The Drôme Provençale is the area between the Rhône and the Alpes north of the Vaucluse. The dry Garrigue vegetation of the Provence changes into a lush green, the rolling hills of the Drôme Provençale. Traditionally this has been a favorite vacation destination for many French and Swiss. But it is increasingly becoming a very "in" destination albeit not yet as fashionable as the Vaucluse, its southern neighbor. The area is part of the of the Rhône - Alpes Region and not the Provence proper, but everybody refers to it as "La Drôme Provençale". Now why is that?
Highlights of this trip are the impressive châteaux in Suze la Rousse and Grignan, the medieval towns of Visan, Richerenches, Taulignan and beautiful Dieulefit, famous for its pottery and Picodon goat cheese. Finally we visit Le Poet Laval, a picturesque Knights Hospitallers village near Dieulefit. Click here and take a look at the map with an outline of the trip.
If you want to tour the castles you might need to rearrange the sequence in order to meet the opening hours. For both the opening hours (July/August) are: 9:30AM - 11:30AM and 2:00PM - 5:30PM (for the other months opening hours are even more limited - we love the French working hours!). You can buy the Pass 3 Châteaux at the first château you visit. It gives you access to the châteaux in Grignan, Montélimar and Suze la Rousse. So if you want to tour both châteaux and visit all the towns and villages you need more than a day. Read our description of the two châteaux first and decide for yourself if you want to take the tours. In our opinion it is not a "must do" thing. It is just as nice to drive around, explore the villages on foot and have a light lunch in Grignan or Taulignan. Or you might want to organize your own picnic under a shady tree. Buy a baguette or gros pain, an Ardèche sausage, Picodon goat cheese, a "Coeur de Boeuf" tomato and a cool bottle of rosé. All you need is a blanket, a cooler, a Swiss army knife and some glasses. Voilà, you are ready to go!
The imposing Château Suze la Rousse towers over the village and its Côtes du Rhône vineyards like a fortress. Imagine being there in the winter time when the Mistral blows through the courtyards and rattles at the windows. What began in the 12th century as a modest wooden fort on the Suze (uz means hill in Celtic) was later transformed by the Les Baux, one of the most important families in the Provence, into a fortified small château, which served as a hunting lodge. Marguerite des Baux received it as a dowry, when she married Hugues de Saluces in 1390. The beautiful Marguerite had flaming red hair, so the story goes, hence the château became known as Suze the Red, Suze la Rousse! The couple and subsequent generations of what became known as the Baume-Suze clan enlarged the château, changing its style and finally adding the magnificent grand staircase. During the Religious Wars (1562 - 1598), the conflict between Protestants and Catholics in France, François de La Baume Suze was one of the military leaders on the Catholic side in the Provence. Another highlight was the visit of Catherine de Medici and her son, King Charles IX in 1564. The château was pillaged during the French Revolution. The last Baume-Suze heir, the Marquise de Bryas, who died without heirs in 1958, donated the château to a foundation caring for orphans. They were unable to maintain it and sold it in 1965 for 90.000 Francs (Euro 14.000) to the Drôme Department. Today the château houses the Université du Vin and a small museum. The university provides training to future wine professionals (wine growers, sommeliers) in France but also conducts wine-tasting programs lasting a day or a weekend for wine aficionados. The village is pleasant, nothing remarkable, except perhaps the street below the Eastern château walls, which is right out of a medieval movie.
Is it worthwhile to tour the Château? The answer is yes if you like to admire the architecture, especially the inner courtyard and the 17th century grand staircase. But don't expect a richly furnished interior.
A wonderful historic village in the Enclave des Papes, an exclave of the Provence in the Département Drôme. Visan has a lot of charm and is well known to anyone who appreciates a good bottle of Côtes du Rhône Village. Park the car in front of the ""Mairie"" (follow the sign "Vieux Village") before the town walls and walk the old town. Lots of history here, for more information visit our separate web page on the Enclave des Papes.
The truffles' capital of France! The town's origin dates back to the 12th century when the Knights of Templar established one of the largest Commanderies in Southern France here. The Commanderies produced agricultural products, such as corn, oil, wool and cattle to supply the Holy Land. The Commanderies also served as training centres for the young disciples and retirement and convalescence homes for the old knights. You find more information about Richerenches on our Enclave des Papes web page.
