A town with culinary pedigree, Montélimar has been the home of French nougat since the 1700s. This soft confectionery is made both in big modern factories and small ateliers using old-school techniques and tools. You can indulge your curiosity and your sweet tooth on tours where you’ll get privileged glimpses into kitchens and will be allowed to sample a range of nougats for free.
Beyond this, Montélimar isn’t exactly a tourist destination, but there is a medieval castle reigning over the town, along with a clutch of light-hearted museums and the Allées Provençales, leafy boulevards with cafe terraces.
Lets explore the best things to do in Montélimar:
1. Nougat Arnaud Soubeyran
The oldest confectioner in Montélimar is also the best nougat-maker to visit for a tour.
The ideal time to come is in the morning, as this is when the factory is busiest.
There’s a perfect view of the kitchen, and no part of nougat production is neglected.
You can even see the bees going about their work making honey.
The factory tour is cleverly integrated into a museum explaining the birth of the brand via a video presentation, and revealing how Montélimar came be the world’s nougat capital.
The whole experience is totally free, as are the tasty samples at the end.
2. Musée Européen de l’Aviation de chasse
Montélimar’s aerodrome ha s museum to thrill aviation fans, with dozens of aircraft stored in several hangars.
The attraction started out in just one hangar in 1985, but the fleet of fighter jets and civilian aircraft has mushroomed to more than 60. Around half of these planes were made by Dassault, with a host of Mirages from the post-War era up to the 90s.
In the ensemble of foreign aircraft are Migs, a couple of De Havilland Vampires and, coolest of all, a Rockwell OV-10 Bronco that is in working condition and regularly flies on demonstrations.
3. Château des Adhémar
At the highest part of the town looms a fierce Romanesque castle that took shape in the 1000s on the orders of the Count of Toulouse.
Later it passed from the Lords of Rauchemaure to the Papacy, and saw heavy fighting in the 16th-century Wars of Religion.
After that it was done up as a plush Renaissance residence by the Louis Adhémar, so despite its austere outer appearance is much more inviting inside.
The lodge has been turned into a gallery for contemporary art, with installations in a solemn environment, while you can conquer the Tour de Narbonne for vistas of the Drôme countryside.
4. Musée de la Ville
Set in the chapel of Montélimar’s historic former hospital, the town’s museum has both permanent and short-term galleries.
Recent temporary shows have been devoted to perfume or vintage fans.
But the permanent exhibit remains the show-stealer: There’s a little world of micro-miniature models made by the Russian artist Anatoly Konkenko.
These are so small that they can’t be seen with the naked eye and need magnifying glasses or even microscopes in some cases.
You can squint to view a chess set for mosquitoes and camels that literally pass through eye of a needle.
5. Allées Provençales
Surely the prettiest part of Montélimar is this kilometre-long chain of boulevards between the old town and the Jardin Public.
There are cast iron gaslights, a vintage carousel for youngsters, wide pavements and lots of cafes and restaurants.
On hot days the quintuple row of plane trees offers ample shade, and the air is cooled by fountains.
The Allées Provençales are the stage for the Christmas market in December, and the Couleur Lavande festival in summer.
This is probably the most touristy part of town, and if you’re in Montélimar on a flying visit there’s no shortage of nougatiers to choose from.
6. Nougat Diane de Poytiers
In a bright pink building on the main road in to Montélimar, Diane de Poytiers is another stop on the nougat trail.
They’ve been in the nougat game since the 1920s and make 50 tons a year at this one factory.
This is actually a smaller operation than Arnaud Soubeyran, but you can still go behind the scenes for free where master confectioners are at work.
You’ll get a run-down of all the fresh, local ingredients in their nougat, and the guide talks you through the various machines for cutting and packaging.
There’s a big shop area here, and each variety of nougat comes with a sample so you pick a nougat to meet your fancy.
7. A Walk around Town
Montélimar is an unassuming sort of place and isn’t full of eye-catching landmarks.
Instead there are a few curiosities to look out for on the streets of the old centre.
The Maison de Diane de Poitiers is just a name, as the famous noblewoman never lived it here.
But it is an exquisite Renaissance building from around that period, with mullioned windows.
The striking Porte Saint-Martin is an 18th-century arch on the site of the town’s old gate.
And then there’s the Place du Marché, which has a row of old arcades, clusters of tables for bars and cafes and a little market on Wednesday mornings.
