The small town of Montélimar is not one that a lot of foreign tourists flock to. Located in the Drôme department in the region of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes near Lyon and Valence, it is charming little town surrounded by the natural landscapes of Gorges de l’Ardèche and other large regional parks.
The nearby mountain range, Mont Ventoux, boasts incredible hiking trails all year round. But what Montelimar is really famous for is its Nougat de Montelimar, a sweet and chewy candy with a creamy center that is internationally renowned.
The first nougat recipes date back to the Middle East and Mesopotamia (today known as Iraq). With almond trees being grown in the area since at least the 14th century, it is not clear when the Montélimar nougat was first invented and when the first French nougat recipes became popular.
Right on the border of the region of Provence, the Montélimar nougat has long been one of the 13 traditional desserts that are served in Provence during Christmas. White nougat is served as a reminder of the good days, and black for the more somber ones.
But the real success of Montélimar nougat is due to the city’s former mayor turned President of France, Emile Loubet.
Promoting his hometown and the nougat during his presidency (1899–1906), he started offering it to visiting foreign presidents, royalty, and diplomats. Visitors and reporters to the Palais de l’Elysées would be offered some nougat to taste and experience.
It wasn’t long before the reputation of nougat grew. Today the “nougat de Montélimar” is a protected commercial designation.
So along with eating nougat, is there a lot to do in the town of Montélimar? Let’s find out shall we? Allons-y!
Things to do in Montélimar
1. Musée du Nougat – Fabrique Arnaud Soubeyran
The first stop to any trip to Montélimar has to the factory and shop of the oldest nougat confectionary in the town.
Located just outside the city center of Montélimar, Fabrique Arnaud Soubeyran was founded in 1837 by husband and wife team, Jean Arnaud and Marguerite Soubeyran, to provide for their three daughters.
The original formula for Nougat de Montélimar was a confection made from honey, small amounts of sugar, roasted almonds, and whipped egg whites.
These days, sometimes other nuts such as walnuts, pistachios, hazelnuts or macadamia are used, and flavorings such as vanilla or rosewater are added.
At the Musée du Nougat, you can see pictures of the earliest days of Montélimar, and see how it is made. And of course, you can taste test a few samples and buy some more.
There are also other chocolates and candies from the region available for sale, like the calisson of Aix-en-Provence, the guimauves (a refined marshmellow), and other biscuits and caramels.
2. Palace of Sweets and Nougat
If you haven’t had enough sugar, another popular stop in Montélimar is the Palace of Bonbons and Nougat. With displays of all kinds of candy and projections of films, this interactive exhibition should definitely quench that sweet tooth.
There is also an exhibition of toys, dolls, and video games which will thrill younger visitors. There is also a playground and a restaurant on site, so that you can relax while the kids run riot on all that candy.
3. Château de Montelimar
Moving on from nougat, the actual city center of Montélimar is a charming little town with plenty of shops and cafés to wander around and enjoy.
And perched above the town on a hill, is the Château de Montélimar. Dating back to the 11th and 12th centuries, it is sometimes called the Château des Adhémar because the castle that you see today was built by the Adhémar de Monteil family, lords of Rochemaure.
In the 14th century, it was taken by over by the Catholic popes who were residing nearby in nearby Avignon during what was known as the Avignon papacy. In 1447, it was returned to the kingdom of France, and remained a site of major conflict during the Wars of Religion and the French Revolution.
Much of the portion of the walls and ramparts that is accessible today however, is in relatively good shape because it was used as a prison up to 1926. These days it is a monument historique, featuring art exhibitions and local artists from the area. It is also surrounded by a lovely park with lovely views of the town below.
4. Grotte Chauvet 2
About 50 minutes away from Montélimar Grotte Chauvet (Cave Chauvet). It is a cave network along the Gorges de l’Ardèche river which has some of the earliest known Paleolithic human cave paintings.
There are several panels with some of the earliest known figurative drawings, making it one of the most important prehistoric art sites in the world. These spectacular images were created by prehistoric humans, or Homo sapiens, as they roamed the European continent.
Dating back about 28,000 – 32,000 years old these are among the oldest in the world. Although the original cave is too fragile to be visited, you can visit a fully reconstructed replica as well as several exhibits informing on the prehistoric era. You can read more about visiting Grotte Chauvet 2 here.
How to get to Montelimar?
Montélimar is easily accessible by train, however you will need a car to get around the area. From Paris, you can take the high-speed TGV train to Lyon or Avignon, before switching to a TER train to Montélimar.
The closest international airport is in Lyon.
How easy is it getting around?
One thing to note about Montélimar is that the sights are not all together and you do need your car to get around. Even from the town center, the Château de Montélimar is a good 15-20 minutes away uphill.
How many days should you spend?
About 1/2 a day is sufficient in Montélimar, unless you want to spend more time exploring the different varieties of nougat and chocolate. 😉
Where should you stay?
- €€€€ – Hôtel de France
If you enjoyed that article, you may like to read more about traveling around the region of Auvergne-Rhône-Alps. A bientôt!