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Basilique Sainte Marie Madeleine

In the town of Saint-Maximin-la-Saint-Baume is located one of the most beautiful basilicas in all of Provence. The outside unfortunately needs quite a bit of work, but once you step inside it is wondrous to behold.

The construction of the basilica began in 1295 A.D. and the Gothic style was chosen by Charles II d’Anjou. It was he who discovered the tomb and relics of Mary Magdalene in 1279 A.D which had been buried since 716 A.D. The relics were hidden there as protection from the Sarrasins who were pillaging and devastating the region at the time. It is said that Mary Magdalene spent many years in Penance in the Grotte de la Sainte Baume (also known as La Sainte-Baume Grotte Marie Madeleine) located in the hills above Saint-Maximin-la-Saint-Baume.  The crypt of the basilica, which was built in 1316 A.D., contains an ancient Gallo-Roman tomb of the fourth century and four beautiful marble sarcophagi decorated with scenes of the Christian religion and allegedly contains the skull of St. Mary Magdalene. You are allowed down into the crypt to see the sarcophagi and the skull. It is quite an eerie feeling, I must say. Is this really the skull of Mary Magdalene? I couldn’t tell you, of course, but it has been legend for many centuries and the Catholic Church believes it to be so.

In 1348 A.D. due to the plague, construction stopped for a while on the basilica. Work started again in 1404 A.D. All construction was halted in 1532 A.D. after 237 years of being worked on. Due to this, the front doors to the church and the bell tower were never finished.

The basilica’s dimensions are superior to those of the other churches in the region. It measures 73 meters long, 37 meters wide and 26 meters high.

Behind the alter is the seventeenth century work of art entitled “The Glory”. It was sculpted by Joseph Lieutaud. It represents the Holy Trinity who is surrounded by angels. The walls of the choir area were carved from 1681 to 1692 in walnut wood by Vincent and Jean-Baptiste Funel Oleri who were brothers. It contains 94 stalls and 22 medallions depicting the life of the Dominicans and is one of my most favorite things about the church. The delicacy in which these two very talent brothers carved these masterpieces is unreal and rivals none in my opinion. There are also many angels atop the choir area and a large crucifix above the main door leading to the main alter which was installed in 1676 and made of marble. The pulpit was carved in 1756 by Brother Louis Gudet and is made of walnut. It contains seven medallions depicting scenes from the life of St. Mary Magdalene.

The basilica is also home to a magnificent organ. The order of the Dominicans wanted an organ present in the church that would match the magnitude of the basilica itself. They got their wish.

From 1772 A.D. to 1774 A.D, Jean-Esprit Isnard and his nephew Joseph constructed the organ which now resides in the basilica. It is immense and matches very well the size of the church and like the carvings in the choir area, the organ is absolutely marvelous.

I could spend hours in this church just gazing at all the little intricate details that are present. It is truly a work of art in and of itself.

Visions of the Beauty of Provence

Colza Field (aka Canola or Rapeseed) near Allemagne-en-Provence


Chateau du Tarascon

Ochre Fields in Roussillon

View from Saturnin-les-Apt


French Pastries in a Boulangerie in Sanary-sur-Mer


Ile de Porquerolles-The Village, The Church, Fort Ste. Agathe and The Moulin du Bonheur

Since Tuesday was a holiday here in France, what else was there to do but go out and explore some more of Provence!

The week before, we had spotted the Ile de Porquerolles from the village of Giens. I had commented that if the weather would cooperate, I wanted to go visit the island that we had seen from the ruins of the chateau.

Lucky for us, the day was perfect for an outing to the island.

We drove to Tour de Fondue which is where you catch the ferry that takes you to Porquerolles. The cost is 18€ round trip for an adult and it takes about 15 minutes for the crossing. There is no set time for the return ticket you just need to be sure you make it onto the last ferry of the day or you’ll have to spend the night or hitch a ride back to the mainland on some nice person’s boat, if you’re lucky 🙂

Once we landed on the island, I headed straight for the office of tourism. I wanted to be sure I got a map since I intended to make good use of the many hikes you can take around the island. The map costs 3€, but if you treat it right it will last you a good many trips back.

