Tourism Rhône Alpes / Auvergne Rhône Alpes

In Drôme Provençale there is Grignan and the beautiful memory of the Marquise de Sévigné

In the Rhône-Alpes-Auvergne region, there is the Drôme Provençale. Montélimar and its famous nougat, Saint-Paul-les-trois-châteaux and its small restaurants, Nyons and its black olives, but also the perched villages and their markets. The Drôme Provençale is a small bubble of sunny softness and preserved landscapes. It is here that Grignan is located. And Grignan remembers the one who wrote the most beautiful letters in the history of France: the Marquise de Sévigné.


Where is Grignan?

It is the blue of a river of lavender that beats the rock of Grignan under the mild sun when the summer of the South of France begins. Grignan, in the Drôme provençale. A name that reminds us that here is an enclave of Provence in the land of Dauphiné and not so far from the Massif Central. A promise of Provence then. A promise kept by the way, as we find here everything that makes the happiness of living in the joyful south. Everything is there. The sun, the colors, the smells... Grignan is 1500 inhabitants, not much, right? So, I'm not sure you can visualize it. Let me describe you what I saw. 

Grignan : Photo par JFFotografie/Shutterstock
Grignan : Photo par JFFotografie/Shutterstock


A kind of island on an ocean of lavender 

It is a city like a pyramid. It looks like it was born in the imagination of a Charles Perrault tale or a good Disney. At the top, the city is crowned by one of the most beautiful castles in France. A castle is an understatement. A palace rather. The "Versailles of the South" is its nickname and it is suspended in the sky above the olive trees and the vineyards. To get there, do as I do and believe me, I am not a sportsman. You leave the car at the bottom. And you go up the city with the force of your calves rather than with your gear levers. It's a real pleasure to take your time to move forward, to discover this or that house and even to get lost in a real maze until the knitting door and finally until the castle.

lavande / Photo by Léonard Cotte on Unsplash

Photo by Léonard Cotte on Unsplash

The Marquise de Sevigne and her letters 

This route was taken hundreds of times before you by the Parisian mail service at the end of the 17th century, to deliver the letters of the Marquise de Sevigne to the rightful owner. It is here, in Grignan, that the woman who wrote the most beautiful correspondence in French in the world has been resting for more than three centuries. As you walk down the steep streets, you will discover the culinary treasures of this beautiful part of France: black and green olives, the wines of the Drôme and especially the black gold of the country, the famous truffles.

When you get to the bottom, sit down. There.  At the foot of the city. Watch it rise up in the distance as I did, feel the wind coming up behind you, cuddling your neck and going straight back to shivering the blue of the lavender fields before going back up to a "blue of Provence" sky in the heart of the Drôme. 


Grignan : Photo Jérôme Prod'homme (c) Monsieur de France


History of Grignan

A castle on a rocky outcrop

It is said that the name "Grignan" comes from the Latin "gratius" which means "who has grace". After all, it's not surprising. You only have to arrive in Grignan and see the little town emerge from the lavender fields or to see it grow at the bend in the road, to think that it is difficult to find a more graceful place. The village was probably born at the same time as the castle, around the year 1000. In any case, it is mentioned as early as 1105. It is logical to have a castle here. A rocky outcrop that allows you to see far, and to see far is to see trouble coming and to be prepared to face it. Mind you, it doesn't only work for the military, in life it can also help to see trouble coming from afar, right? A castle, then, to take refuge in case of danger, and as there are always people in a castle, at the foot of it, there is commerce and something to supply all these people. Thus, Grignan was born. 

Victor CASSIEN / Album du Dauphiné - volume IV, litography of Grignan, Drome

Victor CASSIEN / Album du Dauphiné - volume IV, litography of Grignan, Drome

And a land of Provence

To the bad tongues who might think that this name of Provence is a bit usurped because they locate Provence further away, the archives speak for Grignan : the lords of Grignan pay homage to the kings of Provence in the year 843. Similarly, the barons of Grignan paid tribute to the counts of Provence in 1257. The Adhemar family, descendants of Hugues Adhemar, born in 1045 and founder of a dynasty that made Grignan the seat of a county in 1557 and built the magnificent white stone castle, had a southern accent. A castle that followed the family and that remembers having seen Madame de Sévigné write when she came to visit her daughter married here to François Adhémar de Grignan.

