacturing of nougat, a delightful confection of almonds and sugar, is the chief activity today.
Orange (Population: 30,000). Another former Roman colony, with many treasures from the past. Here, deep in the south of France, is a city with important historical connections to the Dutch some 600 miles to the north. During the Middle Ages, the area around Orange belonged to the princes of Nassau, who had inherited it by marriage. It was from these princes that the Dutch royal family was descended, and the kings of Holland retained the title, "Prince of Orange," long after the city of Orange had returned to France.
The most outstanding Roman ruin: Arc de Triomphe, built by the Emperor Tiberius in a classic purity of style that surpasses even its more famous namesake in Paris. The ancient theater is the loveliest and best-preserved in France.
English Romantic poets like Shelley used to love to come to Orange to sit on the stone benches of the Roman theater, brooding on the glories of lost cultures.
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