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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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
The south facade of the castle, redesigned in the 19th century © Château Les Oliviers de Salettes
The 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?
For 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.
Each room of the castle is unique © Château Les Oliviers de Salettes
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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