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Château Les Oliviers de Salettes – Montélimar

History of the house

An old fortified farmhouse once owned by the Knights of Malta; today, a haven of peace in the countryside

Once at the centre of a vast agricultural and wine-growing estate, the Château Les Oliviers de Salettes is built round an ancient medieval tower, and sits facing one of the most beautiful panoramas in Drôme Provençale. Formerly the demesne of the Order of the Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem (later known as the Order of Malta), it was renovated in the 19th century, and latterly, has been converted into a beautiful hotel-restaurant. History buffs will be enthralled by its past and romantics will be lulled by the peace and the background song of the crickets.

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Today, the fortified farmhouse knows the sort of peace that was never experienced at the time of its construction by the religious knights © Château Les Oliviers de Salettes

A prosperous region with a turbulent history

Vaison-la-Romaine, a few miles away, still has its Roman ancient bridge © Doozzle

Vaison-la-Romaine, a few miles away, still has its Roman ancient bridge © Doozzle

The present Drôme department, with its wild, sunlit reliefs and its fertile plains following the length of the Rhône, has been inhabited since the beginning of time. During the Roman era, this prosperous province of of Narbonese Gaul was already renowned for its vineyards – the cultivation of which was to disappear in the following centuries with the Germanic invasions by the Visigoths, the Alans and then the Burgundians. This part of the Kingdom of Burgundy was then pillaged by both the Saracens and the Normans towards the end of the first millennium. It was ruled over by a number of different noblemen who, depending on the era, were vassals of French kings or Germanic emperors, whose lands stretched as far as Italy. Between the 11th and 13th centuries, the region was under the rule of the counts of Valentinois.  In 1424, it once again owed allegiance to the crown and became a duchy, which was then presented to the notorious Cesare Borgia, son of Pope Alexander VI, who would soon become gonfaloniere of the papal armies.

The Order of the Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem

At first the Hospitallers were a religious group devoted to the care of the sick in the Holy Land, but as more and more religious knights joined their ranks, by the 12th century, they had become an established religious and military order. At about this time the Hospitallers were given land in the Poët-Laval region (just a few kilometres from the Château Les Oliviers de Salettes), where they built a keep, a chapel and a surrounding wall. A town sprang up around the community, which by then, was the commandry of the Hospitallers’ order. Its influence in the region grew, as did the number of recruits and the size of their assets.. Between their fall at Rhodes – their headquarters until the island was conquered by the Ottomans – and the establishment of the order in Malta in 1530, the knights made Nice (South of France) their temporary refuge.

The commandry of Poët-Laval © France.jeditoo.com

The commandry of Poët-Laval © France.jeditoo.com

The fortified farmhouse of Salettes

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The castle chapel’s stoup © Château Les Oliviers de Salettes

According to local archaeologists, the chateau’s grounds may well have been inhabited in Roman times. In any case, the existing edifice dates back the 16th century. It consisted of a large square tower and its vault ribs can still be seen in the dining room. Judging by the order’s cross on the stoup in the château’s chapel, It is very likely that this fortified farmhouse belonged to the commandry at Poët-Laval – one of the Hospitallers northernmost properties – and was devoted to the production of wine.

Religious conflicts

The keep at the Poët-Laval commandry, was the target of many Huguenot raids © ImAges ImprObables

The keep at the Poët-Laval commandry, was the target of many Huguenot raids © ImAges ImprObables

Sadly, the second half of the 16th century proved to be extremely difficult for the region’s population. Valence, just 40 kilometres from Charols was one of the first French cities to embrace the protestant tenets of the Reformation. After a few years of mutual tolerance, relations between the Catholics and the Huguenots became extremely strained, which gave way to armed conflict. Many of the Drôme’s châteaux were either besieged or overrun. The commandry at Poët-Laval was no exception, and after suffering many assaults, the Knights Hospitaller were forced to abandon post and give up their possessions. The peasants, whose villages were pillaged with every incursion, revolted and formed a union, before their militia was crushed by royal forces. For a time, the Edict of Nantes brought peace to the region, only for trouble to boil over again, when it was revoked by Louis XIV, resulting in the exile of many protestants.

