A sticky encounter in Montélimar
Montélimar. It’s a name that just rolls off the tongue with a rhythm of its own and it happens to be home to a sweet little secret. You’ll find the town about half an hour south of Valence in the Drôme, part of the Rhônes Alpes region, well on the way to the south.
The home, if not the birthplace of nougat
Nougat has been around for thousands of years but it arrived in Montélimar in the 19th century. With typical French flair, the locals took the original ingredients and created something uniquely French by adding eggs, their famous almonds and local honey. The result is a nougat that bears no resemblance to the mass produced, overly sweet product that many of us have tried over the years. Montélimar nougat is rich in favour and soft. Although of course it’s still sweet, it doesn’t hit you with a 3 day sugar rush or leave you desperate for water. In fact, I was told, it is the best nougat in the world and even Lady Diana, Princess of Wales partook.
The rise to success
Until the advent of fast trains and autoroutes, Montélimar was strategically placed on the main route from north to south. Endorsed by the French President of the day, Emile Loubet, from the late 19th century onwards, nougat sales soared. Touting to passing (and often queuing) traffic, meant a captive audience and the industry was in boom.
All great things come to an end and the nougat industry was hit hard by the arrival of the fast-flowing A7 motorway (“autoroute du soleil”) which skirts the town. However, you can still find the last remaining nougat factories, like Nougat Arnaud Soubeyran, in the outskirts of Montélimar.
Evolve to survive
Arnaud Soubeyran are a 3rd generation nougat producer who had the good luck of stumbling upon some original nougat recipes from the 1950s and adapting them. Today they’re a prestigious and bustling establishment. They’re proud of their Mediterranean almonds which I’m told have fuller flavour than Californian almonds, their floral honey and local fruit and have created an interesting tour of their factory. They still make their nougat by hand and you can watch the production process before indulging yourself in the dozens of different varieties in their shop or spending time in their restaurant.
For more information about Drôme visit: www.ladrometourisme.com;
For a nugget of nougat visit: www.nougatsoubeyran.com
Transport: Valence has a TGV station and it’s possible to get trains from the UK, Paris or elsewhere in Europe (there’s also international car hire right next to the station). From the TGV station there are regular connecting trains. For details see: voyages-sncf.com
Although valence has an airport, most flights are to Lyon or Grenoble.