From Grenoble to Montélimar, nature moves gently along the Isère and then the Rhône. The same is true of the golf courses at Charmeil, Valence Saint-Didier and La Valdaine, three courses that link up perfectly on an itinerary rich in discoveries, old stones, flavours and even bargains…
To the north-west of the capital of the Dauphiné region, nestling in a meander of the Isère, the Charmeil Golf Club, created in 1988, has taken its place on 90 hectares of flat land, including a natural pond bordering five holes. The course, the brainchild of Jean Garaïalde and Jérémy Pern, is surrounded by the Chartreuse and Vercors mountain ranges. Like a reminder of the Alps, grassy mounds have been created along the fairways. Beautiful holes in the oak forest offer a clear view of the game, leading to fairly fast greens that are well protected by numerous bunkers. In addition to the lake beside holes 5, 7, 8, 13 and 14, small ponds defend the greens on 3, 6, 10 and 17. In the spring, the course is dotted with flowering rough and the bees have a field day. The same goes for the clubhouse table, behind large bay windows or on a shady terrace when the weather is fine, where the menu changes with the seasons to showcase the region.
Inaugurated in its 18-hole version in 1984, the Golf de Valence Saint-Didier is the oldest club in the Drôme. The course, designed by Thierry Sprecher and Géry Watine, lies at the foot of the Vercors and is clearly visible on the first few holes on the way back. It combines forest and clearings on two plateaus, the upper one on the way out and the lower one on the way back, right up to the rise on the 17th, where the perched green is well worth a visit. With around fifty hectares, it can sometimes feel a little cramped, a smallness that no doubt justifies the abundance of white stakes. This forces you to play with your head, leaving your muscles to rest a little… Especially as the trees have grown in forty years, a godsend for marking out the fairways in the plain, where the wind can influence ball trajectories. The highlight of the layout, if not the signature hole, is the view from the tee of the 9th, a downhill par 3, offering a lovely panorama over holes 14, 16 and 17 as well as the Provençal village of Marches at the bottom of the valley. In a clubhouse built at the same time as the course, David’s table is simple, efficient and reasonable. The sun-sheltered terrace extends the room in fine weather, which is plentiful in the Rhône Valley.
Since 1989, on the outskirts of Montélimar, Golf de La Valdaine has been built around the Château du Monard, home of the Marquis d’Arlande – a pioneer of ballooning with the Montgolfier brothers. The course is the work of Englishman Tom Macaulay, who has designed a course that is appreciated far beyond the confines of the Drôme provençale, set among water features, branches of the Jabron – a sub-tributary of the Rhône – and a number of doglegs. Covering 75 hectares, around twenty of which are home to villas set between the fairways, the course, with its trees in full bloom, is fairly flat and perfectly playable on foot. The wide fairways on the outward leg are ideal for scoring. On the 9th, skill and finesse are required to fly over the water on the drive and then on the approach, to attack this dogleg right par 4. On the return, the holes are shorter and narrower, with a succession of obstacles leading to fast greens, often with a double plateau. Along the Jabron, the Drôme Amen corner runs from the 11th to the 14th. The course finishes with a dogleg at the 18th, the symmetry of the 9th but without the water! Facing the vine-covered towers of the 15th-century castle, the finale is a fine sight, even if the table remains closed pending renovation work. A food truck near the terrace tries to make up for this…
You can also enjoy the Albon Senaud golf course in the Drôme.
Where to stay ?
With its 50 rooms and heated outdoor pool overlooking the golf course and the wooded hills of the Chambarans, the Domaine de Charmeil offers lovely views of the foothills of the Alps. The modern design of this 50-room 3-star hotel blends wood and concrete in elegant harmony, much appreciated at Wedge, the estate’s restaurant, where the chef showcases the specialities of the Dauphiné region.
In the heart of the Drôme provençale, a stone’s throw from a Maltese commandery and the chapel of Saint-Jean de Jérusalem, Les Hospitaliers hotel has taken root between the dry stone walls of the old village of Poët Laval. With its 20 elegantly decorated rooms at very reasonable rates, its terraces, its heated outdoor swimming pool, its mostly locally sourced cuisine and its cellar showcasing the grape varieties of the Rhône Valley, this charming hotel, close to the La Valdaine golf course, is sure to please.
