It has a magnificent Renaissance castle and is mentioned in the letters that Madame de Sévigné wrote to her daughter, Madame de Grignan, in the 17th century.
Grignan is located in the south of the Drôme department, near the border of the neighbouring Vaucluse department, and close to Mont Ventoux, the highest mountain in Provence.
To visit Grignan, take the A7 autoroute and use either exit #18, Montélimar Sud, or #19, Bollène.
The main crops produced in the area are lavender, truffles, wheat, and sunflowers. Nearby is the village of Nyons, world famous for its olives.
Several archeological excavations have shown that the rocky promontory of Grignan has been occupied since the Iron Age. There is evidence of a former Bronze Age society here, as well as Roman occupation in the 5th and 6th centuries AD. Historians have noted that in the year 1035, a cartulaire (a ledger of church or monastery property titles) from the Abbey of Saint-Chaffre in the Haute-Loire, makes mention of an obscure castellum Gradignanum. Over the next century, the name steadily evolved to become the castrum Grainan (1105), then Graigna, Grazinam... We know very little about the birth of the castle or those who built it. The existence of a certain Christophe de Grignan has been established some time around the year 1030, and in 1035, the cartulaire of Saint-Chaffre, speaks of a 'Rostaing du château de Grignan,' Rostagnus de castello Gradignano.
A century later, according to various documents, the Grignan family appears to have become well established. It is precisely during this time that the Grignans seem to have lost the ownership of the castle which bears their name. Beginning in 1239, the records show that Grignan ceased to belong to the Grignans... but to the Adhémar de Monteil family.
The expansion of the castle coincided with the rise in power of the Adhémars of Grignan. The Adhémars were up-and-coming so their castle necessarily had to follow. Beginning in the 13th century, the Adhémars rose from Barons to Dukes, finally being elevated to the rank of Counts by Henry II, King of France. Grignan Castle progressively became an imposing stronghold. The Adhémar family line ended when Louis Adhémar died without an heir in 1559. The titles and possessions of Louis Adhémar, Count of Grignan, fell upon his nephew Gaspard de Castellane, son of Louis' sister Blanche Adhémar. Although the Adhémars were an illustrious family, in terms of sheer glory they were rivalled by the Castellane clan.
The castle was eventually inherited by François de Castellane-Ornano-Adhémar de Monteil de Grignan, who carried among his titles the Duke of Termoli, Count of Grignan, Count of Campobasso, and the Baron of Entrecasteaux, as well as a knight in the service of King Louis XIV. He was governor general of Provence, and through the Dutch of their cíty of Orange.
François, the last Count of Grignan, was two-times a widower (his wives Angélique-Clarisse d'Angiennes, daughter of the Marquis de Rambouillet, and Marie-Angélique du Puy-du-Fou having died in quick succession). For his third marriage, he chose a certain Françoise-Marguerite de Sévigné, daughter of the marquise of the same name whose illustrious letters have perpetuated the memory of her son-in-law—and his castle to this very day.
Madame de Sévigné travelled three times to Provence (that is to say, Aix and Grignan) in order to spend time with her daughter and son-in-law: a 14-month stay beginning in 1672; another 14-month stay beginning in 1690 taken before a quick trip to Brittany; and a third stay of 22 months leading right up to her death in 1696. In other words, Madame de Sévigné spent only a little less than four years total in the part of France which occupied so much space in her heart and letters.
Louis Adhemar, governor of Provence, remodelled the medieval castle from 1545 to 1558. From 1668 to 1690, François de Castellane-Adhemar turned it into a sumptuous Renaissance palace. Construction on the site of Grignan's present castle was originally begun in the 12th century, but it wasn't until the 13th century that the Adhémar family expanded it into a mighty fortress. In the 17th century, François Adhémar de Monteil transformed the fortress into a luxurious residence. Reduced to ruins in 1793, it was reconstructed in the early 20th century by Madame Fontaine who spent her entire fortune to restore the castle to its former grandeur. Presently, the castle belongs to the Drôme département and is a major tourist attraction.
Located under the castle terrace, the collegiate church was constructed between 1535 and 1539 at the request of Louis Adhémar. The Renaissance façade is flanked by two square towers and a beautiful Gothic rose window. Inside is an impressive 17th-century altar and organ loft. On the floor in front of the altar is a marble funerary stone marking the sealed entrance to the tomb of Madame de Sévigné.
Located about a half kilometre from Grignan, this shallow, natural cave sheltered from the Provençal sun, was a favourite writing spot of Madame de Sévigné.