Everyone Was Dancing in Tournon sur Rhône

Recently I saw a recommendation on the Friends of Viking River and Ocean Cruises Facebook page to look around you when you are in a new town or city for extra activities, such as organ concerts. It’s good advice because scheduled activities don’t always include such things—or show them in their best light.

Tournon, mid-summer festival, band

Rocking the mid-summer festival

Sometimes, however, those special events just appear out of the darkness. That happened to us during our France’s Finest river cruise in June. On the night Viking Heimdal was docked in Tournon sur Rhône, I left the dinner table to go get my sweater.

On the way back, I went onto the sun deck to get a breath of fresh air. Turning toward the town, I noticed what seemed to be a festival going on. There were lights, music, people and dancing out there. It looked like fun.

Heading into Town

I grabbed my sweater, went back to the dining room, and told our new friends at the table that we were missing a party. Nobody wanted to miss a party, so we all went out and took a look. Then we headed down the gangplank.

Church of St. Julien, Tournon sur Rhône , mid-summer festival, frescoes

The church of St. Juilien in Tournon sur Rhône

After crossing a park, we came to the main street that runs along Tournon’s waterfront. It was rocking! Every bar and restaurant was open to the street and nearly every one had live music playing at full blast. We walked along the road, looking at the festivities and listening to local tune. The whole street was shining and decorated. Everyone was friendly and smiling, drinking wine and eating late dinners.

We turned right and walked through the crowd up to the Rue du Doux with the church of St.Julien at the corner, then kept going up to second square where people were dancing to another band.

Exploring the Church

frescoes, Chapel of Penitents, St. Juilien, Tournon, Thomas Arnier

Frescoes over the doorway to the Chapel of Penitents

On the way back, we stopped into l’Église St. Julien, which was open and inviting. We went all through the church and spent some time examining the beautiful frescoes painted on the walls of the La Chapelle des Pénitents, the Chapel of the Penitents.  These images, commissioned by the merchant Thomas Arnier, were painted at the beginning of the 16th century (circa 1508). M. Arnier chose as their subject the cycle of the Passion, including a scene of suffering humanity helping Christ to carry his cross.

Outside again, we found ourselves watching a traditional country ring dance. Tournon is only a few miles north of Avignon. Most people know the French tune:

“Sur le pont d’Avignon,
On y danse, on y danse,
Sur le pont d’Avignon,
On y danse, tous en rond”


“On the bridge of Avignon
They are dancing, they are dancing,
On the bridge of Avignon
They are dancing all around.”

Dancing in a Ring

In Tournon sur Rhone, they were all dancing in a ring. People jumped in, danced for a while, and were replaced by others. Some people stayed and just kept dancing. We considered joining in but didn’t want to intrude on a local celebration. When the dancing stopped, we made our way back to Viking Heimdal, feeling that we had experienced something special. And we had.

Later, I learned that this was France’s mid-summer festival. We had stumbled upon it by chance, without doing any research, looking in a guide book, or planning ahead. That air of spontaneity made the experience even more special.

The Prosaic Walking Tour

Marc Seguin, suspension bridge, Tournon sur Rhone, France

The Marc Seguin suspension bridge to Ardeches

The town of Tournon sur Rhône looked more prosaic during our walking tour the next morning. It’s a good thing we saw the frescoes that night. During our walking tour of the town we returned to l’Église St.Julien but the Chapel of the Penitents was closed for Mass. Had we stayed on the ship the night before, we would have missed viewing the beautiful and historical frescoes.

Because we took a chance and went exploring, we had seen the town lit up, filled with music, and ringed with dancing. I’m so glad we did. these are the memories that make traveling so special: seeing something new and unexpected with good company.

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About Aline Kaplan

Aline Kaplan is a published author, a blogger, and a tour guide in Boston. She formerly had a career as a high-tech marketing and communications director. Aline writes and edits The Next Phase Blog, a social commentary blog that appears multiple times a week at aknextphase.com. She has published over 1,000 posts on a variety of subjects, from Boston history to science fiction movies, astronomical events to art museums. Under the name Aline Boucher Kaplan, she has had two science fiction novels (Khyren and World Spirits) published by Baen Books. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies published in the United States, Ireland, and Australia. Aline’s articles have also appeared on the Atlas Obscura website. She has been an active member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America since 1988 and is a long-term member of the Spacecrafts science/fantasy writers’ group. As a tour guide, Aline leads architectural and historical walking tours of the city for Boston By Foot, ghost tours for Haunted Boston and historical bus tours of the city. She lectures on Boston history and has appeared in the Boston Globe, as well as on TV for Chronicle, an award-winning television program that broadcasts stories of New England. As a lecturer, Aline has spoken at Brandeis and Tufts universities for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. She has also addressed as service organizations and local meetings. She is a graduate of Northeastern University in Boston and lives in Hudson, MA.

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