Sunday, February 16, 2014

Visit to Grignan in the Drôme Provençale and an excellent lunch with friends at Le Poème de Grignan

A few months back, friends Steve and Mary from Michigan traveled to Sablet to hang out with us during our fall sojourn in Provence. This was a return visit for them, as they had been to Sablet twice before.

Although Steve and I grew up in the same small village in Southwest Michigan, we didn't become close friends till some years later in Washington, DC. As fate would have it, we were drafted into the Army the same summer and ended up on the same base in Maryland after our training in Texas.

Steve had graduated from college and was set to start law school when he received his draft notice and was assigned to the base personnel office. I on the other hand, was drafted after freshmen year and assigned to a unit as company clerk; picture Radar O'Reilly for those of you who are Mash fans.

I dreaded spending two years in the army, even though I avoided Vietnam. Shirley and I feel super blessed that Steve and Mary were in Washington DC while we were there. We became fast friends and our time there, or at least after 5:00 PM and on weekends was care free and fun.

It was an interesting time to be in DC. Earlier that summer, there was a break-in at the Watergate offices of the Democratic National Committee. We car pooled with other draftees and talk during our morning commute was usually about the latest reporting by Woodward and Bernstein of the Washington Post. Less than one month after I finished my 2-year term, Richard Nixon resigned.

Our friendship has continued throughout the ensuing years though separated by miles. Besides our shared Michigan roots and army service, we share a love of good food and wine, kids, travel, and the Detroit Lions and Tigers. We also now have a shared love of Sablet and Provence which pleases us to no end.

So when Steve and Mary said they wanted to come to Sablet last fall, we were over the moon. Steve and Mary like our routine of day trips with lunch at a nice restaurant and then cooking in at night using ingredients we pick up from the various markets we encounter as we travel around Provence.

Shirley and I had been to Grignan in the Drôme Provençale, the area between the Rhône River and the Alps north of the Vaucluse, previously, but had not made it to the Grignan castle or much else in the village. So one day, we took a day trip to Grignan and ate lunch at Le Poème de Grignan.

We drove past olive groves and fields with row after row of lavender which a few months earlier must have been a sea of purple and buzzing honey bees. Grignan sits on a large rocky peak crowned by a huge castle, formerly owned by Adhémar de Monteil. The medieval village is a labyrinth of picturesque, winding cobblestone streets and shaded squares.

A pretty restaurant near the Grignan car park

Le Poème de Grignan is in an old village house on a narrow street in the historic center of Grignan. We originally found the restaurant in the 2012 Michelin Guide to Bonne Petite Tables, a listing of restaurants awarded a "Bib Gourmand" for being a "pleasurable" restaurant.

Le Poème de Grignan

The restaurant is owned by the chef Hervé Dodane and Valérie Chareyre who takes care of the dining room. The dining room is pretty, decorated with Provencal colors. There is a single dining room which can seat 22 diners.

Tapenade feuilletés and cheese sticks

While we nibbled on the tapenade feuilletés and cheese sticks, we studied the menu and Carte des Vins - wine list, before making our selections from the mouth watering choices on the three-course "Promenade Gourmande" menu for 31 EUR. Our excellent meal began with this amuse bouche.

Amuse bouche

Crispy crab and vegetable roll with curry sauce, greens and tomato soup

Tomato tart with olive tapenade and goat cheese from Grignan and tomato soup

Porcini mushroom tart with foie gras and yellow chanterelles

Friend Mary

Parsley crusted Sea bass with tomatoes and mushrooms and a parsley sauce

Saddle of lamb with rosemary juice and cream of garlic and ratatouille

Aberdeen Angus Bavette steak with baby vegetables and red wine sauce

Frozen Vacherin with strawberries, raspberries and Chantilly cream

Plate with different preparations of Valrhona chocolate and cream of Verbena

After coffee, we headed out to explore the village and Grignan castle.

