19 avril 2003
of chateaus in northern Provence
Un trio des châteaux dans la Drôme provençale
Move over Loire valley, here comes the Drôme! In the midst of
the vineyards and orchards of the Rhône valley, between Valence and
Avignon, lie three marvelous castles that are living museums as well as
venues for music, art, and l’art de vivre. Le Château de
Grignan towers over the village of the same name in the heart of the Drôme.
Most famous for hosting the Marquise de Sévigné, famous letter writer
of the 17th century, this elegant Renaissance structure is
decorated and fully furnished with period pieces, including the desk
from which Madame de Sévigné wrote many of her letters. The château
also hosts a series of spring concerts, featuring classical, jazz, and
improv music for all tastes. Not to be missed is the upper terrace of
this impressive structure, which gives an incredible nearly 360-degree
view out over the Drôme countryside.
map to enlarge...
here for more about la Drôme provençale
Suze-la-Russe, a Renaissance castle...
| Further up the road in the heart
of Montélimar, the Château des Adhémar houses a contemporary art
museum. The austere medieval fortress was built by the counts of
Toulouse, and served as one of the popes’ palaces during the Avignon
papacy. Its longest incarnation, however, was as a prison, from the 17th
century up until the early 1900s. The castle today, in addition to
showcasing modern art, also serves as studio, school and exhibit center.
Back down the road toward Avignon, the Château de Suze-la-Rousse sits
boldly on high, dominating the village below. The road up to the castle
passes through a forest-like park that was once the hunting grounds for
castle-dwellers. An impressive (but dry) moat surrounds the castle, with
a small bridge leading into the fortress’s beautiful Renaissance
courtyard. Although unfurnished, much of the castle’s original
decorations and appointments remain. Particularly unusual for this
region is an outdoor 16th century tennis court (jeu de
paume) that was built in anticipation of the visit of the queen
mother Catherine de Medicis and her son, Charles (aka IX). Today the
castle hosts l’Université de Vin where sommeliers, winemakers, and
wine marketers learn the wine biz and where amateurs can also take part
in weekend or week-long courses in wine appreciation.
University of Wine
in the heart of the Minerve
La Minerve profonde
Deep in the heart of the Minervois in Languedoc, prehistoric man hunted,
Roman legions traversed, Visigoths swarmed, Simon de Montfort rampaged and
burned. Today the peaceful town of Minerve sits prettily in ironic
contrast to this savage history. Perched on a rocky slope over the Cesse
river, its deep canyons, natural bridges, flowering landscape, and solid
ramparts make Minerve one of the most beautiful villages of France.
the arched bridge into the village is to go back several centuries. The
streets wind upward, turning, narrowing, darkening, with shops, homes,
and galleries sprinkled throughout. At the top of the village is a
promontory marked by history. There, in 1210, a group of nearly 200
protestants, called parfaits, practicing Cathars, either jumped to their
death and or were burned alive by Simon de Montfort’s crusading
mercenaries, rather than deny their faith. A plaque commemorating these
Albingensian martyrs is chilling; the story doesn’t seem real in this
charming spot; but the story is true, and was repeated in many
other Languedoc cities and towns during that era. The wars of religion
went on for centuries, but Minerve remained silent, unchanged. Not much
has happened there since then, in this town clinging to the rocks over
the river, feeling a bit like the farthest nowhere.
Minervois region itself today is a lovely place to visit, much less
spoiled than other southern spots. Besides its history, it boasts good
AOC wines, the Canal du Midi, and a dotting of quiet beautiful villages
(including Aigne and Rieux) worth exploring from top to bottom. Boating, bicycling, hiking, wine
tasting – the Minervois provides a less crowded (and often less
expensive) alternative to Provence.
of Minerve in the
heart of Languedoc-Roussillon
and go back several centuries
Barges, boats, bicycles...
a look at the Canal du Midi
Speaking of the Canal du Midi, we spent a recent weekend
waterside near Olonzac, not far from Minerve. It was a bit early in the
season, and the weather wasn’t particularly cooperative, so we
didn’t go boating. But that didn’t stop us from strolling and
enjoying the sights. Decked-out barges (péniches) line the
shore, some funky, some elegant. In spite of the cool gray weather,
families, friends and fisherman were cruising the canal, on their way to
and from Sète and Toulouse, which the Canal connects.
We had a
delicious dinner with friends overlooking the canal at the Auberge de
l’Arbousier in Homps. We discovered, grace à Greta, a tasty
muscat, Domaine de Barroubic from St-Jean de Minervois. And of course,
we sampled and purchased a very nice local red wine, from les Vignerons
du Pays d’Ensérune in the village of Capestang. In short, malgré
le temps, we were immersed in la France profonde and emerged
fuller and a bit more profound as a result!
color is Chartreuse?
La chartreuse, c’est de quelle couleur?
The green goddess of alcohols, with its long and knotty history, is making a nice
comeback these days. Appreciated by the likes of Charles DeGaulle, the
Prince of Wales, Hunter Thompson and Jon Bon Jovi, Chartreuse has
expanded its distribution around the globe, producing more than a
million bottles a year of the greenish/yellowish elixir.
is a uniquely French creation. Its origins are murky, but what is known
is that in 1605 a certain Francois Hannibal d’Estrees donated the already ancient recipe of an elixir for long life to a group of monks
just outside of Paris. These monks (of the Carthusian order, founded by
Saint Bruno, more on that later) tried to figure out the complicated
recipe, got busy with other things, and let the project lie dormant for
more than a century. But in 1737 the recipe was rediscovered and
reintroduced by the monks at their mother house, la Grande Chartreuse, in
the mountains near Grenoble. With the French Revolution and the banning
of clergy, production and distribution problems ensued. To preserve and
protect, the recipe was memorized by a select few, then destroyed. It
came back into production at la Grande Chartreuse in the mid 1800s and
has been produced continually ever since. The Monastery’s museum,
located between Lyon and Grenoble, is open to visitors from April to
of a drink, originally sold at 71 degrees (142 proof), this concoction
combines 130 different medicinal plants, with no chemical additives or
preservatives. Musky in flavor, strong in its punch, it was
“lightened” to 55 degrees (110 proof) to make it more acceptable to
the general market. Chartreuse can be bought as Green, Gold (Jaune -
lighter at 42 degrees) and V.E.P.
Exceptionnellement Prolongé" – 10 years rather than the usual
3). Try a few drops in a glass of champagne, à la Czar Nicholas…or add
a few tablespoons when making chocolate mousse. Or try a few drops for
flu or indigestion, as they do with cattle and racehorses. Just try
it…after all, it’s green, it’s chartreuse, and it’s French.
High in the
mountains near Grenoble
stands the Carthusian monastery,
la Grande Chartreuse
the gold "lighter" version...
so then, what
color IS chartreuse?
Happy Easter! Joyeux Pâques!
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