Sold by Pauline de Simiane, Madame de Sévigné's granddaughter, because the family was so much in debt, the castle belonged to the Castellanes and time took its toll on it until another talented woman, Marie Fontaine, fell in love with the place and devoted almost all her fortune to it around 1913, renovating it, even literally rebuilding it. Since 1937, it has belonged to the Conseil Départemental de la Drôme, which has made it a place of culture, history and entertainment. Impossible not to, at least, survey its terrace during your visit: the view is just sublime on both sides: towards the facades of the castle or towards the beautiful countryside all around the city of Grignan

View from the castle of Grignan / Jérôme Prod'homme (c) Monsieur de France 

View from the castle / Jérôme Prod'homme (c) Monsieur de France 




Madame de Sévigné (portrait attribué à Lefebvre)
Madame de Sévigné / Attributed to Lefebvre

A wedding!

Françoise de Sévigné, Countess of Grignan, the daughter of Madame de Sévigné, lived most of the time at the castle of Grignan with her husband François Adhémar de Grignan. And that was difficult for the marquise because, living in Paris, hours, that I say days of travel separated her from Françoise. Now, Madame de Sevigne adored her daughter and vice versa. This said, these two, with their strong character, often argued. When they saw each other, they argued and when they didn't see each other, they missed each other. You have to admit that this happens to a lot of mothers and daughters, right? The marquise, wishing that her letters be read, and her advice sometimes listened to, put a lot of heart into talking about a lot of different subjects, even if the Court of Louis XIV comes back often since she is part of it. Her legendary humor, her sense of portraiture, make each letter a real paradise for the mind. Thus, when her daughter lived in Grignan, the Marquise wrote to her from Paris. And she also came often to see her daughter. It was during a stay at the Château de Grignan that the Marquise de Sévigné died on April 17th 1696. She now rests there. 

Françoise de Sévigné, Countess of Grignan, daughter of Madame de Sévigné oil painting attributed to Pierre Mignard (circa 1669), Carnavalet museum, Paris.

Françoise de Sévigné, Countess of Grignan, daughter of Madame de Sévigné oil painting attributed to Pierre Mignard (circa 1669), Carnavalet museum, Paris.

A marriage to avoid having children  

If her daughter settled so far away, in Grignan, it is because Madame de Sevigne was afraid that she would become pregnant. Let me explain: in the XVIIth century, the first cause of death for women (and by far) is childbirth. We can't count the number of women who died in childbirth in an era that didn't know how to perform a caesarean section, that didn't know anything about microbes and didn't take any hygiene measures, and that was full of superstitions that made women do things that were very harmful to their health. For example, in Paris, among the bourgeoisie, a rabbit is skinned alive and its still warm skin is applied on the belly of the woman who gives birth to help her... This Madame de Sevigne knows it well and she loves her daughter so much that she did everything to prevent her daughter from giving birth. And for that she relied on an unstoppable trick: the ugliness. She did her utmost to find the worst possible husband so that her daughter would not want to have sex at all. To marry Françoise, she chose an older and ugly man in the person of François Adhémar de Grignan, 14 years older than the young bride and rather ugly. 

François Adhémar de Grignan by Nicolas de Largillierre - Portrait of François-Adhémar de Monteil, Count of Grignan (1629-1714) - P2209 - Musée Carnavalet

François Adhémar de Grignan by Nicolas de Largillierre - Portrait of François-Adhémar de Monteil, Count of Grignan (1629-1714) - P2209 - Musée Carnavalet

Bad calculation for the marquise. Not only did the two newlyweds fall in love, but François Adhémar must have been gifted for the Thing since they made love very, very often. Including when the marquise was on holiday at their home. She could hear them very well because she slept just above their bedroom. They have 6 children... 


She rests here 

Descendant of an important Burgundian family, and a true Parisian, Françoise de Rabutin-Chantal married the Marquis de Sévigné, a Breton, and the family castle still exists, it is the Château des Rochers in Brittany. She lived most of the time in Paris, in a beautiful mansion in the Marais. But it was during a stay at her daughter's home in Grignan that she died on April 17, 1696. She was therefore buried there, close to her beloved Françoise. Her tomb is still visible in the chapel of the castle of Grignan below the castle. It was desecrated during the French Revolution (when almost all the coffins of the nobles were exhumed to find lead and melt bullets) but put back in place, proof of the respect that the writer Françoise de Rabutin-Chantal already enjoyed at that time.

A beautiful statue pays tribute to her in the city. 

(wikipedia photo by Arnaud 25)


What to see in Grignan : 

Discover the city. 

