One of the best known French wine labels, takes its name from an unassuming village on a small hill near Avignon in Provence, Chateauneuf du Pape. The village lies just 3 km from River Rhone and 12 km from Avignon. Almost all the cultivable land is planted with grapevines. The village is famous for the production of red wine classified as “Chateauneuf-du-Pape Appellation d’origine controlee” . It was officially recognized and bestowed with it’s own appellation in 1929. This appellation means that the wine production in Chateauneuf du Pape is subject to strict controls to ensure that all the vineyards of the region produce an extremely fine wine.
Chateauneuf du Pape translates to “The Pope’s new castle” and its history is firmly related to papal history. In 1308, Pope Clement V relocated the papacy to the town of Avignon. Clement V and the subsequent Avignon Popes were great lovers of Burgundy wines and so the Avignon Papacy promoted viniculture of the area around Avignon and close to the banks of River Rhone. During the papacy of John XXII, the wines of this area came to be known as “Vin du Pape” and also the famous castle, Chateau des Papes, was built at the top of the hill in 1317.
The castle, which is today the village’s symbol, was built as a defensive settlement and at the same time as a summer residence for the Pope. After the departure of the Popes from Avignon and their return to Rome, the castle was used by the archbishop of Avignon. In the 16th century most of it was burned down during the Wars of Religion and was abandoned. Nowadays from its ruins there is a superb view of Avignon, River Rhone and the vineyards of the region.
From the castle you can walk down the stone staircases in order to visit this picturesque village. In its colourful, narrow and peaceful streets, you will see many well preserved traditional houses, small squares and fountains. An impressive fountain, La Grande Fontaine, is located at the center of the village and dates back to the 17th century. During your walk you will come across three well preserved churches, the Chapel St Pierre du Luxembourg, the Chapel St Theodoric and the Roman church of Notre Dame de l’ Assomption. Also just 500 meters from the village’s center you could visit the small but quite informative Musee de Vin (Avenue Saint-Pierre de Luxembourg), which traces the history and current state of the local viniculture (for more information and hours visit the official site).
During your walk around the village you will find a number of wine tasting cellars from the various local domains. The cellars are all different from each other. Some are luxurious and others are extremely simple. Some are on the ground floor of a village house, while for others you have to follow a narrow passageway or step down to a basement. If you don’t know what you are looking for, it is quite sure that you will end up dizzy (from the wine) and confused.
Apart from the cellars the village is also famous for its restaurants, where you could taste excellent Provencal cuisine and drink the local wines. Our favourites in the village are : Le Pistou (15 rue Joseph Ducos) with excellent dishes (you must try the cock cooked with local herbs) and a wonderful small yard at the back, La Maisouneta (B02 place Jean Moulin), a relatively small restaurant with tasty local dishes and La Mere Germaine (3 rue Commandant Lemaitre), one of the oldest and well known restaurants of the village, which still retains the quality of its cuisine and its fame.
Regardless if you are a wine lover, this is a place you must visit if you are travelling in Provence. It is a wonderful, well preserved and peaceful village. Take a walk in its narrow streets, taste some of the best wines in the world and eat at some of the most interesting restaurants in Provence. This village is the definition of Southern France culture and tradition.