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Ile de Porquerolles – Hiking, The Lighthouse and The Gorge du Loup

When we last left off from our cliffhanger on the island :), my family was at the Moulin de Bonhour (which really wasn’t). From there we headed left and down the hill until we came to an intersection that gave us four choices. One way was back to the village and in two other directions was the way to separate beaches. I was more interested in strolling through the island vineyards; there are 200 hectares of them, and olive tree groves and then hiking up to the lighthouse.

In the end, that was the direction we took. We headed down hill towards the center of the island and passed beautifully manicured vineyards which abruptly stopped just at the edge of the island “forest”.

Then it was onto the olive tree groves

 

and after that a mixture of crops ranging from wheat, to corn, to flowers, to palm trees and many other crops and groves that I didn’t recognize. Remember, I’m nowhere near to being a green thumb (I am a self-proclaimed lover of LOOKING at nature not dabbling in it) so there are many plants and flowers of which I have no idea what they are.

Kilometers after kilometer were beautiful crops and some scattered houses of inhabitants lucky enough to own a piece of the earth on this island.

Just before making the turn to head in the direction of the lighthouse, we came upon this little shack.

At first I thought it was just some broken down thing that was left by the way side but as we continued along the main road, we noticed that it branched off onto a small trail and ended up at the little shack. To our surprise, it was a brand new shaded area with a bench to be used as a rest stop and bird watching area! We were lucky enough to have it all to ourselves and enjoy the chattering of the large amounts of birds that came to bathe and drink the water of the pond we were next to.

After a quick bite, we brought a backpack of snacks with us onto the island; we headed off in the direction of the lighthouse. The wide trail had been newly graded and compacted and to the side of the road there were surveying sticks every few kilometers. We wondered if this area was being prepared for building houses or condos. It would be a beautiful place to live, but what a shame to spoil the natural beauty of the landscape. There were no signs to tell what was to take place so I guess I’ll just have to wait and see until the next time I come by for a visit.

After rounding the bend, we came across a tiny collection of apartment houses (no more than 5 or 6) and then it was up the hill towards the lighthouse. Once we reached the top of the hill we could see the lighthouse, called Le Phare du Cap d’Arme, through a gate. It was built in 1837 but looks like it has been restored.

Unfortunately, you can’t go through the gate or onto the grounds to see the lighthouse up close. I was thoroughly disappointed as the lighthouse is on the map and there were never any signs along the way to say that you weren’t allowed to visit it up close. We only saw signs pointing us in the direction of the lighthouse. It seemed others had the same idea as us and the same disappointed look as we gathered around the fence peering in.

After a brief rest and some grumbly words coming from my lips, we headed off down the road and onto a little trail towards the Gorge du Loup. The trail is very easy to follow and hike on. It leads you through trees instead of groves and fields.

As you approach the gorge the trees open up into a wide open space overlooking a gorge with a view onto the Mediterranean. The gorge is a small one, but beautiful nonetheless. There happened to be a small sailboat anchored near the edge and some divers taking advantage of the beautiful day. This was another perfect spot to pull out a snack and sit and rest for awhile and enjoy the view. There were only two other people we had to share the view with. It was amazingly quiet and sheltered.

By the time we were ready to take our leave of the gorge and venture off to our next site, the clouds had started to roll in and it was getting a bit chilly. I put on my sweater and off we went towards the gardens and the beach.

What’s this?? Another cliffhanger??? More to come 🙂 ……

 

 

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…..

 

Sillans-la-Cascade and la Chapelle St. Laurent

My family set out for another day of hiking and this time we settled on an area in the high Var near a town called Sillans-la-Cascade. Just across the road of the old ramparts of the town is a trail that leads you to the Cascade de Sillans (aka the waterfall of Sillans).

Ample and free parking is across the street and the walk to view the waterfall is only 5 or 10 minutes from there.

At the first fork in the road you will come to a sign which says Panorama view of the Cascade and points to the right. Take the trail up a few feet and veer towards the left and you will get a terrific view of the waterfall.

The trail continues on up through the hills and the hike gives you a terrific bird’s eye view of the surrounding area to the left. The valley is dotted with houses, vineyards and olive trees. You don’t have to worry about getting lost or wandering too far away from where you started as this trail makes a circle and brings you right back to the waterfall and the area where you started from (the first fork in the road). Trails like this are wonderful and happen to be my favorite kind. It makes hiking simpler when you are able to end your hike at the same place you began. It’s just more practical when you are only hiking for a few hours or for the day, and not there to camp out and make it a weekend trip!

This particular hike was only a few kilometers and we easy hiked it at great leisure (stopping to admire the view and take plenty of photos) in about 2 hours. Towards the last 20 minutes or so of the hike we came upon an old house in ruins. I bet in its heyday it was a great place to be. You can’t see the waterfall from this spot but you can definitely hear the sound of running water which happens to be a sound I absolutely love! It has to be one of the most soothing sounds you could listen to.