La ville de Grignan
Image by Xavier Turpain from Pixabay 

It climbs but it's so pretty! Stroll in the streets, take pictures, discover here a private mansion, there a pretty house. To note for example the door of the knitting, with its belfry and its bell, the House of the Bailiff, today House of Colophon the printer, a museum of the printing industry but also a very sympathetic bookshop. The Rue Saint Louis and its small houses is also very beautiful. I have a soft spot for the Saint Vincent chapel (patron saint of winegrowers, and we make very good wine in Grignan). It is very old, nearly 1000 years, and it is in the cemetery. Note the modern stained glass windows signed Ann Veronica Janssens. 


The castle of Adhemar

Château de Grignan : Photo par RudiErnst/ShutterstockChâteau de Grignan : Photo par RudiErnst/Shutterstock

Nicknamed "the Versailles of the South", it is on top of the hill and, from its terrace, you can see the surrounding area. A wonderful place to take pictures. The facades are Renaissance and of an incredible beauty, all white or honey. But the Middle Ages are not far away with the entrance chatelet. There are shows and the cultural program is worth a visit. 


The collegiate church of Saint Sauveur

Collégiale Saint Sauveur de Grignan : Photo par EQRoy/ShutterstockCollégiale Saint Sauveur de Grignan : Photo par EQRoy/Shutterstock

This is the church of Grignan. It contains very beautiful woodworks of the XVIIth century. The organ is very old. We can see the seigniorial tribune which knew the Marquise de Sévigné. Obligatory detour. 

And don't miss the path of the old roses. Roses cultivated by passionate people gathered in association. Also to be seen around Grignan are the lavender fields in summer, the vineyards and the wine growers who will offer you their wines. 


What you can taste in Grignan 

The "Grignan-lès-Adhémar

It is the wine of Grignan. It benefits from a Protected Designation of Origin (AOC). Wine has been made here for nearly 2000 years since the emperor Vespasian (77 AD) planted vines in the area. It exists in red (it is the biggest production), in rosé and in white wine. 

Un vin savoureux : Photo par Alexander_Kuzmin/ShutterstockUn vin savoureux : Photo par Alexander_Kuzmin/Shutterstock

The "tanche" : the black olive.

We find the specialties of the Drôme provençale, starting with the black olives that made the fortune of Nyons from the 19th century. Also called "tanches", they have been the object of an appellation of controlled origin (AOC) since 1968. 

OLives noires Photo par Fatih Samli/ShutterstockOLives noires Photo par Fatih Samli/Shutterstock


The nougat of Montélimar 

After all, Montélimar is not very far. You absolutely have to taste this nougat that made the reputation of the city. Soft as you wish, made of almonds, honey and egg whites. It is perfumed with dried fruits (hazelnuts, pistachio...). 


Our favorite place to stay : "Le domaine du Bois des dames

Chantemerle les Grignan / Jérôme Prod'homme (c) Monsieur de France. 

Near Grignan, if you like guest houses, book at the "Domaine du bois des dames" in Chantemerle-les-Grignan. You will be warmly welcomed by Clotilde and Arnold, who took over the place a few years ago and made it a treasure trove of good taste, kindness and joie de vivre.

Clotilde and her jams / Jérôme Prod'homme (c) Monsieur de France. 

It's a pretty farmhouse, with a swimming pool, a garden, and an inner courtyard where we like to meet with the other guests to taste the homemade jams (and with an incredible choice), to have an aperitif (the homemade spritz is to die for) and before having dinner in the dining room the dishes prepared by Arnold, the owner, who has a predilection for truffles.

The spritz is perfect / Jérôme Prod'homme (c) Monsieur de France. 

Prices : from 125 to 225 euros with breakfast (prices 2021)

Address : Route de Clansayes, 1510 D471, 26230 Chantemerle-lès-Grignan 




TOP 5 quotes from the Marquise de Sévigné

1 "the heart has no wrinkles".

2 "Things almost never happen as we imagine them". 

3 "Time flies and carries me away in spite of me: I may want to hold it back, but it is he who carries me away". 

4 "A stubborn work comes to an end".

5 "Beware of flattery my daughter: too much sugar spoils the teeth".

Madame de Sevigne around 1670 

By car :

Grignan is located in the department of Drôme (26) between Valence (77 kms / 1H drive) and Avignon (74 Kms / 1H drive). We are 630 kms from Paris (6H10 by car, the freeway passes very close) and 176 kms from Lyon (2H00). 

By train : 

The nearest TGV station Montélimar or, further away, Valence. 

Sorry for the translation errors our translator drank a lot of spritz at the Bois des Dames and he is still a bit....


Jérôme Prod'homme

Jérôme Prod'homme

Jérôme is "monsieur de France" the author of this site.