A Grignan courtyard with flowers and plants

Rue St. Louis

Rue St. Louis

Grignan street

The defensive walls of Grignan were built in the 13th century. The circular protective wall included a dozen defensive towers and six gates. The Tricot tower, also known as the belfry, with its arched passageway through the wall was extended upward in 1600 so the first public clock could be installed.

Tricot tower or belfry

The Hotel de Ville or town hall was built in 1857 in neo-classical style on the site of 16th century market halls and butcher shops.

Grignan Town Hall

The lavoir or public wash house was built in 1840. Built in neo-classical style, it was inspired by the Petit Trianon Temple of Love at Versailles.

Grignan lavoir

The fountain seen below was built in 1840 at Place de l'Horloge. The statue of Madame de Sévigné was added in 1857.

Place de l'Horloge

Grignan became renowned in France during the 17th century when Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, the Marquise de Sévigné, a French aristocrat, famous for writing letters, wrote about Grignan and the surrounding area in her letters; Most were written to her daughter Françoise, who was married to François Adhémar de Monteil, Comte (Count) de Grignan.

Madame de Sévigné caught a "fever" and died in April 1696 at Grignan and is buried in the Collégiale Saint-Sauveur Church. She is revered in France as one of the great icons of French literature.

Statue of Madame de Sévigné

Another view of Tricot tower

Grignan cobblestone walkway

A canine resident of Grignan

Grignan street

A Grignan gate through the defensive walls

Gate to church courtyard

The Collégiale Saint-Sauveur Church was constructed between 1535 and 1539 at the request of Louis Adhémar. The Renaissance facade is flanked by two square towers and a beautiful Gothic rose window. In 1680, the terrace of the castle was built on top of the church roof.

Collégiale Saint-Sauveur Church

At the front of the church behind the alter, is a painting done in 1630 called the "Transfiguration." Just to the left of the alter is a marble stone in the floor which marks the tomb of the Marquise de Sévigné.

The alter of Collégiale Saint-Sauveur Church

The interior of Collégiale Saint-Sauveur Church

Cross in front of Collégiale Saint-Sauveur Church

The top of Tricot tower

Grignan cross

Construction of the Grignan castle began in the 12th century, but it wasn't until the 13th century that the Adhémar family expanded it to a huge fortress. In the 17th century, François Adhémar de Monteil transformed the fortress into a luxurious residence.

Tower entrance to Grignan castle

The Grignan castle was ruined in 1793 during the French revolution. It was rebuilt in the early 20th century by Madame Fontaine who spent her entire fortune restoring the castle to its former grandeur. The castle now belongs to the Department of the Drôme.

Grignan castle

Grignan castle

Grignan castle

The village of Grignan had the garden shown below sculpted in 1996 to commemorate the 300 year anniversary of Madame de Sévigné death. It was sculpted by Grignan resident Françoise Vergier. The letters in calligraphy form the name Sévigné.

Marquise de Sévigné's garden

From the terrace of the Grignan castle, you can see the 10th or 11th-century Romanesque Saint Vincent Chapel in the village cemetery.

View toward Saint Vincent Chapel

Grignan castle

The Grignan Castle houses a magnificent collection of paintings, antique furniture and tapestries.

Interior of Grignan castle

Interior of Grignan castle

Interior of Grignan castle

Interior of Grignan castle

Interior of Grignan castle

Interior of Grignan castle

Interior of Grignan castle

Interior of Grignan castle

Interior of Grignan castle

Feline resident of Grignan

Grignan stone village houses

Grignan street

Grignan Castle

Just outside Grignan, there is a miniature Provencal village which we didn't get to see. This is the largest nativity scene in Provence and consists of 80 houses with 60,000 handmade roof tiles, and over 1,000 dressed santon figurines between 27 and 32 cm in height. Being a lover of santons, we will go back to visit.

We really like Le Poème de Grignan and will return again. I was pleased to see that the restaurant was again awarded a Bib Gourmand in the just released 2014 Michelin Guide to Bonne Petites Tables. So we are not the only ones who like it.

Le Poème de Grignan
Rue St. Louis
26230 Grignan
Tel: 04 75 91 10 90

Have a great week my friends. Chat soon!