Chateauneuf du Pape

View of Chateauneuf du Pape

Chateauneuf du Pape can be literally translated into English as "the Pope's new house (or castle)". The town is named for a castle built here in 1316 by Pope John XXII.

The castle was used as a summer house by the popes during the period when the papacy retreated to nearby Avignon from the chaos in Rome. After the popes returned to Rome, the castle was sacked by the Protestants during the Wars of Religion. The final blow came, however, in World War II when the retreating Germans blew up the castle in 1944.

While only two walls and the foundation of the castle remain, the hilltop site provides an excellent view of the surrounding countryside.

Ruins of the Pope's New Castle

Chateauneuf du Pape is also the center of the miniature wine region of the same name. Under the French system, wines are named for places, not the type of grape from which they are made. Only wines produced from grapes grown within specific, tightly drawn geographic areas qualify for the Chateauneuf du Pape appelation de origine controlee (AOC) designation. Wines from the area are among the most highly regarded (and expensive) from France's Rhone valley.

Vineyards near Chateauneuf du Pape

The city is really only a village, with a population of barely over 2000 people. The narrow streets wind around the hillside, lined by thoroughly restored buildings. It is clearly a tourist spot, as a large number of the buildings house shops on the lower floor. Of those, many are dedicated to selling the local wine. Look for signs saying "cave" (wine cellar) or "degustation" (tasting).

Chateauneuf du Pape is 700 km (420 miles) south of Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport, but just 110 KM (66 miles) northwest of Marseilles. There is no railway station, but the high speed bullet train (called the TGV) from Paris to Nice stops at nearby Orange and Avignon, respectively 10 KM (6 miles) and 17 KM (10 miles) distant.  

Copyright 2005 Harry B. Rowe