Half-way between Montélimar and Valence, the village of Marsanne deserves a detour, for its fascinating history.
In the Middle Ages Marsanne was a possession of the Counts of Valentinois, a perched village in a defensive position on the ridge of a hill, huddled around its castle and protected by high walls. It is said King Louis XI stayed here in 1449.
It’s difficult to imagine such a royal visit when you make your way up to Marsanne intoxicated by the pure mountain air, along a delightful bucolic lane, surrounded by a forest that covers the hills, verdant meadows and gentle vales.
Especially when you arrive in the most recent part built in the 19th century, although it is imbued with a certain strange charm. At one end of a huge square stands an enormous imposing church which is a mixture of different styles, a large pyramid-shaped fountain topped by a weathervane ...
... and a sign explaining that the writer René Barjavel (1911-1985), born in the nearby town of Nyons used the village of Marsanne as the setting for one of his novels.
To understand the magic of Marsanne you must set out on foot to explore the old perched village, but you had better be in good shape because the climb is very very steep (if you have a heart condition, be careful).
All along this street called "Rue du Comte de Poitiers", also known as "La Côte" (the slope!), prestigious houses stand next to humble barns, all dating back to the time when the hillside was inhabited, i.e. after the religious wars and up until the Revolution.
Soon you’ll arrive at the entrance to the medieval village. All that remains of it today are some fragments of the defensive walls and a beautiful gate set in a wall, at the foot of which stands a roofed wash-house and above all a green bench from which you will have a wonderful view of the plain.
If you then walk along "Rue Saint Claude", paved with small pebbles, you’ll be able to admire superb houses built from dressed stone, mostly lovingly restored, covered with climbing roses or vines. It’s a sublime Provencal scene, with its harmonies of blue and pale green shutters.
You’ll no doubt feel envious of the happy owners of one of these holiday homes, also benefitting from little gardens or flower-filled terraces.
f you’re feeling really inquisitie you might like to climb higher to the summit of the mound, topped by a half-ruined church built from white stone. The interior is empty, but there remains a wonderful Romanesque belltower, and adjoining it the round tower of a keep.
In this spellbinding atmosphere, where even the view is magnificent, like Barjavel you’ll no doubt dream of those far-off times when services were held in the church of Saint Félix, when the castle was thronged with people, was home to the Counts of Valentinois, and entertained Louis XI himself!
Lovers of good wine will be pleased to learn that Marsanne has given its name to a white wine that is sold on a small scale, but nevertheless has quite a reputation.
What to see:
Old village of Marsanne on the hill.
Ruins of a keep that was once part of the feudal castle (11th century).
Remnants of the church of Saint Félix and its square tower (12th century).
Chapel of N.-D. de Fresneau (11th century).
Hiking. Mountain biking trails and hire.
Angling in the river and lake.
Paragliding (at the Col de Deves, near Roynac).
Museum. Horse-riding. Golf. Tennis.
Public swimming pool.
Adventure trail in the forest of Marsanne.
Bed and breakfast.