8. Nougat Le Chaudron d’Or
The last nougatier on our list has more of a family feel than the others, and works on a much smaller scale.
In the Saint-Martin district you can come to look around the artisan workshop employing just a few friendly staff.
They use antique equipment at Le Chaudron d’Or including copper vats and wooden boxes overflowing with roasted almonds and pistachois.
You’ll see the skilled nougatiers mixing the batter and cutting the nougat once its cooled.
At the shop the final product is presented in gorgeous Belle Époque -style tins, and as with the other factories you can try a piece or two for free.
9. Jardin Public
A very pleasant place to stretch your legs, the town’s park flows seamlessly from the Allées Provençales and leads to the train station.
It was landscaped in 1856 and has lawns, flowerbeds and a lovely old chalet.
The cute iron bandstand and the pond with its rocky island in the middle go back to the 19th century, as do many of the mature trees cedars and pines.
Parents with younger children can come to the small animal park to say hello to the mules, sheep, chamois, goats and peacocks.
10. Maison du Jouet Ancien
On a commercial estate to the north of the town is the Palais des Bonbons et du Nougat, in an enormous warehouse.
It’s a handy place to pick up some local nougat and other confectionary if you’re in a rush.
But you’ll have reason to spend a little more time in the building as there’s a surprisingly good childhood museum.
The Maison du Jouet Ancien is a trip down memory lane, with stacks of antique toys, starting in the interwar years.
There are rocking horses, train sets, an army of dolls, model planes, tricycles and board games, leading up to retro video game consoles from the 80s and 90s.
Now just a modest town, Viviers once ruled the Vivarais, a large region covering the modern Ardèche department.
Viviers, lifted atop a ridge, commands the Rhône Valley and has a web of ancient streets around its cathedral.
It’s not hard to work out when the town peaked, because it’s rich with noble 17th and 18th-century houses.
The Maison Noël-Albert is an exquisite Renaissance house with a facade loaded with sculpted reliefs, medallions and pilasters.
Also step into the cathedral to see the rich art in the choir, where Gobelins tapestries adorn the walls.
There’s an extremely ornate marble altar from the 18th century, as well as two rows of sculpted wooden stalls.
12. La Ferme aux Crocodiles
There isn’t another zoo in Europe like this “crocodile farm” a short ride from Montélimar.
This is also the most visited paying attraction in the Drôme department.
You’ll encounter around 350 crocodiles and alligators at the farm, from ten different species including Nile crocodiles, dwarf crocodiles, caimans, Chinese alligators and American alligators.
Anyone concerned about animal conservation will be pleased to know that the zoo takes part in breeding programmes, and helps fund conservation projects in the Ganges and Burkina Faso.
On the way north to Valence is one of France’s “plus beaux villages”, a rustic stone settlement cascading down the hillside.
Mirmande is still encircled by its defensive walls, protecting meandering streets with country views to capture your heart.
The window frames and shutters are painted blue, contrasting with the flaxen stone houses, and there are pretty rockery gardens on every street.
From the 1600s Mirmande owed its growth to silk cultivation, and when this industry failed in the 1800s the village was almost abandoned.
But it had a rebirth at the start of the 20th century after the Cubist painter André Lhote fell in love.
14. Couleur Lavande Festival
Montélimar’s nougat wouldn’t be the same without its honey, and that comes from bees working the vibrant lavender fields in the local countryside.
Around mid-July, when this plant is ready to be harvested, there’s a two-day lavender celebration at the Jardin Public and the Allées Provençales.
From morning ’til night you can come for workshops and presentations by people who make a living from lavender and its derivatives.
There’s a market where you can buy lavender products, and even small lavender patch planted in the park for the weekend.
15. Food and Drink
Just in case you haven’t been paying attention, nougat is big news in Montélimar! It’s soft and chewy, and composed of egg whites, honey, sugar, almonds, pistachios and vanilla.
Nearly all these ingredients come from the town’s fertile backyard, and if you’re into food provenance you could have the time of your life visiting farm after farm.
There are apiaries making Miel de Provence, wineries, olive oil mills, almond orchards, and the Sylivie Guichard farm growing nectarines and apricots.
We haven’t even mentioned tasty picodon goats’ cheese: This comes in small discs and has a gentle flavour and soft texture when young, and a harder consistency and stronger flavour when aged for a few weeks.