Welcome to the pleasure Drome

By Ivor Herbert, The Mail On Sunday, October 2002

The next Provence - and, Lord, how I still love the old one - will be La Drome.

This isn't just a land of milk and honey. There are great Rhone wines to the west, the Alps to the east and rolling seas of lavender and grey-green groves of olives. It's also the centre of the latest snobbism - grading olive oils like wines.

Charming Nyons, with its wonderful markets sprawling down to the river, has ancient olive mills, a modern olive co-op and the Olive Institute.

Here you may savour and buy a dozen different oils, judged by official jurors tasting literally blind, so that the colour doesn't influence their tests of flavour, scent and texture.

The Nyons oils are mild 'with a taste of Granny Smith apples and almonds'.

The Drome is only a two-hour drive south to the sea or two hours east to the skiing in the Alps. In it stand the two greatest chateaux of south-east France: the magnificent Renaissance Grignan and medieval Montelimar, the nougat town.

The Drome's hills are peppered with castles - some ruined, many open to the public - churches, and abbeys.

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At Crest, another pretty river town, soars France's tallest medieval tower. From its top you can see the savage Vercors National Park. Here the roads are vertiginous, clinging to the soaring cliffs of rock.

There's an excellent restaurant in Crest called La Porte Montségur (a Logis de France). The Drome, along with Perigord, is France's principal producer of truffles. Guinea fowl is a local delicacy.

In a quiet square in Nyons is an eccentric hotel of charm, Une Autre Maison, with rooms like a Thirties stage set and a garden restaurant of high repute but staffed one night by just one poor harassed girl trying to serve a dozen tables while the fat, old, ponytailed manager simply waddled about.

There is high country and silent air around Dieulefit, which is studded with castles and has a feel of Austria.

Near Truinas, which is deeply rustic, you'll find a neat B&B, Les Volets Bleus. South-west of Crest is a delicious cluster of hilltop villages - Mirmande, Chabrillan and Cliouscat - as quiet and undeveloped as our Cotswolds used to be.

Beyond the Rhone the Ardeche has beautiful villages, too, such as Larnas, St Montan, Balazuc and Labeaume with its famous gorge. This is spectacular but buzzes in summer with hordes of kayaks and canoes.

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At Vallon-Pont d'Arc it's well worth calling in at the tiny museum to see the reproductions of beautiful 30,000-yearold wallpaintings discovered in a cave nearby. (There's a good little restaurant, Le Chelsea, down the street).

In the northern Drome past Romans - a city of bargain shoe shops and a good museum - is the bizarre Palais Ideal at Hauterives.

This moving and unforgettable monument was built more than 33 years, generally at night after his long day's work, by a humble, scarcely literate but visionary postman called ' Facteur' Ferdinand Cheval.

He used stones he collected on his rounds to create images he'd seen in the magazines he'd delivered.

And thus home, pleasantly and cheaply out of a little rural airport, which Buzz says is at Grenoble but is miles away near the hamlet of St Etienne de Geoirs. At nearby La Cote-St Andre there's a good little hotel and excellent restaurant called La France.

Travel facts

Buzz flies daily from Stansted to Grenoble from £29 one way. www.buzz.co.uk tel: 0870 240 7070.

For further information on the Drome visit www.drometourisme.com or call 00 33 4 75 82 19 26.


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