Welcome back! If you missed the first leg of the trip, go check out my Dijon recap.
Let’s just get this out of the way from the beginning: We didn’t see a single lavender field during our time in Provence, so you’ll won’t find any photos of those here. I’d say I feel cheated out of quintessential imagery of this lauded region of France, but I do prefer grapes over lavender and oh my, did we see vineyards.
We left Dijon on a Monday morning, drove south with moderate traffic, and arrived in Châteauneuf-du-Pape some five-or-so hours later. To put our geography hats on for a second, Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a protected wine appellation in the southern Rhône Valley of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region. The wines that come out of C-du-P (does anyone say that?) age beautifully and are renowned for their quality, made from a blend of up to 13 officially recognized grapes. 93% of production is red wine, the remaining 7% is white.
The actual village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which sits less than 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) north of Avignon, is tiny and absurdly charming. Two ruinous walls of the 14th-century papal residence stand atop the village, vineyards drape across the landscape in every direction, and the Rhône river flows quietly to the east.
Deviating from our usual accommodation preference for hotels, Johan and I spent our three-night stay in this little house—which, appropriately, is nicknamed Little House.
As Châteauneuf-du-Pape is so small, every location is going to be a “great location.” The village is easily walkable with its handful of restaurants and plentiful wine cellars all reachable within minutes by foot. If you visit by car, as we did, parking in Châteauneuf-du-Pape is an easy affair with a free parking lot just outside the village walls. Initially we drove right up to Little House, but the incredibly narrow streets make it a better idea to park elsewhere lest you find yourself in an awkward, which-one-of-us-is-going-to-reverse? situation should you meet another car heading in the opposite direction.
While we did make a couple of half-day trips to nearby Avignon and Orange (look for a separate post on those later!) and you should definitely enjoy similar exploration of the area should you visit, the real treat of Châteauneuf-du-Pape are the wine cellars, or caves. Because there are so many wine producers here, the streets are filled with tiny shops offering bottles for sale and, in most cases, wine tastings. The tastings are low-cost (circa 3€ per person) or free, extremely casual, and you can have a nice chat with someone who knows the wines intimately. A few of the caves sell an assortment of local bottles, but many of them are exclusive to a particular winery and are ran by someone who is either a wine producer themselves, or is somehow related to said producer. Sometimes these shops are a street-level storefront, sometimes they’re an actual cellar, and sometimes they’re a component of a larger space that still functions for work and long-term wine storage and has a dog hiding in the back.
You can also pay a direct visit to many of the vineyards in the region, most of which have a tasting room open to the public and many offer winery tours in addition. Johan and I are good friends with the owner of a local wine shop here in Nuremberg, Cave Secrete, and when she heard we’d be in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, she suggested we visit Domaine de la Graveirette to say hello to producer Julien Mus. One of his wines, Ju de Vie, is one of my all-time favorites, so I was immediately on board with this idea and we made arrangements to stop by. Julien led us on a tour of his winery—where he produces 100,000 bottles per year from the organic grapes grown on his own 25 hectares of vines—and a tasting of his excellent assortment.
Among the various wine cellars and vineyards we visited over our three-and-a-half days in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Johan and I took a liking to the 2015 vintage and brought home seven bottles from that year, as well as a 2011 and a 2016 for diversity. We do plan to age these and our nine bottles are resting comfortably in our own storage cellar, so I guess we’re officially wine collectors now? Sort of.
Where to eat in Châteauneuf-du-Pape:
My list here is a short one as we only ate at two restaurants in C-du-P. On our first night, we’d stopped at a grocery store just outside of town to pick up a rotisserie chicken, a baguette, salted butter, and a couple of cheeses to eat at our table in the Little House; then our subsequent day trip adventures had us elsewhere for lunches, leaving just two dinners in the village. Nonetheless, they were both lovely and worthy of a mention:
Le Pistou, 15 Rue Joseph Ducos. We sat on a cozy little terrace and enjoyed a nice beef tartare and coq au vin before a splendid brioche perdue with caramel cream. The dessert was so good we actually tried to go back for it again the next evening, but we were told that such things are somehow not allowed. I’m still confused, but I’ll still eat here again if I’m in the neighborhood.
La Mule du Pape, 2 Rue de la République. This place seems to serve doubly as restaurant and local hangout, as we ran into both the owner of Little House and the shopkeeper who’d sold me two linen dresses just a couple of hours prior. No complaints about La Mule’s mixed cheese and charcuterie plate, nor their Savoyarde pizza with cream, potatoes, bacon, onions, reblochen, and emmental—selected by us for its loose similarity to a pizza we had in San Marino in 2016 at a little place called La Fratta and clearly still think about.
Next up, we’re off to Marseille! I really fell hard for this vibrant port city, so expect a lengthy love letter.
Au revior, Châteauneuf-du-Pape.