One thing that is very noticeable is that there are bike rental places everywhere. This is a biking community and nearly every trail on which you can walk, you can also bike. We didn’t bring our bikes that day but I have plans to return again for a day of biking. If you want to take your own bike on the ferry instead of renting one on the island you can do so and the cost is 13,50€.

We first took a look around the little village. There are a plethora of restaurants and also little stands to purchase fruits and veggies, ice cream, crepes and sandwiches. You will not go hungry here. Since we had eaten breakfast right before leaving the house, I chose to make my first meal an ice cream cone 🙂 What?? My mom wasn’t around to tell me no!

The buildings in the town are fairly new compared to the other villages we have visited. Beside some homes and businesses built a few decades ago, there is also a good majority of new homes and apartments near town center.

On this particular day, the island was not very busy. There were plenty of spaces in the restaurants and the village was comfortably laid back and calm.

We visited the church in the town square. It was built in 1850. The modest exterior mirrors the interior. Though not as elegant as some, it is decorated with some of the most beautifully sculpted, wooden pictures of art depicting the life of Jesus and the saints.

Above the entrance and exit doors hang some very large paintings and a very simple stain glass window.

Upon exiting the church we headed left and up a small street following signs to the Fort Ste. Agathe, said to have been built around the 16th century.

The trail leads you around a small hill and gives you a terrific view of the port and the open sea.

The hike is not long at all and once you reach the entrance of the fort, you have a magnificent view of the Mediterranean and vineyards. It just so happened that when we arrived at this point, the sun broke free of some clouds and showed us that gorgeous Mediterranean Sea blue that you usually only get to see on a postcard.

After some time gazing out at the view, we headed through the front gate of the fort. There is not much left inside the ramparts that you are able to see. The main door says private and you can’t enter into the interior of the fort. We were able to see the views of the valley and the vineyards and see some of the outside of the fort and old guard house, but I was disappointed that I couldn’t go inside. Upon exiting out the back gate, there is a large sign with information on the fort and its history. The story is told in both English and French.

We then headed left down a dirt road to see the Moulin du Bonheur or Windmill of Happiness, which is the name given to it in sarcasm, since the windmill never brought any happiness to the few families who lived on the island a few centuries before.  Here there is also a sign with information about the history of the windmill that is told in both English and French.  The windmill has been restored and it is in lovely condition. The view from the hilltop overlooking the valley is quite exceptional. You can take the short walk around the windmill, but you cannot go inside.

After some picture taking and view gazing it was off on our next hiking adventure.

Goodness, I think we’ve come to a cliff hanger! More to come…..


Le Vieux-Cannet

The village of Le Vieux-Cannet is right out of a motion picture set and could very well have been a set for a French movie at one time. This very tiny village is considered a classic site and sits atop a hill overlooking the ville of Le Cannet-des-Maures (the “new” village) in the VAR.

Vieux-Cannet is one of the tiniest villages I have ever been to. They have no post office, no boulangerie, and no boucherie. In fact, not a single store or administration office is located there. They don’t even have a Maire (town hall). The villagers must go down the hill to Le Cannet-des-Maures for all their needs.

There is an old church named St. Michel in a quiet little square on which rests a wrought iron, free standing bell tower dating from 1776. The architectural design of the church is around the 11th century.  I tried to go inside, but found the doors to be locked up tight. There are remains of what was once a chateau, as well, but what is left has become a private residence. What this little village does have is a magnificent 360 degree view of the surrounding countryside and villages and a very unique charm about it with its cobble stone streets.

This quiet little town was completely deserted when my family and I visited even though it was a beautiful, warm day. I doubt many visitors come here even though they would be delighted at the old village houses being redone and cared for. It seems that this little village is working hard to ensure its longevity and many villagers have restored their homes. In fact, several of them were just gorgeous.

The day of my family’s visit, we saw no one. There were no people out in the square or in the small streets. The town cats were the only visible signs of life. We were able to have the whole village to ourselves to stroll about, look at the houses and admire the view. It was the first time I had ever visited a town in France and did not see another person. When approaching the village from a little area we parked in and passed through the remains of the ancient wall, I actually thought it could have been a ghost town. It did have that eerie empty feeling. Once we took a stroll around, though, we could tell that a ghost town village in France would not have restored houses!