Once back at the fork in the road, make your way down some concrete stairs. This path will wind around and become a dirt path which takes you to the base of the waterfall. Unfortunately you can’t get near the falls as they are blocked off with fences due to the danger of falling rocks. The river which forms at the base, however, offers every advantage to get as close as possible. There is a wonderful area not far down the path where it would be a lovely place to venture out on the large rock and bring a book, read and listen to the running water. I must remember to do that next time (with my picnic lunch!)

You can only travel so far on this path and then it dead ends and you must turn around and go back in the same direction from whence you came. I never saw one person on the hiking trail above, but down at the base, there were a great deal of families and couples strolling near the water.

There are other trails to hike in the area and we proceeded to follow one to the Chapelle St. Laurent. You can get to this chapel the easy way, which means you head back to the parking lot and follow the trail up the hill that is behind the parking area. Reaching the chapel this way will only take about 15 minutes.

We decided we were going to follow the signs and go the “back way” which takes you past some houses, a corral, across the main street and through another housing track before connecting again in a wooded area. It also takes you past two World War II monuments of men who were killed in the area by the Germans during the war. Once you past the two monuments, the chapel is just around the corner. This way takes about an hour or so verses 15 minutes going through the parking area, so which way you go depends on how you really feel about hiking!

The chapel itself is no real treat to look at, though it has been nicely restored by the volunteering town’s people. The real treat is the view you get from the back side of the chapel. If you go around the right side of the building and out onto the rock, the view of the farmlands, houses, the town of Sillans-la-Casade and the olive tree groves is amazing! I could have stayed in that spot all day just drinking it in. I was so grateful and lucky that the day happened to be warm, bright, sunny and there was no wind. It made for a wonderful site to see.

After resting there for quite some time, we headed back down the trail on the right of the chapel (opposite of the trail we arrived on). This took us down to the parking area and offered us closer views of the old chateau in the town just behind the ramparts. This chateau is now a government building and houses several government agencies.

If you’re looking for a hike that is more on the easy side, then hiking around La Cascade is a trail you would want to take. You can approach it leisurely and it is pretty safe for both young and old and everyone in between. The hike to the Chapelle St. Laurent is a bit more difficult so I would discourage taking very young children. There is also the danger, when you reach the top, of being on a very steep cliff which offers no protection if one should fall.

If you have been to the waterfall or the chapel, I would love to hear all about it and if there are other trails around the falls you have hiked on, please let me know. My family is always looking to find interesting hikes to explore.

If you want to see more photos of Sillans-la-Cascade and la Chapelle St. Laurent they appear on Flickr. To get there just click on the “More Photos” option under Photos on Flickr.

Le Château du Castellas

Our first outing of the season (not officially spring, yet, but it sure feels like it) was to the Château du Castellas which is located in the hills above the town of Forcalquiert.

The chateau was built in the thirteenth century and was modified in the fifteenth century before being abandoned for good in the seventeenth century. Though it was one of the strongest medieval fortresses in the Var, little is known of the goings on at this château. The history seems to be short and not very much information was documented.

From the information I found it seems that it was originally built for the Viscount de Marseille and then the following three centuries remained in the Agoult family. After going through many architectural changes it became the property of Pontevès and then Lord Hubert de Vins du Garde who was said to have massacred hundreds of villagers during the religious wars that plagued the country towards the end sixteenth century.

It was altogether abandoned during the seventeenth century as more peaceful times came upon the region and the villagers began moving down into the valley below to farm and grow crops. This area is the current site of the city of Forcalquiert.

Since 1978 the château has belonged to the community and has been the site of numerous archeological excavations. Just outside the château walls was found the remains of buildings including what seems to be a chapel.

The hike to the château is not long at all. Parking is located at the base of the hill just next to the road. Follow the dirt path (which becomes paved) up the hill. Once to the top, go left and you will see a sign that says the ruins are dangerous and access is forbidden.

Even thought it states not to enter, you can go up and see the ruins. The sign is there to let people know that they visit the site at their own risk as there is a good chance of falling rock.

The views from the top are magnificent and it is very obvious that this place was one of the most beautifully built fortresses by the large amounts of gorgeous cut stone , which has a lovely pink tint to it. There is a court yard in the middle of the ruins and several different doorways in which you can go inside to see some of the different rooms.

One area appears to be either a church or a large kitchen. There is a huge steel beam running across the top in order to reinforce the structure and the remains of what was once an enormous fireplace sits at the head of the room.

In another area there is a small alcove with a fire place and two stone cut seats near a window.

The third doorway seems to be a room with a reservoir for holding water. You have to crawl a little ways into a hole in the wall to see the room, which is full of water, and to see the hole in the roof for the rain to fall through. There is a large window in the room and a staircase that leads out and down around the outside of the château.