You can see the majestic Château de Grignan from afar, towering over the ancient village, surrounded by lavender fields and vineyards. This is one of the most imposing châteaux in Southern France with a very beautiful historic village. As a major tourist attraction it has tons of visitors each day, especially during the summer vacations.
The fortification's early history is not quite clear, it was probably a Gallo-Roman oppidum. In 1239 an Adhémar was mentioned as the owner of a fortified manor house on top of the hill. The Adhémars were the most important feudal family of the Drôme Provençale in the Middle Ages. An early Adhémar died during the First Crusade in 1098. Vestiges of the Adhémar family abound in the Drôme Provençale: Montélimar (le Mont de Adhémar) and further South the ancient village of La Garde Adhémar (the guard of the Adhémars).
Over the centuries the Château de Grignan developed from a medieval fortress to a splendid Renaissance Château during the last major construction from 1545-58. It is closely associated with Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, better known as the Marquise de Sévigné. Born in Paris in 1626, she was one of France's most prolific letter writers of her time. She wrote hundreds of personal letters to her daughter Françoise, creating an extensive chronicle of life in Paris. Françoise was married to Louis François de Castellane-Adhémar, the owner of the Château de Grignan. The Marquise de Sévigné visited Grignan a few times and lived the last two years of her life here. She died here in 1696 at the age of 69 and was buried in the Église St.Saveur in Grignan. If you are a Francophile you might be interested in the Festival de la Correspondance, a literary festival held in her honour each year.
During the French Revolution the château was pillaged, all the furniture was carried off and all paintings of the Adhémars were burned. The château fell into ruins. Various owners tried to restore it but inevitably ran out of money. Most notable was the purchase in 1912 by Marie Fontaine, the widow of a Belgian banker. She spent most of her fortune to restore the château. Her niece lived modestly in a wing of the château, cultivated her own vegetables in the garden and served as a visitors' guide. When she died in the 1970's at age 87, the castle became the property of the Département Drôme. In 1979 it underwent major renovations. Please bear in mind that practically all you see inside is "new", less than 100 years old. During the summer guided tours are available in English; they are quite extensive.
From the Château de Grignan you have wonderful views over Grignan with its tiled roofs and the surrounding countryside. Walk the narrow alleys and sit in one of the open-air cafés. There are a number of cute small stores and an excellent bookstore. Visit the 16th century La Collégiale Saint Sauveur Church and the Beffroi (clock tower).
On your way to Dieulefit on Rt.D14 we recommend a stopover in beautiful historic Taulignan. Its fortifications with 11 towers are largely intact and the narrow alleys and stone houses of the village transport you back to the Middle Ages. View the beautiful old façades, windows and doors on Rue des Fontaines and the Northeast gate with its two towers. The origin of the name Taulignan is said to come from a certain Taurinius, most likely a veteran of the 2nd Roman Legion in Gallia, who was alloted land here. A number of Roman potteries and sarcophagi have been found in and around Taulignan. During the Religious Wars (1562 - 1598) Taulignan was between two fronts and was occupied repeatedly by Catholic and Protestant forces. Taulignan recovered and became a prosperous town with many tradesmen. The silk industry flourished in the 19th century; the local silk mill employed at one time nearly 400 people. If you can read some French, we highly recommend to visit the Atelier Musée de la Soie with its exhibition showing you how silk was produced, starting with the cocoon (Place 11 Novembre, Opening Times July/August: 10:00AM - 6:00PM every day, otherwise 10:00AM - 12:30PM and 1:30PM - 5:30PM). Leaving Taulignan on Rt.D14 to Dieulefit, you pass a round Protestant church, constructed in 1868 by a local architect.
Dieulefit, a lovely town (pop. 3100) in the Jabron Valley, is known for its healthy climate, its artists (pottery, wool) and the Picodon goat cheese produced in the region. It is a favorite tourist destination with many small hotels and B&Bs in town and the surrounding countryside. For better or for worse the ClubMed Spa closed in 2004. A bit old fashioned, it brings you back to the times, where you did all your shopping in small stores on main street and where the weekly market was (and still is) a place to buy your groceries from the farmer and exchange news.