Between Isère and Drôme, the Vercors plateau is a land of enthusiasts, classified as a nature park in 1970. Craftsmen, farmers, restaurateurs, the “Vertacos” have always loved passing on their experience, proud of their roots. On a steep terrain, between cliffs, ridges, valleys and gorges, hiking enthusiasts – on foot, by bike or on horseback – have no end of paths and valleys to explore.
The monastery of Saint-Antoine Le Grand, with its Byzantine frescoes, is a must-see in the Vercors for anyone interested in old stones and meditating in peace. At Saint-Laurent-en-Royans, in the heart of a valley wedged between two mineral rifts, lost in the middle of nature, it is part of the Greek monastery of Mount Athos, which explains its Orthodox influence.
In summer, when the mercury gets a little too high, exploring the caves and chasms can be a welcome option. A bit of adventure in an underground world, in the belly of the Earth, where time has little hold, is a guarantee of indelible memories. The caves of Thaïs, Choranche, Draye blanche, Cuves de Sassenage and Luire are all safe places to explore.
It’s hard to think of the Vercors without thinking of the maquisards, the resistance that took shape in these mountains and valleys during the Second World War. At Saint-Nizier-du-Moucherotte, the Necropolis pays tribute to the 250 heroes of the Vercors who stood up to German machine-gun fire on 13 June 1944. Whether civilians or soldiers, they have been reunited forever on this plateau overlooking Grenoble, so that their memory lives on. At Vassieux-en-Vercors, on the Col de la Chaux, facing the valley that saw so many young Frenchmen defend themselves against the attackers, often dying, the Mémorial de la Résistance en Vercors commemorates the life of the Resistance, through films, sound documents, testimonies and tributes, in a modern building overlooking the martyred village, a panorama that has hardly changed in 80 years. In the village, the Musée de la Résistance houses collections of objects, weapons and photographs explaining the organisation of the maquis of the République du Vercors, restored in July 1944, and the harshness of the fighting on the road to freedom…
Although the recipe for chartreuse dates back to 1605, production only began in 1764 at the Grande-Chartreuse monastery near Grenoble, a town also known for its walnuts. This plant elixir, believed to cure ailments and invigorate the soul, quickly became popular in Savoie and Dauphiné. It was sold by monks on donkey backs, but this was as far as it went. Production ceased during the Revolution, as the monks were dispersed across France, but resumed in 1816. During the 19th century, the popularity of this health elixir grew. A milder version of the green liqueur was then produced, a yellow version that appealed more to women’s palates, and a white version that remained confidential. Since 1989, the liqueur has been produced exclusively in Isère, at the Aiguenoire site in Entre-Deux-Guiers. Although the production process has been modernised, two monks still prepare the plant-based blend. The recipe is known only to three Carthusian monks, each of whom knows only two-thirds of the final recipe, which has never been patented and remains the monopoly of the Carthusian order. Each year, the distillery produces around one and a half million bottles of all liqueurs. The special vintages increase in value over time. Chartreuse is used in many cocktails, and its green colour is very fashionable…
Far from being exclusive to the Drôme, nougat has been a Mediterranean confectionery for over a thousand years. To qualify for the “Montélimar nougat” label, the pastry must contain at least 30% almonds, 25% honey and stiffly beaten egg whites. The modern reputation of Montélimar nougat is due to Émile Loubet, President of the Republic from 1899 to 1906 and a native of the region, who ran a campaign to promote nougat, offering it to all his guests at the Élysée Palace. Until 1968 and the creation of the Autoroute du Soleil, the famous Nationale 7 was an essential route to the Mediterranean beaches, as was driving through Montélimar and its obligatory “nougat” break. Today, a dozen nougat-makers still delight the sweet palates of the town, with an annual production of around 4,500 tonnes, all specialities combined. At Christmas, of course, nougat is one of the thirteen desserts of Provence on New Year’s Eve.
For a century now, truffles have been delighting the Richerenches market every Saturday morning, from November to March, on the borders of Drôme and Vaucluse. A century that black gold has been exchanged at the back of the truck, on the Mistral course, for hard cash… On this path lined with bare plane trees in winter, the subtle and fatty scent of the tuber fills the depths of the air while baskets covered with linen pass from hand to hand, in cathedral silence. At a rate of 1000 euros per kilo depending on the year, it is better to be discreet! In this village, seat of a Templar commandery in the Middle Ages, on the third Sunday in January, a truffle mass is celebrated in Provençal, in honor of Saint-Antoine (patron of truffle growers). During the quest, truffles are given as offerings. They are sold after the service, for the benefit of the Cult’s funds. It must still be nice to share the priest’s omelette at the end of this mass!