This village is a wonderful place to stop off while touring through the VAR. If you plan to make a quick side trip, I would recommend doing so during lunch time. Bring a picnic and enjoy the view while having a relaxing lunch. If you stop by in the spring, the hillside leading up to the village is covered in yellow flowers. We went during the month of October so no flowers were to be found, but the visit and view were just as spectacular.

If you want to see more photos of Le Vieux-Cannet they appear on Flickr. To get there just click on the “More Photos” option under Photos on Flickr.

The Village of Gassin

Another day of cold, winter weather has my family stuck in the house. There was an advisory yesterday on the news that said if you didn’t have to go anywhere then please don’t. Stay at home, keep the roads clear and be warm is what they advised. Even though I don’t relish staying indoors too much (we are starting to get on each other’s nerves living in the kitchen), I do agree that it’s best to stay home and stay warm. We are still without heating oil, but at least the little electric heater is keeping us warmer than being outside.

Since I’m stuck inside for the day, I decided to rummage through my old photos that I’d taken last summer while visiting surrounding villages in Provence. Though I don’t mind the cold, I am anxious for the longer days, green leaves on the trees and blooming flowers that spring and summer brings with them. In flipping through my virtual photo albums I came across the medieval village of Gassin. Last summer we took a trip there one weekend and it was just delightful.

The ancient village of Gassin is situated not far from St. Tropez. In fact, from the edge of the 13th century ramparts which surround the village, the view takes you from the Gulf of St. Tropez to the town of St. Tropez in the distance.

Gassin is a charming little village which I’m not sure many people know about. We were there in the height of summer, on a week-end and there were not very many people around at all. I was very surprised by this since it is listed as one of the most beautiful villages in Provence.

Since there were no crowds to dodge around, we were able to spend the afternoon leisurely strolling along the cobblestone streets. I was delighted to find that I didn’t have to fight the crowds for a photo opportunity. Normally, when you visit touristy places in France, it becomes very difficult to snap a good photo without some stranger ending up in it somehow!

The town was very neat and tidy. The houses well taken care of and very clean. The streets made of cobblestones and the old village houses with dates written above their doors are truly a find for the history lover like me. I took several photos of doorways with dates etched above them long ago. Oh, I love finds like these!

In anticipation of a lunch crowd, there were a few restaurants who dressed up to the nines.  Each one with a lovely view of the surrounding valley and vineyards.

The trees and flowers were in full bloom and I love the flower beds in front of some of the house. These always add richness to the color of the town.

I also love the houses whose owners had left the stone façade.

I much prefer to look at stone houses than painted facades, although the ones that were painted were done tastefully.

It is said that the Knights Templar could have built a castle high on a rock above the Gulf of St. Tropez and there did seem to be some remnants written into the ancient walls.

The church and its square tower were built around the 16th century.

It’s very quaint and nicely done. The interior is not grandiose like other churches you might have been to. It has been updated and painted and has an air of “modernization” to it, but is nonetheless a very worthy stop to make while visiting the town.

During the 16th century, the village also became known for its sorcerers. Between the Knights Templar and the sorcerers, there is definitely a lot of history to be found here.

Though there is no chateau to visit or a large number of touristy attractions, Gassin should be on the list of any traveler to Provence who enjoys the simple pleasure of lovely scenery. That’s exactly what this town has to offer, relaxation and beautiful scenery.

If you want to see more photos of the village of Gassin they appear on Flickr. To get there just click on the “More Photos” option under Photos on Flickr.

Les Baux de Provence

By far, the most beautiful village I have visited so far here in the south of France has to be Les Baux de Provence. I have been several times and it is, without a doubt, the first place on my list to take visitors. To date, no one has been disappointed.

The drive to get to Les Baux de Provence is a long one through olive tree groves and flat lands with sparsely laid houses. Just before you reach the city there is a small descent into a village at the base of Les Baux where you will find a few shops, some restaurants and hotels. Once you leave this road and turn the corner, there you will see, high on a hilltop, the lovely town of Les Baux de Provence. The first thing that comes into view is the spectacular ruins of the chateau. It’s quite simply an amazing and formidable sight.

