Chateauneuf du Pape Travel Guide

Châteauneuf-du-Pape: Where Vines Tell Tales of Timeless Terroir

Chateauneuf du Pape is a wine that has a place in every oenophile’s affections. History and natural history combine to make it one of France’s most fascinating and beautiful wine villages. Indeed, Chateauneuf du Pape is the renowned centerpiece of the southern Rhone wine region. Situated just north of Avignon, the village is instantly recognizable for its ruined papal summer palace, which dominates the landscape for miles around.

Chateauneuf du Pape’s history is closely linked to the Roman Catholic Church, which established a Holy See in France and maintained a presence there for many years. So, it is fitting that Chateauneuf du Pape’s history began with the Romans, who planted the first vines in southern France. There is no official record of the village until the 11th century, and its history before that period is shrouded in mystery.

The first recorded mention of a settlement was in a Latin document in 1094, which described a ‘Castrum Novum,’ literally translated as ‘fortified town,’ belonging to Avignon’s bishop. History records that the original fortified village was founded on the existing castle ruins in Chateauneuf du Pape between 1040 and 1073. However, we cannot be sure exactly when it was constructed.

In 1309, the settlement was referred to as Chateauneuf du Pape for the first time after Pope Clement V moved to Avignon and established a Holy See in Provence. Literally translated, Chateauneuf du Pape means ‘The Pope’s New Castle,’ this historical event gave birth to the title bestowed upon both the village and the wine from the wider region.

Successive Popes did much to further the wine culture in Chateauneuf du Pape, the local wine being an essential element of the Church’s religious activities. Clement V’s successor, John XXII, actively promoted the region and did much to improve viticultural practices. He also initiated a series of essential building works, including the famous castle in ruins today in Chateauneuf du Pape. Construction began in 1317 and was finished in 1333, a monument to his power, although Pope John XXII died one year after its completion.

By the mid-14th century, vast amounts of land were given over to vines in the broader region, in contrast to the rest of France, where planting cereal crops was the main priority of the day. This can be attributed to John XXII’s influence, undoubtedly history’s greatest advocate of Chateauneuf du Pape’s powerful, heady wines. However, the region’s importance declined significantly in the 15th century when the Holy See returned to Rome. Chateauneuf du Pape lost its status as a vital religious center in Western Europe.

Following the departure of the Popes, Chateauneuf du Pape’s castle came under the control of the bishops, during which time many of the buildings were sadly allowed to deteriorate. Then, in the 16th century, the Wars of Religion erupted between French Protestants, the Huguenots, and Roman Catholics. During the conflict, Chateauneuf du Pape was occupied for several months, and in 1563, the protestant forces pillaged the castle and damaged many of its important artifacts.

Over the centuries, Chateauneuf du Pape’s importance declined, albeit its vineyards remained vital to Provence’s overall wine production. During the 17th century, the castle’s remaining damaged buildings were exploited to build houses in the surrounding village. By the era of the French Revolution, the castle was left derelict. Yet, by the 18th century, Chateauneuf du Pape had earned a formidable reputation throughout Europe for the high quality of its wines, which were exported to many markets, including the UK, Belgium, and Germany.

However, by the mid-19th century, Chateauneuf du Pape’s formerly magnificent castle was in ruins. Its salvation came in 1982 when what remained was classified as a Historical Monument, forbidding further destruction or exploitation of its remaining structures and artifacts. During this period, the Phylloxera epidemic struck Chateauneuf du Pape with a vengeance, destroying many vineyards until barely more than 200 hectares were left. Growers abandoned their livelihood in droves, and it was not until after the First World War that the area’s fortunes rebounded.

The 20th century saw many important landmark events in Chateauneuf du Pape, not least the birth of the official Chateauneuf du Pape appellation in 1936. Created by the INAO, or Institut National des Appellations d’Origine, the appellation was the first legal recognition given to the wines of Chateauneuf, creating laws and regulating winemaking practices that ensured the production of high-quality wines across the region.

During the Second World War, the remains of Chateauneuf du Pape’s castle were occupied by Nazi forces, which used it as an observation post. As the war drew to a close and the Allies advanced on their position, they attempted to blow up the remaining buildings and destroyed the tower’s northern half.

Over the past few decades, Chateauneuf du Pape has cemented its position as both one of the Rhone’s most exciting wine regions and a must-visit destination in its own right. It is simply everything you would want from a Provencal wine village: cobbled stone streets, charming outdoor cafes, restaurants, bakeries, and ancient ruins of the Pope’s summer home all combine to make Chateauneuf du Pape a veritable wine tourist paradise!

  • Delicious local vegetables
    Delicious local vegetables

    Gastronomy & Wine

Nearby Wine Regions


  • Chateauneuf du Pape castle remains

    Although only two walls remain of the chateau, it is still worth exploring to get a feel of what it was like here many centuries ago. The south-facing aspect offers magnificent views of the village and vineyards below.

  • Palais des Papes

    Less than 30 minutes from Chateauneuf du Pape, Avignon is a must-visit village. Its crowning glory is the Palais des Papes, the magnificent former palace of Pope Clement V. He moved the papal court to Avignon in 1309, and it remained until 1377. During which time, his successors transformed the modest episcopal building into the present palace, which has been preserved largely untouched over the centuries.

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