The whole world may have discovered the Luberon valley east of Avignon, but the pretty, quiet Drôme Provençale remains the south of France at its most wonderfully confidential. This southernmost area of the Rhône-Alpes region is a land of vineyards, lavender fields and olive trees. The delightful town of Nyons produces some of the best olive oil in France, and Montélimar is best known for its famous nougat, soft almond-studded candy.

Among the Drôme’s most appealing villages, along with Grignan and Dieulefit, Malataverne is an ideal stopover on a drive between Paris and the Riviera, and the delightful Domaine du Colombier is the perfect base. Not only are the hotel’s handsome Provençal-style rooms reasonably priced, but the young chefs who run its restaurant, Julien Gleize and Cyril Fressac, are rising stars who more than merit a detour. I stopped by for their good-value €29 lunch menu and enjoyed a delicious and original parsnip bouillon with chestnuts and tiny ravioli stuffed with oxtail and tomato; a perfectly cooked filet of marbré (striped sea bream) with spelt risotto; and a sublime rhubarb tart.

The seasonal menu is more expensive at dinner, but portions are so copious that, if you’re two, you can easily order just a main course—maybe John Dory with baby artichokes, tomatoes and clams in a light lemongrass sauce, or the Charolais beef with sweet potatoes and spinach in a jus of Châteauneuf du Pape, and then split a dessert or cheese afterwards. There’s a nice selection of reasonably priced regional wines, and a terrace for outdoor dining when weather permits.

Route de Donzère, Malataverne, 04.75.90.86.86. Lunch menu €29, dinner menu €58. Prices are per person without wine.

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Originally published in the June 2008 issue of France Today

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