Originally a Gallo-Roman settlement, the town came under the joint rule of the Seigneurs de Comps and the Knights Hospitallers (today's Knights of Malta) of Le Poet Laval in the 11th century. They renamed the settlement "Deo lo fes", God made it or in French Dieulefit. Like the rest of the region it fell on hard times in the 14th century, when the pest, frequent raids by marauding bands and wars between ruling clans reduced the population. In the 15th century a gradual revival began and by the middle of the 16th century Dieulefit was a thriving town. The joint rule by the Seigneurs de Comps and Knights Hospitallers had its advantages; the frequent squabbling between the two gave the town a certain amount of freedom. In the middle of the 16th century Dieulefit was on the forefront of Protestantism in the region. The Religious Wars were a setback, but during the Edict of Nantes period (1598 - 1685) an exemplary cohabitation in town government started between the Catholic and Protestant sides. In the following centuries, interrupted only by the French Revolution, Dieulefit developed into a busy regional center, recognized for its pottery, wool, silk, wines and cheeses. They even established their own airline in May 1911, one airplane transporting a passenger between Dieulefit and Montélimar!
Walk South along Rue Justin Jouve to the Viale quarter, the historic town center. You will reach Place de l'Abbé Magnet with the Tour d'Horloge and 16th century Église St.Roch. At Place de l'Abbé Magnet turn left into the Grand Rue du Château and then right into Rue des Prisons to admire the 15th century Église St.Pierre. Return to Grand Rue du Château and continue on to the Rue du Zig-Zag, you will find out why it bears that name. Don't miss to walk the many small alleys in Le Vial, admire the ancient town houses and their portals. Back to Place de l'Abbé Magnet continue South on Grand Rue du Bourg and its many interesting small stores. You will reach Place Châteauras, its cafés and Le Temple, a 19th century neo-classical Protestant church, with a railway station clock. The church is no longer in use.
Dieulefit has roughly 30 pottery makers and a pottery school, the Maison de la Terre du Pays de Dieulefit. The region produces the well know Picodon goat cheese, since 1991 protected by its own A.O.C. appellation. A small railway, built in 1893, with a train named "Le Picodon", used to transport the cheese and other produce to Montélimar, it was soon abandoned and sold to Ethiopia; we where told it still runs today (seeing is believing it!).
The "Pogetum Vallis", in Latin the "Hill in the Valley" was founded in the 13th century as a preceptory of the Knights Hospitallers of the Sovereign Order of Saint John (today's Knights of Malta). The name is justified, the old village lies on a hill in the picturesque Jabron Valley. The Knights Hospitallers built a small castle, church and fortified the village. It was soon elevated to the status of Commanderie. In the late 19th century it fell into disrepair as most of the population built their houses in the Jabron Valley closer to their fields. The Vieux Village has now been lovingly restored, thanks also to many non-residents who have vacation homes here. Park behind the château on top of the village and walk the maze of alleys, stairs and terraces. Most of the houses in the Vieux Village date from the 15th century, including a remarkable pigeon tower. The oldest part of the Château is the Donjon (tower), which dates from the 12th century. The walls are 13ft/4m thick at the base. The Commanderie was frequently enlarged and its style changed until the Knights Hospitallers left Le Poet Laval for a better life in Montélimar at the end of the 16th century.
If you are interested in the history of Protestantism in France, visit the Musée du Protestantisme Dauphinois, a small museum located in a 14th century Knights Hospitaller house, describing the history of Protestants in the region with a special exhibit of the Waldensian massacres in 1545 (Open April 8 - Sept. 30 from 11:00 - 12:00AM and 3:00 - 6:30PM all days). A subsequent visit to the Bouquinerie Dit-Elle, the local bookshop/tea house with a small terrace sounds like a good idea, right? Alas they are closed 3 days a week, including Sundays! But there is always Dieulefit, 4km away.
Great area for a more sedate vacation, especially if you like nature, hiking, biking, walking the villages and taking it easy. Good potential to find your hideaway lodgings here - take a look at our Drôme Provençale lodging section.