Montélimar is a city in the Drôme Provençal between Avignon and Valence, accessible from exits N°16 and 17 on the A7 motorway and famous for its nougats, to such an extent that the nougat-makers have opened shop right on the motorway's rest stops!
It's true that not many people think of Montélimar as a tourist destination. And yet...
Whether it's for a break to stretch your legs after hours of driving or before continuing on to explore the villages and landscapes of the Drôme Provençale, Montélimar is worth a stop.
The historic and shopping centre is completely pedestrian and the houses in the colours of Provence let you know that you have finally arrived in the south of France!
If you have the chance to stop here on a Saturday morning, the well-known weekly market takes over the arcaded market square with its cafés, the Place des Clercs and the streets of the city centre. You will find there all the emblematic produce and products of the region: fruits, honeys, olives and olive oil, Picodon and other goat's cheeses, fabrics...
Take the time to stroll around and see the House of Diane de Poitiers, a beautiful Renaissance building from the 16th century, and the house of Emile Loubet, mayor of Montélimar then president of the French Republic from 1899 to 1906. It's thanks to him that France today recognizes a separation between Church and State. And it thanks to his love of nougat that Montélimar gained its fame.
The city has conserved its 17th century Protestant church and its old city walls. Near the Porte Saint Martin gate, the small and very old chapel, once a convent, is today an art centre.
Adhémar Château in Montélimar
But the crowning glory of Montélimar is without doubt the Château des Adhémars.
At the top of the hill and accessible on foot or by car, the castle, built in the 12th century, is a beautiful example of Provençal Romanesque architecture and is remarkable in the fact that it was a medieval residential palace. You can still see the fortified ramparts, the keep, the chapel and the lords' apartments with beautiful arched windows that were all part of the medieval castle. At the end of the 16th century, the fortified castle became a citadel with its strong bastions and then, from 1791 to 1926, it was used as a prison.
Today, the castle is a contemporary art centre with an ambitious programme: temporary exhibitions (5 per year with at least one with an internationally renowned artist, such as Miro, Braque or Chagall), cultural activities and an artistic and educational outlook. The castle also hosts performances, workshops and conferences throughout the year.
From the castle you have beautiful panoramic views over the surrounding countryside, which gives you a hint of what awaits you in the Drôme Provencale: authentic villages, farmland, hiking and so much to discover.
Before leaving Montélimar, why not visit
- the Arnaud Soubeyran Nougat Museum to satisfy your sweet tooth
- the European Aviation Museum with its French, American, Soviet, etc, fighter planes, all still airworthy
- the Miniature Museum with incredibly minute and amazing miniatures, some even invisible to the naked eye.
In the area around Montélimar
Le Poët-Laval, 24 km away, a historic medieval hilltop village, one of the most beautiful villages of France.
And along the way, Puygiron, a splendid little village with a still intact 12th century castle, chapel and botanic garden.