Situated to the south of Lyon on the eastern side of the Rhône river, the Drôme department is split into three main areas. The Provençal part is to the very south, the Valley – Diois, and to the north, the Plain of Valence.
The Drôme is the number one department in France for organic production, agritourism and wine tourism which has much to do with the warm climate and the soil. The quality of the produce is outstanding. It’s no surprise that there are some stellar restaurants in the region including those run by Michelin chefs such as Anne-Sophie Pic and her family. Some of the finest Drôme products include truffles from Tricastin, Valrhona chocolate, olive oil from Nyons and picodon cheese. Whilst the wines of the Hermitage, Tain l’Hermitage and Vinobres in the Rhône Valley, are world renowned.
The area has a wealth of interesting towns to explore including Valence. And there are heaps of “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France”, châteaux in abundance and activities for every kind of enthusiast.
Here are just a few of the best things to see and do in Drome:
The Palais Idéal du facteur Cheval at Hauterives
In Hauterives you’ll find the extraordinary Palais Ideal of Postman Cheval. Classified as a Historic Monument in 1969, it took Ferdinand Cheval 10,000 days and 93,000 hours over 33 years to build his fairy-tale palace all by himself. It is a remarkable work of naïve art. Absolutely unique, this ‘palace’ was built between 1879 and 1912. Cheval was a rural postman with no building expertise or architectural experience. His inspiration was nature, what he read in magazines and pictures on postcards that he delivered to the community. And, stone by stone, piece by piece he built the palace as a present for his daughter. It is now being considered for UNESCO status. Not just a fascinating to visit, it also hosts summer concerts.
The Château de Grignan
The Château de Grignan is the largest Renaissance palace in the south–east of France. It was made famous by the great French lady of letters, Madame de Sévigné, whose daughter married into the Adhémar family who owned the castle.
The view from the terraces is astonishing with a 360˚degree panorama stretching from this, one of the ‘most beautiful villages of France’ to Mont Ventoux. In the summer evenings concerts are held.
Read more on Grignan – what to see and do…
The Château of Suze-la-Rousse
The Château of Suze-la-Rousse is a stunning medieval fortress. It was an impressive military fortress belonging to the co-Princes d’Orange which was later turned into a family home centred on the magnificent courtyard. Since 1978 it has been the home of the globally acclaimed University of Wine and hosts concerts, cultural events and more.
The Château de Montélimar
The Château de Montélimar is a 12th century medieval building. It sits above the town, a marvellous example of Romanesque Mediterranean architecture and with unique arcades. During the French Revolution, like so many grand buildings, it became a prison and stayed as such until 1926.
The Tour de Crest
The Tour de Crest is the tallest keep in France and dates from the twelfth century. At one time it belonged to the French kings and the Grimaldis of Monaco. It’s considered to be one of the finest examples of medieval military architecture. Unsurprisingly, the views are outstanding. It served as a prison from the fifteenth to nineteenth century – you can still see some ancient, original graffiti.
Montbrun-les-Bains is classified as one of the ‘Most Beautiful Villages of France’. It has lovely fountains and monuments. With its tall houses of six and seven storeys, ruins of the Dupuy-Montbrun Renaissance castle, twelfth century church, elegant tower of the Clock Gate and fourteenth century walls are all a good reason to visit the village. Plus it’s a top thermal resort.
Valrhona – the Cité du Chocolat
If you love chocolate you’ll love Valrhona. Chocolate made here is known as the gourmet chef’s chocolate as it is favoured by the very top cooks. The Cité du Chocolat is dedicated to the “fascinating world of chocolate.” Even the restaurant has a chocolate-based theme. The tour describing the chocolate making process is not only original and interesting but has lots of tastings, perfect for the most ardent chocoholic.
Travelling to the Drôme
By ferry to Calais or Dunkirk, take the Autoroute du Soleil from Paris.
For travelling to the Drôme by train, Valence is just over a two hour journey from Paris and it’s very easy to pick up a hire car to travel around the area. The nearest international airports are Lyon, Marseille, Grenoble, Saint-Etienne and Avignon.
Thanks to Gillian Green, Gillian Green PR for some great tips for visiting the Drôme.
Drome Tourism: www.ladrometourisme.com