Monday, March 14, 2022

Hunt for Sunflowers and Hike to the Fortress of Mornas

Last July, we went to Provence for the first time since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic. As I wrote in this post, shortly before our trip, about our favorite things in Provence, seasonal "floral" attractions such as red poppies, lavender, and sunflowers are high on our list. 

Since July is sunflower season, we set off one morning to look for sunflower fields around the town of Orange. We had been told there were large sunflower fields north of Orange and while we were there, we should take the time to hike up to the Fortress of Mornas.

Sunflower field near Mornas

Sure enough, we found quite a few fields as we drove toward Mornas. Sunflowers have rough, hairy stems, and what most people call the flower on a mature sunflower is a flower head of numerous small flowers crowded together. The outer flowers are sterile, and the flowers inside the circular head mature into seeds, from which oil is extracted.  

Sunflowers near Mornas

Sunflowers generally grow to between 5 and 12 feet tall and bloom from late June to end of July with harvest occurring beginning of August. A common misconception is that sunflowers track the sun. In fact mature sunflowers typically face east and do not move. The leaves and buds of young sunflowers do change their orientation from east to west during the course of the day; once mature, the movement stops.

We arrived in Mornas, a medieval community that sits along the Rhone River halfway between Orange and Bollene. The village is longer than it is wide with a single street that runs end to end. At each end of the village, are magnificent, fortified stone gateways which guard the entrances to the village. Above Mornas, on top of a 450 foot cliff is the Fortress of Mornas. 

14th century Saint Nicolas gate

We had come to visit the fortress, so we headed up a very steep narrow road. About half way to the fortress, past the village cemetery, we came to Notre-Dame du Val-Romigier, a Romanesque church dating from the middle of the 12th century. It was enlarged during the Gothic era and restored several times over the years. 

Notre Dame de Val Romigier Church

After pausing our walk to stroll around the cemetery and visit the church, we continued up the very steep road to the fortress. Note, the walk up to the fortress takes about 15 minutes. The first part of the walk to the church is steep, the walk from the church to the fortress is very steep, on a wide, flat cement roadway with no shade. 

The Fortress of Mornas

The large fortress, with stone walls, towers, chateau and chapels was constructed on top of the cliffs in the 12th century by the Earl of Toulouse. 

The Fortress of Mornas

The fortress ruins are visible for a long distance to the west. If you have ever driven down the A-7 autoroute from Bollene past Mornas to the Rhone valley, you have surely observed it as you passed below. 

The Fortress of Mornas

Mornas was passed to the Avignon Popes at the beginning of the 14th century. The fortress was restored and improved with an outer wall built around the top of the hill to protect it from highway robbers that were looting and devastating the land at that time.

The Fortress of Mornas

Protestants and Catholics fought fiercely over Mornas during the wars of Religion. In 1562, after killing women, children and elderly in the church, the Protestant troops forced the Catholic brigade to throw themselves off the walls. The Protestant Huguenots met the same fate when the Catholics recaptured the fortress in 1568. 

Shirley below the Fortress of Mornas

After the French Revolution, the fortress was abandoned and fell into ruins. 

The Fortress of Mornas

Starting in 1978, the "Les Amis de la Forteresse" association has been restoring the fortress back to medieval times. 

Shirley at bottom of the path leading up to the Fortress of Mornas

If you want to do an serious climb, or look for sunflowers, then head to Mornas. You are probably curious anyway about the fortress on the hill if you ever drove past on the A-7 autoroute.  If you go there during truffle season, there is a very good restaurant that is famous for their truffle menus in Mondragon that I told you about here


  1. Visited your side today. Wonderful picturesn which bring back sweet memories. How lucky you are to live there.
    All the best

    1. Thank you so much for reading my post Gabi. We definitely count ourselves as very lucky to be able to spend a lot of time in Provence. Every time we go we try to go and find a new place to explore. For this last trip, this visit to Mornas which I wrote about in my blog post was our new find. I hope you will keep reading. Take care.