If you love the south of France and the romantic call of the lavender fields, a visit to the Drôme will reveal an unspoiled region that will truly delight…
Drôme – the other Provence
Drôme is one of the two most southerly departments of the Rhône Alpes region, with the Ardèche to the west and to the south and east, the Vaucluse and the Hautes Alpes departments.
This is a department of contrasts and if you’ve spent time travelling the steep and craggy roads of the Ardèche gorges, then the flat plains of Provencal Drôme in the south makes for a dramatic change. High, winding and mountainous roads and heady views suddenly transform into long, flat, straight roads and you cannot escape the smell of the Mediterranean and the feel of Provence.
Avoiding the motorway which runs north to south, head off the main road about an hour south of Valence (the capital of the department) and a little over half an hour from Orange and headed east.
There’s an instant sense of calm as you leave the traffic and bustle of the Rhône behind you. Mont Ventoux and the Alpes are faintly visible in the distance and in summer the sight of mile after mile of perfectly neat rows of lavender is completely glorious.
Valaurie – a medieval village in the lavender fields
From the flat fields rise sporadic pinnacles; ancient villages clinging on like giant mole hills dot the landscape. Valaurie is a quiet medieval village keeping guard across the vineyards and lavender fields along with its neighbour Roussas. Both cling to a hill side under the watch of their respective chateaux. Both are unbelievably quiet and hopelessly pretty with a distinct medieval legacy.
In Roussas, explore the chateau which is not far from an enormous. Wind your way around narrow cobbled streets, up steps, around fortifications and walls, and up more steps, catching glimpses of the vineyards and lavender fields below. There’s a flower tour you can do around the village to discover different roses and Mediterranean flowers, the village specialises in honey plus a special goats’ cheese called Foujou. Strolling round the narrow streets of the village, discovering pretty little houses and courtyards, stocking up on figs and enjoying the warm sunshine is a joy
It’s a different side to the Provence most of us know, as yet unspoilt by an endless stream of tourists.
Lavender, truffles and wine
The Domaine de Grangeneuve is a short drive through the country from Roussas. The family who own it have been here for the last 50 years having returned from Algeria. Back then the “domaine” consisted of a derelict farm building, an over grown plot of woodland and the remains of a Roman villa.
Today they grow Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault and Mourvedre for their reds and Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne and Grenache for their whites and are part of the AOC Grignan Les Adhemar. Their wines are soft, elegant and balanced and this is a beautiful spot to get to grips with a landscape that in addition to lavender and wine, is famous for truffles, olives and wonderful local produce.
Their philosophy at Grangenwuve is to be the best possible and as you enter the main farm courtyard, there’s a beautiful vaulted cellar filled with oak barrels and vintage wines of the estate. You can discover the region in a variety of ways from here: there are two hiking trails and an electric bike route. They offer wine tasting, wine workshops or a day in the vineyards and winery. You can also enjoy cookery and gourmand workshops or discover local truffles – all washed down with a fine wine of course! They also do a fabulous picnic hamper bursting with local products which they’ll bring to you at one of their picnic tables and the focus here is very much on the gourmand. After all, as owner Henri Bour says, “wine is a noble concept”.
A night at the mill
Drop back down and out of the clutches of the Mistral, to the flat fields surrounding Valaurie and head to Le Moulin de Valaurie. This beautifully restored mill sits about a mile or so from the village and has views of it across the sunflower fields. Arrive at dusk to watch the sun slowly dropping behind Valaurie. It’s memorable.
Le Moulin de Valaurie is a 3-star restaurant and hotel and is utterly charming. It’s managed to hold on to its rural past but feels elegant and chic too. It’s the perfect place to relax, unwind and refuel before you head deeper into the delights of Drôme.
Practical information for Drome
For more information about Drôme: www.ladrometourisme.com
Transport to Drôme: Valence has a TGV station and it’s possible to get trains from the UK or Paris.
Although the closest airport is Valence, there are more flights via Lyon or Grenoble.