During the winter months, this village is calm and quiet with not many stores or restaurants open. During the summer months it is one of the most crowded and touristy places I’ve seen. The winter is bitter cold in this town so take care if you do visit to not go when the Mistrals are blowing. I’ve never been in a colder village than Les Baux when the Mistrals decide to wage their war on Provence. For every bit of cold days you encounter there, the hot days are relentless in the summer.

This is the place where time has stood still. This is the place of cobble stone streets, original cut stone buildings, ruins, and gargoyles. This is the sort of village I love since history can be seen no matter where you look. From the moment you enter the gates, you are transported back in time. The only thing that keeps your mind set in the present is the current fashion trend of the people visiting.

This is the village that has my hand prints everywhere. For each time I go, I can’t resist running my hands along the walls and feeling the history beneath them. This is how I link myself to history. This is what really excites me. It’s so easy in this village to find a nice place to sit and picture what life was like back in medieval times, the hustle and bustle, the look and the feel. This is why Les Baux de Provence is one of my most favorite villages to visit.

When entering the village the first thing you will notice is one of the most wonderful candy stores in all of France, La Cure Gourmande. It’s absolutely impossible to leave this store without buying several different types of goodies. The décor is as pleasing to the eye as much as the candy is. Everything inside is delightful and delectable and it’s one store you cannot pass up. The best part about it being the first thing you see upon arrival is that while you are continuing your tour through the village you can enjoy the tasty treats you’ve just purchased.

Strolling through the streets you can find many lovely shops and cafes.

Every nook and cranny has something to offer. One of my favorite shops to browse is the tapestry shop. They make the most lovely hand crafted tapestries I’ve ever seen, many of them with fairy tales scenes or stories on them of the medieval times or renaissance in France.

During the summer, Les Baux de Provence puts on a show like no other. The town really comes alive with hundreds of people dressed up in medieval costumes walking about the town. Little stands are everywhere with merchants selling their goods. During this time, I don’t need to let my imagination run wild, the town freely offers up to me exactly what I crave.

As you make your way through the town you will come to the famous chateau which is now in partial ruins, but well worth the visit. You can choose to tour with or without audio. If it is your first time visiting the chateau, I would suggest spending the money on the audio tour, it comes in several different languages and tells of the history of the castle which is quite interesting. You are invited to roam freely and climb around the remains of the chateau. The view is spectacular and during the spring and summer there are shows which allow you to see the workings of the catapults (and some lucky guests can even try their hand at them), dressage, archery, live bird and bear shows and more. If you do not mind the heat and the crowds, this would be the time to go visit and experience the village in all its glory. The shows take place between 1 April through the end of September each weekend, holidays and school vacation times.

If crowds are not your thing, then the time to go would be the beginning of autumn when the weather can still be warm. The village will not be so crowded, but the stores and restaurants should be open for the most part.

Besides visiting the chateau, don’t forget to stop by St. Vincent’s church. It has beautiful stain glass windows (donated to the church by Prince Ranier III of Monaco), stone pillars with gorgeous carvings, gargoyles on the exterior who still watch over the town, and a wonderful white sarcophagus of a woman located on the left side of the church. This church was originally built in the 12th century and has had some updating, but for the most part remains like it was centuries ago.

If Santons are your thing, be sure to visit the Santon Museum. There is no admission charge and it is open all year around. You will enjoy the different exhibits this museum houses and there is even a documentary film on how the Santons are made. It’s quite interesting and a delight to see.

Then there is the view from the fortress wall just across from St. Vincent church. It’s absolutely breath taking. There are these fascinating homes that people have built right into the rock. You can stand there forever and not get tired of the beauty of this place. I know because each time I go, I have to literally tear myself away from it.

Take time to stop and have a refreshing drink at one of the many cafes or restaurants. It offers yet another opportunity to marvel at the history that is surrounding you.

After making the tour of the town, I always go around to see the buildings and ruins once more just to remind me of the feel, the texture and the sense of history. I just can’t help myself and I’ve even gone for a third trip around. There’s just something about this place that grabs me.

I definitely know that this village will be one that I visit time and time again. It’s one of those provincial towns that just stays with you, in good way.

