A Visit to Hidden Malleval, France
On a winding road from Lyon toward Saint-Étienne, hidden in the high craggy hills, sits a magical little stone village called Malleval. Although this area isn’t famous for shopping and glamorous fashion, what you will find is the picturesque charm of medieval and Renaissance style buildings and a healthy dose of good wine tasting.
Malleval was an important village in the Middle Ages, as it sat on the ancient road from the Rhône valley to that of the Loire. Malleval suffered enormously during the wars of religion, then during the plague, two events that decimated its population.
Besieged in 1360 by the English, it was not taken but became a strategic stake between the Catholic Lyonnais and the Calvinist Vivarais. Malleval was taken in 1574 by the troops of Jean de Fay who burnt the church and many of the houses. Only the northeast part of the village escaped the fire. The village was rebuilt at the end of the 16th century.
The Maison de la Gabelle was a place where the salt tax was paid. Each subject of the village was obligated to pay a “salt tax” once a year, which at the time was an expense equivalent to about one month’s salary! (Hence, the word “salary” is derived from the word salt.) You can imagine that for this reason, the salt tax was a very unpopular tax. In fact, the term “gabelle” is derived from the Italian gabella (a duty), originating from the Arabic word qabala (to receive). So, La Maison de la Gabelle would be the house where Malleval’s inhabitants had to do their civic duty.
You might not find the Paris fashions in this area, but you will find an area rich in wine. Seven villages and approximately 75 wineries encompass this region. Condrieu, which sits on the right bank of the Rhône, is famous for having its white wine appellation in the northernmost region of the Rhône Valley, just 42 km (26 miles) south of Lyon.
Can you see the vineyards on the hill behind La Maison de la Gabelle? My husband Olivier told me that Gérard Depardieu owns this land. Malleval is just 4 km (2.5 miles) from Condrieu. It is said that Depardieu became so enamored of a bottle of wine that came from Alain Paret’s wine estate in Condrieu, that after putting in an order, he eventually became Paret’s partner.
An affectionate ginger cat decided to show us his village. He was a very friendly guide!
This small chateau belonged to Renaud de Forez in the 14th century. It was he who made Malleval the chief town of the bailiwick in 1336. The bailliage and the presidential court were transferred to the more central location of Bourg-Argental in 1482, which also marked the beginning of the decline of this out-of-the-way village. The chateau is currently a private residence.
I believe this building is the “Maison de la Prébende”, which had an income related to the church somehow, but other than that, I couldn’t find a lot of information about it. It is currently a private residence – imagine living there! I think I might feel a bit like Rapunzel.
Malleval, although quite small, does have a boutique that houses the crafts of various local artisans, called, “La Grange Artisanale.” Here you’ll find La Maison de Rirette, which has local and regional products including a specialty: “La Mallaviaude”, jam of Pilat apples massaged in Viognier wine and acacia flowers. There is also quite an array of pottery to buy for yourself or as gifts to take home! You’ll find another boutique called, “Atelier Lilouchka“, which has a collection of handmade jewelry and a few handmade children’s outfits.
Wandering around the small curving pathways and coming across charming houses hidden as if a part of the cliffs themselves had me daydreaming of living there…until Olivier reminded me of what life might be like there during the winter!
People who live here clearly take pride in making their environment inviting, with the plantings surrounding their homes, and even going into the cliffs.
Look at the contrast of the rough, rugged stone with the weathered and colorful shutters and doors.
The church is another interesting site, which as it is rarely open, I’ve never been fortunate enough to view the inside. This church is the former chapel of the castle built in the XIth century. The fire in 1574 during the Huguenot attack of Malleval destroyed the structure, and it was reconstructed in 1606. The Roman style choir in a dome form is the only remaining trace of the original church.
These crosses, with such individual designs, remain standing at the side of the church.
I hope you have enjoyed a little peek into this village in the Rhône Valley. Have you ever visited this region or do you have any favorite wines from here?