The Enclave des Papes (Enclave of the Popes) belongs to the Provence, albeit located in the Departement Drôme, separated from the Provence proper by roughly 2.5 km at the closest point. Its four towns have a rich history - we recommend to visit at least two of them, Visan and Richerenches. If you have time take a look at Valréas, the largest town, and nearby Grillon.
In 1316 - the Popes had their seat in Avignon - a sickly man, whose reign as pope one hoped would be short, was chosen by the Cardinals. Pope John XXII surprised them; he died at the age of 89 after 18 years of pontifical reign. All of this, so the story goes, thanks to the excellent wines of this region. When Pope John XXII had travelled through Valréas he liked the wine so much that in 1317 he purchased the estate of Valréas. Pope Clement VI later added the villages of Visan, Grillon & Richerenches. The Enclave des Papes was born.
The town's origin dates back to the 12th century when the Knights Templar established "Commanderies" all over Europe. Richerenches is one of the best Commanderies left; it had the same ranking as the ones in Arles and Aix. Richerenches had subsidiary Commanderies in Orange, Roaix, Villedieu and Montélimar. Commanderies were erected on land that had been given to the Templars by their disciples and Christians committed to the cause of the crusades. The Commanderies produced agricultural products, such as corn, oil, wool and cattle to supply the Holy Land. The Commanderies also served as training centres for the young disciples and retirement and convalescence homes for the old knights. Life was regulated by the order. If you want to know more about the Knights of Templar click here.
Richerenches' layout is typical for a Commanderie: A square or rectangular fortified settlement with the chapel at the South, the refectory at the North and a court-yard in the middle. Most of the original buildings have been destroyed, modified or incorporated in later structures. However the refectory building, the dining and meeting hall of the Knights of Templar, is probably one of the most intact left in Europe.
Horse breeding was the most important activity in Richerenches. The Templars needed a constant supply of war horses and Richerenches was one of the most important horse breeding centers for them. Due to constant warfare it was difficult to breed horses in the Holy Land. Richerenches' horses were known to be sturdy and could sustain the heavy armory of the Templars.
Here are some of Richerenches' yearly events: A well known flower market, attracting thousands of visitors, takes place on the 1st Sunday of May. The medieval festival is held in Richerenches on the 2nd weekend of August, really enjoyable! And here is another surprise: Richerenches claims to be the world capital of black truffles, its main street is called "Avenue de la Rabasse", the latter being the Provençal name for truffles. In terms of quantity the Marché aux Truffes (truffles market) is supposed to represent 30% of France's harvest. Established in 1924 it is held every Saturday from November to March. This market is primarily for professionals; the farmer selling to the dealer, the truffiste. You will see very little, other than some cars with open trunks and determined looking men standing around (on lookout for the tax man or customers?). It is a cash and carry business and most of the players know each other for years. There is certainly no smell of truffles over the village as a local tourist brochure claims, pure imagination this! The truffles are kept inside containers and you see very little other than a retail stand, probably sponsored by the tourist office, in order to mollify the bus loads of disappointed tourists. Truffles are sold there for around Euro 50 per 100gr.! To learn more about truffles click here.
A wonderful historic village off the beaten track, irresistible in its charm and well known to anyone who appreciates a good bottle of Côtes du Rhône Village. Its history evolved like this: After the harsh winter of 1318 the Count of Baux sold the small castle and hamlet of Visan to Jean II de La Tour du Pin, Dauphin du Viennois. The new owner fortified Visan's walls and renovated the castle. Let's delve a bit into French history because it explains the further change of Visan's ownership. Dauphiné is a former province North of today's Provence, roughly corresponding to the present départements of the Isère, Drôme and Hautes-Alpes. Guy VIII, Count of Vienne, had a dolphin on his coat of arms and had been nicknamed le Dauphin (French for dolphin). Humbert II, the last Dauphin ruling this area, was in debt over his ears and sold Visan to Pope Clement VI in 1344 for 12.000 gold florins. Five years later he had to sell his entire seigneurie, the Dauphiné, to King Philippe VI to pay off his debts. Humbert II extracted the condition that the heir of France assume the title of le Dauphin. Visan remained part of the Papal States until the annexation by France in 1791 (recognized by the Pope only in 1814). For a short while the Enclave des Papes was part of the Departement Drôme until it rejoined the Departement Vaucluse and hence the Provence.
Park the car in front of the "Mairie" (follow the sign "Vieux Village") before the town walls and walk the old town. Let the many hidden corners spell a cast on you. The castle is largely in ruins but its caves are used for storing wine. Each year La Confrerie St.Vincent, which goes back to 1475, holds a well known wine festival on the 2nd Saturday of July. The wines of the previous year are brought up from the castle's caves in a century old ritual. Subsequently a mass in Provençal language is held at Chapelle Notre Dame des Vignes. It is worthwhile to visit this jewel of a chapel with its remarkable 17th and 18th century interior decoration, that is if you can get in. It is located in the vineyards Southeast of Visan on Route D20.
This is the main town (pop. 9.700) in the Enclave des Papes. The medieval town center has many narrow streets and ancient stone houses forming two concentric circles around 12th century Notre Dame de Nazereth church. Also notable are the 12th century Tour Ripert (the sole remnant of the Château Ripert) and the Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs (memorial for the resistance fighters). The town was once surrounded by massive walls and belfries. After the Enclave des Papes was annexed by France the walls and most of the towers were torn down and the stones were sold off. The 18th century Château de Simiane, once the residence of the well known Simiane family, serves as the town hall today. It also houses an interesting collection of rare books, including some works of the 16th century. The Musée du Cartonnage retraces the history of printing technique and cardboard manufacturing (local plant). Walk along Grand Rue, the Rue de l'Horloge and the Rue de l'Hôtel de Ville and soak in the atmosphere. Last week in June, around the 23d - 25th, is the Fête du Petit St. Jean with a traditional costume parade, music and dance.
Historic village (pop. 1.800) on a hill, about 6km south of Grignan, surrounded by lavender fields and vineyards. It seems time stands still here. The Vialle, the name for the historic part of the village, is partially surrounded by 12th century ramparts, which were constructed by the Knights Templar. The clock tower is topped by an iron-caged bell tower so typical of the Provence. St.Agathe Church was constructed in 1869, replacing an older church. There are a number of noteworthy village houses, like the Hôtel (Mansion) Chapuis de Tourville (inside a Papal Fresco dating to 1760), Maison Milon (with a modern glass façade), Maison du Boulanger (baker's house with well preserved oven) and the Maison des Trois Arcs (three arches house).
The Enclave des Papes, off the beaten track for many overseas visitors, is worth a visit. We outline an interesting tour through the Drôme Provençal, which takes you to the Château in Suze la Rousse, Visan, Richerenches, the impressive Château de Grignan, Taulignan, Dieulefit and La Poet Laval. Enjoy the vineyards, the lavender fields and the green rolling hills and historic villages.