If you want to see more photos of Les Baux de Provence they appear on Flickr. To get there just click on the “More Photos” option under Photos on Flickr.

For more information on the village of Les Baux de Provence, click here to go to their office website. This link will also take you on a video tour if you so choose.

The Ancient Cemetery of Tourves

The village of Tourves happens to be one of my favorites in this region. We’ve been there several times during this past year (the last time was for the Bouchon de Tourves which I wrote about last month).

This time around, I went to visit the ancient cemetery. If you don’t know it’s there it’s difficult to find. There are no signs to it and you can’t spot it from the center of town. The first time we went, my family happened upon it quite by accident. You see, when we go to a town for a bit of sight-seeing, I’m famous for just wandering off on any path, dirt road or steps I can find no matter how overgrown or obscure they are. My line is always, “Dude! Look! I wonder were that goes. Let’s find out”. Then off I go. I admit that this has gotten me into some trouble a few times by wondering onto private property or down roads that take us nowhere and then we have to turn around and go back, much to the dismay of Tinki who is not as adventurous as I am.  It’s all worth it, though, for those wonderful, hidden treasures that I have found on many occasions. Then I’m in heaven, no doubt about it.

This day in Tourves was such an occasion since we had gone there just to wander around the town. Not to see anything in particular. The cemetery is located just above a small parking area in the center of town. As you leave the parking area and head towards the center, you have to walk through a small park. Just as you exit the park and are about to enter the town, there is a stairway to the left just at the edge of the park. It looks like it goes nowhere really, like it might be just a way to get to some village houses. Me, being the curious one, ventured to go take a look that day. Right as we reached the top of the stairs the vision of an old church was upon us. I know that I did a tremendous gasped when I saw it because nothing pleases me more than the site of ancient ruins and beautiful, long-forgotten buildings and churches. I relish at the site of them, for that is why I came to France.

I do not know when this church was constructed or how long it had been abandoned. It is not a large church, either, but built very simply. There are no signs to tell you the history of it and there are no plaques stating that it is an historical monument. In fact, there’s nothing to tell the visitors to the town that it even exists at all (which is a total shame in my opinion).

The church and its surrounding land have not been taken care of for some time. The main entrance to the church is locked and there used to be a side entrance which has fallen into ruin. There is a gated area which is locked up, as well, and you can’t pass through. It’s a part of the cemetery you aren’t able to explore.

The part that I was most interested in was the left side area of the church. This was also a cemetery and something out of a Hollywood film. The tombstones had fallen into disrepair. Many were covered with overgrown plants and trees, others had fallen over and broken, and still others stood as they always had, but what was written on them could no longer be made out due to the rain and weather over time wearing all traces away. There were, however, a hand full which you could still make out the names and dates and still others that were made with intricate care and so different from the normal headstones of solid cement one usually sees.

I was in heaven. I don’t know how much time had passed as we walked from headstone to headstone trying to make out any information we could. I was completely fascinated and kept venturing further back onto the grounds for more discoveries. Some of the areas were so overgrown that headstones were lost and we really had to dig around for them. We had to be careful in some areas not to trip on the ones that had fallen over. Still others had been fabricated directly into the side of the church wall or the wall of the surrounding courtyard. These held the most fascination for me since I had never seen anything like that before.

I was at crossroads on whether or not I was sad about the state of this wonderful find, or if I felt is should be this way because the site of it was simply amazing.  If it were to be all cleaned up and proper, it might not hold the same fascination for me.

I longed to go behind the gate that was locked up tight to see the other tombstones, but to no avail. I had to simply be satisfied with the photographs I had taken.

The church sits near a large area of rocks on which a statue has been placed. She overlooks the church and cemetery and is near impossible to climb to. Dude did try and he got up there pretty close, but I was content to have my feet firmly planted. The climb didn’t look to safe.

I could have stayed in this place for hours wondering around and reading and rereading the headstones. It was so peaceful, but we had other sites in the town to see so we took our leave. I assure you the next time I am in Tourves I will revisit this place. Things like this never get old for me. After all, like I said, that’s why I’m here.

If you want to see more photos of The Ancient Cemetery of Tourves they appear on Flickr. To get there just click on the “More Photos” option under Photos on Flickr.


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