Yet again, a bitterly disputed territory

After Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo and the end of the French Empire, the region was held for many years by the Austrian army. It was to be occupied again between 1942 and 1943, this time, by Italian fascist troops.

The bridge over the Drôme at Livron was destroyed by the FFI resistance fighters and then provisionally reconstructed by the US army

The bridge over the Drôme at Livron was destroyed by the FFI resistance fighters and then provisionally reconstructed by the US army

An important resistance movement was set up in the Vercors Massif to the north of Charols, and the maquisards’ intercession was to prove invaluable to Operation Dragoon, the allied landings in Provence in the summer of 1944. The ensuing battle of Montélimar at the end of August sealed the defeat of the German 19th Army.

The makeover followed by the dereliction of the Château les Oliviers

After the Hospitallers left, the property was passed from owner to owner until the 19th century, when the old residence was largely transformed following the fashions of the day. Tall windows were inserted at regular intervals into its façade. And at this time too, the château’s farm was demolished and re-established behind the building. It was a prosperous period, which came to an end with the Second World War after which, only a few rooms were inhabited until the beginning of the 21st century.

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The south facade of the castle, redesigned in the 19th century © Château Les Oliviers de Salettes

intoHistory TipThe building, where the stone is apparent, shows traces of the work and the extensions made over the course of the centuries. Can you tell which are the oldest parts simply by looking at the walls?

A new lease of life

Chateau Les Oliviers de Salette 43For over half a century, the château was neglected and fell into disrepair. The domaine was all but forgotten and the youth of the village were barely aware of its existence. In 2010, it was bought by Dominique and Robin, who fell in love with the place, in spite of its being so run down that they had to go through a near-jungle to get to it. Fortunately, the new owners had an ambitious project in mind that would give new life to this large estate; and three years later, after extensive renovations, it was transformed into a lovely hotel-restaurant complete with a wellness centre and large terrace. The bedrooms have been tastefully restored with a subtle combination of period-building charm and modern décor and furnishings. The gardens too, have been carefully landscaped to include a large swimming pool and lawns with their avenues of ancient trees. Last but not least, is the stunning view over the Roubion valley and its wooded flanks.

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Each room of the castle is unique © Château Les Oliviers de Salettes

Chateau Les Oliviers de Salettes Charols_Drome

The impressive stone vaulted restaurant © Château Les Oliviers de Salettes

Give in to the siren call of the Château les Oliviers de Salettes and its joyful, characterful bedrooms. How can you resist a glass of vintage wine in its beautiful vaulted wine cellars, or in the shade of a huge pine tree, or in front of a crackling fire in the drawing room? And afterwards, the restaurant is waiting with its menu of olive-scented dishes, of cheeses and of truffles.

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Facilities

  • 15 rooms (4 of which are suites)
  • En-suite bathrooms
  • TV / Wifi / telephone
  • Restaurant – bar
  • Spa / welness centre / jacuzzi
  • Sitting room, fireplace, terrace
  • 31 hectares domain (76 acres) of lawns, meadows, farm lands and centennial trees
  • Swimming pool / tennis court / electric bicycles / boules game
  • Meeting room
  • Tailored activities (wine tasting, concert…)
  • Spoken languages: English, French, Dutch
  • Nearest city: Montélimar (19 km)
  • Private parking (a car is recommended to visit the surroundings)
  • Nîmes airport: 100 km
  • Montélimar railway station: 19 km (Valence: 40 km)
  • Accessible for those with reduced mobility
  • Families and children welcome (family suites and children’s menus)
  • Domestic pets are allowed (in low season only)
  • Smoking room in the old chapel

In the neighbourhood

The Drôme is one of the most beautiful regions in France. Often overlooked as a destination, its countryside is fragrant with the scents of Provence and those of the Southern Alps. Its villages are invitations to exploration and relaxation, while its natural spaces are ideal for outdoor activities. Less conducive to mass tourism, its people have remained faithful to old tradtions.

