Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Rhone Valley and Montelimar

When my siblings and I were in the age range of seven to ten years in the aftermath of WWII, candy rationing in England was eased and exciting new treats began to appear in the candy store. Among these delights was nougat - nuggat as we, the great unwashed called it, NooGah as it was known to the gentry. These soft white joys came in wax paper wrappers bearing the name Montelimar Nougat. Imagine my adrenaline rush then, when Montelimar loomed into view - could this be THE Montelimar, the home town of this sumptuous delicacy? Indeed it was. Using locally grown almonds and honey along with pistachios, sugar, vanilla and whipped egg whites, nougat has been manufactured in Montelimar since the seventeenth century. Serving a local market for 200 plus years, nougat only really took off in the 1930s with the advent of paid vacations, an increase in automobiles and the concomitant annual rush to the sun along one of the main routes - the N7 through Montelimar. National and international markets quickly developed and nougat was finally on the world stage. Then, DISASTER! In 1968 the Autoroute (French Interstate) was finished, completely bypassing Montelimar, and the industry collapsed with the failure of more than 150 businesses. Of the 15 or so that survived, some are still churning along and we planned to seize this opportunity to ingratiate ourselves with the grandkids and at the same time support local industry. We dropped this idea rapidly when we discovered that a four ounce slab of the sticky stuff was a whopping $15.00! So much for nostalgia.
The landscape from northern France southward as far as the Rhone Valley had changed subtly over the last few days. Gone were the gently rolling and colorful fields of wheat and rape seed of the Picardy and Champagne-Ardenne departments, gone too, the vineyards of the northern Burgundy area where the land had become too steep for regular plowing. The terrain in the Montelimar and Lyon area consisted of smaller arable valleys with fairly rugged and non-productive hills surrounding them. The only "crops" seen on many of these rises were ancient castles and churches, a testament to 2000 years of raping and pillaging.
Beyond nougat, Montelimar did
not seem to offer much in the way of tourist wonders, rather it appears to be touted as a base from which trips can be taken to see interesting things and places. Of course, it had the usual complement of squares, narrow streets, closed for lunch stores and sidewalk eateries, some of which are shown here. We camped overnight between Montelimar and Lyon (France's second largest city) in a Dutch owned campsite way up in the hills.

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