The Region

The Drome is a stunning region of France yet to be discovered by most British tourists. The department is now divided into five areas;

Drome Provencale is the furthest south, bordering Provence and boasting the best olive groves at Nyons and some wonderful wines, (Cotes-Du-Rhone Villages, Coteaux Du Tricastin, Buis Les Baronnies) with the University of Wine at Suze La Rousse. There's a centre for the arts with traditional provencal pottery and a huge variety of working artists and designers at Dieulefit and some magnificent chateaux including Poet-Laval, La Guarde-Adhemar and Grignan where Mme.De Sevigne penned many of her celebrated letters.

Following the river Rhone northwards you will reach Vallee de La Drome, where the Drome river flows into it. The department's capital , Crest and its 'donjon' (at 52 metres the highest in France) guard this gateway into the Pre-Alpes. The Drome River runs through a valley lush with apricots, peaches and cherries. Terraced vineyards line the valley-sides and in season the lavender and sunflower fields are spectacular. Further east -The Diois, the area round Die, is renowned for its sparkling wine, 'Clairette', and also has popular ski resorts. Pretty hilltop villages afford more intimate views of narrow winding streets, stone arches, massive walnut doors, fountains and water 'basins'. This is where L'Escoulin is situated, on the old mule-train route from Crest to Die.

As you climb further up into the high plateaux of the Vercors and foothills of the Alps there is some spectacular mountain scenery. The Route des Grands Goulets is not for the faint-hearted, or headed. Drive along a corniche of hairpin bends hewn from the rock face with views of the Grande Cascade below. The national park and nature reserve at 17,000 hectares is the largest in France and the home to many large mammals; chamois, roe deer, stags, moufflons and wild boar. Apart from downhill and cross-country skiing the area boasts 50 kms. of sleigh routes making it a first choice for dog team enthusiasts.

Between the Vercors and the Rhone lies the plain around Valence. The city, famous for its provencal fabrics and fashion accessories, has a cathedral, Saint Apollinaire, over a thousand years old and amongst many fine old buildings, the flamboyant gothique edifice La Maison des Tetes built in 1532. Grand avenues lead down to the banks of the Rhone and Parc Jouvet, and old roman roads strike east to the Alps and Italy or south to the Mediterranean.

Due north is Drome Des Collines - the area which once formed part of the old Dauphine. Some of the better known wines of the Rhone, such as Tain L'Hermitage and Crozes -Hermitage, are to be found here in the valley terraces. As you move eastwards up the Isere valley you again start the climb into the foothills of the Alps. First you must visit Romans, whose origins are reflected in the name, a charming old medieval town with lots of character and many cobbled streets. It is best known now for its Shoe Museum Another must to visit is the Palais Ideal de Facteur Cheval at Hautrives - the fantastic creation of a postman in his leisure time. A more ancient attraction is the 12th Century Chapelle Saint-Michel at Saint-Donat, now the venue for a wonderful Bach festival due to the magnificent restored organ there.

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Drôme History

In caves at St.Nazaire-en-Royans bone tools from the earliest hunters, who spread out over the Vercors in search of deer and boar, have been found. Much later the Greeks, from their base in Marseille made their way up the Rhone valley and its tributaries, trading with the local Celtic populations. Some Greek coins were found in the ruins of the old castle in Escoulin and the stream that runs through the village, La Sepie, bears a celtic name. There is also an altar to the Celtic goddess Anthar , the protectress of bears, in the village church. The Drome provencale pottery retains a very distinctive Greek influence. Then the Romans arrived imposing their Pax Romana on the Drome for several centuries after a decisive battle in 121BC. At Die the St.Marcel gate and the ramparts bear witness to this period. Three hundred years later, in 211, Hannibal, on his way to conquer Rome, ordered his men to stop at Crest. The story goes that the elephants were floated safely across the river on rafts. However, some of his supplies went missing - a few guinea fowls escaped and were pursued by slaves in all directions. He writes that obeying some intuition he ordered: "let them go. This sunny area will be good for these guinea fowls." .....Then came the barbarians.

The Middle Ages were full of frenetic activity; castles and churches sprung up all over the region. The feudal mottes of the Drome were crowned with keeps such as those at : Albon, Ratieres , Montmiral, Eygluy (from Aigle Dunum –haunt of eagles)and Le Cheylard (L'Escoulin). Villages were fortified, such as Taulignan, La Laupie and Etoile. Others were established on hilltops:Chabrillon, le Poet-Laval, La Garde-Adhemar and closer to home , Montclar-sur-Gervanne and Beaufort-sur -Gervanne. Majestic abbeys arose: Leoncel, Saint-Croix and further afield Valcroissant near Die and Saint-Barnard at Romans.

The Counts of Albon extended their fiefdom to include a large part of the present department. In 1349 Humbert II, crippled with debt, sold off his land to the king of France. The Dauphine became the inheritance of the princes of the realm in line for the crown - who henceforth bore the title of Dauphin. Other well known families of the region are the Arnauds, who built the castle at Crest and the Adhemars who gave Montelimar a charter in the 12th century.

The Renaissance led to much fine and elegant building in Valence, Romans and Montelimar and the medieval castles of Suze-La-Rousse and Grignan were converted into princely palaces. The Drome has always nourished a streak of rebellion and in the 16th century the Reformation gained a hold; religious wars ravaged the area and Beaufort at that time had more protestants than catholics. A Hugenot woman was actually hung there, many more were hung off the ramparts of the donjon in Crest. There is a museum to Protestantism at Poet Laval and a special tourist route for the protestant 'temples.'

The Drome has continued this history of resistance right into the 20th century with the Resistance making it a centre for activities in World War II and organizing an uprising to coincide with the Allied invasion in 44.

click here to read the Sunday Mirror article on The Drome

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