The Château de Grignan belonged to Madame de Sévigné’s daughter, who evokes its charm in many of her letters © Peuplier

The Château de Grignan belonged to famous French 17th c. author Madame de Sévigné’s daughter, who evokes its charm in many of her letters © Peuplier

Among the medieval hilltop villages to be discovered in the area, we have pinpointed Grignan, Poët-Laval, Mirmande, and Dieulefit.

The Drôme river and the Three Becs mountains on the horizon: splendid walks © Deb Collins

The Drôme river and the Three Becs mountains on the horizon: splendid walks © Deb Collins

 

In the Rhone valley, Montélimar and its surrounding villages give purpose to many different types of excursion, from built heritage and natural parks, to vineyards and gastronomic treats.

To read, watch or listen to

 

Château Les Oliviers de Salettes - Salon Terrasse docTo fully appreciate the period atmosphere of the Château Les Oliviers de Salettes, do not hesitate to enhance your stay by reading a few books (nothing beats a good historical novel to bring old stones back to life). Watching a film evoking the era or listening to some period music may also be a good way to transport you back in time… A few suggestions:

Learn and understand

  • The Knights of Malta: 900 Years of Care’ by Rosita McHugh
    A fascinating study of this chivalric order upon whom the ancient Château Les Oliviers de Salettes depended. Unlike other researchers of this order, Rosita McHugh underlines the importance of their medical vocation rather than their military exploits. The author traces the evolution of the order through the centuries up to its recent revival.

Books to savor during your stay

  • The Dream of Scipio’ by Iain Pears
    This is the story of three men with three very different personalities, at three key moments in the history of the Château de Salettes region: A Gallo-Roman aristocrat during the Teutonic invasions, a poet at the time of the great plague in the 16th century, and an intellectual drawn to the Vichy government in France during the Second World War. It is an erudite, intense and tragic work, and very human in its realistic treatment of actual events.
  • Jean de Florette & Manon of the Springs’ by Marcel Pagnol
    Just south of the Drôme, old family sagas of rivalries, jealousy, and dark secrets are hidden within the bucolic landscapes of Provence. Marcel Pagnol, the bard of the Midi, plunges us deep into the intimate histories of many country families, with their coarse but endearing characters. However, drought and unequal distribution of wealth strain village relations to the limit, presaging worse things to come . . .
  • The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood’ from ‘Perrault’s Fairy Tales’, by Charles Perrault (Dover Publications)
    A little reminder from Dominique and Robin who remember only too well the dilapidated condition of the place, virtually uninhabited for over 50 years. It is an excellent suggestion as no age limit can be placed on the enjoyment of these delightfully classic tales penned by Charles Perrault – stories that lend themselves to many interpretations. These original texts are further enhanced by Gustave Doré’s extraordinary illustrations.

Films to be watched before arriving

  • The Horseman on the Roof’ film directed by Jean-Paul Rappeneau
    In 1832, an idealistic soldier wishing to free Italy from the Austrians, flees to cholera-ravaged Provence, where he is chased through the region’s magnificent countryside, from village to village, but where he also finds love. A masterful interpretation of the Jean Giono’s novel of the same name, many scenes from the film were shot a few kilometres from the Château Les Oliviers de Salettes (See trailer).

The perfect setting for a little music

  • Clair de lunefrom the ‘Suite Bergamasque’, by Claude Debussy
    A marvellously impressionist composition of great subtlety and restrained emotion – to be listened to on the terrace in the early evening as the first stars appear. A suggestion made by Dominique and Robin.

 

Some of the links below will enable you to consult the recommended titles directly on Amazon.com. If you decide to purchase one of these titles via this link, please note that intoHistory will receive a small commission on your transaction, which goes towards covering its running costs.

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Historical authenticity
Ambiance and settings
Quality of welcome
Degree of comfort

16th century Chateau Hotel 150-220€/room

Freshly renovated

Château Les Oliviers de Salettes
Robin & Dominique
1205, Route du Château
26450 CHAROLS
France
+33 475 00 19 30
+33 475 04 26 10 (fax)
Château’s own web site

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