Built on a rocky peak overlooking the Drôme Provençale and the lavender fields as far as the eye can see, the Château de Grignan, dating back to the 12th century for its oldest sections, sports a fairly austere Renaissance facade beneath its light-colored stones.
In the Adhémar de Monteil family since 1239, the castle owes its notoriety to the epistolary correspondence between Madame de Sévigné and her daughter Françoise-Marguerite after the latter married François Adhémar de Monteil de Grignan, in January 1669. on the other, the mother at the court of the Sun King, the daughter in the land of cicadas, the two women spent more than twenty-five years of their lives writing to each other every day. A correspondence of exceptional quality subsequently published, it is a well-documented testimony to life at the Versailles court as well as in Provence in the 17th century.
On the borders of Drôme and Vaucluse, the castle of Suze-la-Rousse has dominated the plain on the horizon for almost a thousand years, even if the building displays more of a Renaissance style. The origins of this superbly preserved castle date back to 1173, the year of the union of Tiburge d’Orange with Bertrand 1st of Baux who had the castle built in honor of his charming wife.
The interest of this military construction attached to the rock was also to protect the village of Suze and the wine-growing lands brought as a dowry by the young woman. In the 16th century, the castle, owned by François de La Baume-Suze – governor of Provence -, was sumptuously embellished with, among other things, a room for the tennis game very popular at the time. In 1958, upon her death, the last Marquise de Suze bequeathed the castle to the Orphelins d’Auteuil foundation. Purchased by the Drôme general council, since 1978, it has hosted the Suze-la-Rousse Wine University, attached to the Aix-en-Provence rectorate. The main courtyard has exceptional acoustics, the department regularly organizes classical music concerts there which are harmoniously accompanied by regional grape varieties.
In 1996, the tercentenary of the death of Madame de Sévigné, the Correspondence Festival was born in Grignan. The beginning of an adventure, the celebration of a genre: correspondence, an often neglected literary field which is experiencing growing interest from readers. In the time of text messages and emoticons, a comforting and welcome reaction! The festival shows what an inexhaustible source correspondence feeds in all countries. In good weather, this event celebrating the art of letters focuses on correspondence from all eras, in all their forms. In the shade of the village’s plane trees, under the paneling of the castle, thanks to the commitment of volunteers and the talent of the artists invited to read and speak, the festival has been able to continue. In 2024, the 28th Grignan Correspondence Festival will take place from July 2 to 6, on the theme of “Hero’s letters”. Once again, a vast subject which can take us to the four corners of the world, yesterday as well as the day before yesterday, carried by the voices of the actors who will lend themselves to the story of these legendary correspondences, always with the same passion, that of words.
In Saint-Nazaire-de-Royans, we board the Royans-Vercors, a wheelboat which sails towards La Sône, a small village with an industrial past.
Lulled by the lapping of the paddle wheel, we let ourselves be carried along the Bourne, a tributary of the Isère, to enjoy nature, to admire the Saint-Nazaire aqueduct, a work of art imagined by Napoleon 1st, built under Napoleon III, which makes it possible to irrigate the plains of Valence. Between the marshes and reed beds where birds have their lairs, swans, coots and large birds of prey can be approached more easily from the river bed. The steep cliffs of the Vercors take on another dimension, discovered along the water. Built in 1991, the Royans-Vercors can accommodate up to 140 passengers. With its double deck, it is inspired by the Louisiana wheelboats which sailed on the Mississippi in the 19th century.
The French shoe capital, Romans-sur-Isère has always had factory outlets that have delighted bargain hunters. Like Troyes with hosiery, Romans has been able to adapt to demand and several shopping centers such as Parc Saint-Paul, Marques Avenue, Usine Center, have opened “outlets”, discounted spaces where prices are ultra competitive, mainly on ready-to-wear and fashion accessories from major brands.
By Claude Granveaud Vallat
Header photo credit: Village of La Batie, view of Mont Aiguille – Vercors (38) Photo credit; © P. Jayet/Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Tourisme