Traveling back through the doorway you can make your way to the left where there is a small doorway and a ledge. From up on the ledge you get a beautiful view of the town of Forcalquiert. Turn around and look up and you will definitely marvel at how the stone wall is still standing. The enormous wall has rocks that are just loosely seated and look as if a small breeze could topple them. This area is very dangerous to be in due to the falling rock so make sure you pay attention at all times and it might be wise to take a quick peak but not linger long.

Once back in the court yard, cross to the other side and make your way up an old staircase that is now in total ruins. There are two alcoves with windows that give you a terrific view of the valley below.  Just above these alcoves are the remains of a second and third story that is still standing, but just barely. This is another area that is very dangerous due to falling rock. I found it unbelievable at that height that what was left of the walls were actually still there. Due to the high winds in this area, it’s amazing that anything is left of the top stories.

Upon exiting, go straight and you will descend into an area that is flat and grassy. This could have possibly been a garden, but nothing remains there now except some of the rampart walls. Again you have a tremendous view from this point.

When leaving the château, travel back down the dirt path that you arrived on. Before descending all the way you can take a short path to the left that will bring you around the side of the château so you are able to see the ramparts and walls from a different perspective. From below looking up, you really get the sense of how grand this place must have been. It surely must have given the villagers a sense of awe when looking up at the hill on which it sits. When completely intact it must have been monumental and most likely an oppressive sign to the villagers.

It is a shame that not more of the château remains today. Over time with the towns people looting the fortress to make homes for themselves out of the rock, the weather and the wind have all taken their toll. What remains today is still very impressive and the beauty and color of the cut stone reminds you of how once an opulent place it truly was.

 

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

Roussillon

I love the town of Roussillon. The few times that we’ve gone there I always take advantage of the hike through the Ochre Trail. It’s cool and refreshing and the colors that surround you are like no other.

Since enjoying the Ochre hiking trails back in 2004, the town has changed it up a bit. One used to be able to go around more areas and even climb on some of the cliffs. No longer can you do this. I was a bit sad at not having the chance to see as much of the trails and cliffs as I used to, but I do understand the reasoning. With so many people climbing and playing on the cliffs it causes them to erode faster and that would mean less time in the future to see these beautiful wonders of the world.

I love it here. The walk is so peaceful and there are many areas where one can sit and just gaze out at the cliffs and enjoy the breathtaking beauty. You could seriously stay all day. Bring a book and a camera and you got it made! There is a modest entry fee of around 2,50 Euros, but well worth it! During the year it’s open almost every day except for when the weather is extremely bad. There is no time limit to be there so make the most of the hike. It’s fun for all ages, too. You might want to bring extra clothes and shoes for small children as the clay will get everywhere!

One can also visit the Colour Conservatory that gives guided tours and informs you on everything Ochre related. They also offer classes and workshops throughout the year. I have yet to take advantage of this, but plans are in the works.

Take some time out to visit the town, as well. The colors of the village houses and buildings are due to the Ochre used in painting them. It’s magnificent! The town is cozy and quaint and there are many areas from where you can get a terrific view of the valley.  There are some great restaurants with absolutely brilliant hilltop views, too.

You will need to pay for parking unless you park really far away and plan on hiking it to the town so bring your change with you. In spring and summer it’s very busy with buses of tourist and locals alike enjoying the scenery.

The few times we have venture to Roussillon I marvel at how truly beautiful this village and the Ochre Trail really are. It never gets old.

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

If you’ve been there I would love to know what your favorite part is. Have you been to the Colour Conservatory? If so, is it worth it?

La Source de L’Huveaune

Dude and I love to hike. In the Fall and Spring we go about once a week. The first few times we went hiking we just happened upon a nice area and went to seek it out.

Then I got serious. One day while in Decathlon, I picked up a book that showed all the hikes in the Bouches du Rhone area. There is enough to keep you busy for quite some time.

One of the hikes we decided to go on was to La Source de L’Huveaune. We set out early because it was around a 6 hour hike. La Source is located about 20 minutes from where we live and it was marvelous. We put on our back packs, grabbed our cameras and headed off. Tinki wanted to stay home because she isn’t into hiking so much. Tant pis for her, cuz she missed a beautiful one.

The entrance to the hike is clearly marked and in the beginning you follow a wide path through hills and fields. There are a couple of houses in the area, but mostly just open space. If you go in the spring there will be lots of families since the weather is usually great for hiking (not to hot and not too cold).

Once you get to the point of finding the trail to La Source (this part was difficult and we had to ask some people because it is not clearly marked) it becomes a very small trail through trees. You know you are on the right trail because the river that flows from La Source will be on your right. It winds around through some little trees and over rocks and all the while you get to hear the wonderful flow of the water. It smells wonderful, too. It really brought back the great childhood memories of camping and the smell of the trees and fresh water.

Once you meet up with La Source there is a small waterfall which flows out of the ground. Take the bridge across it and there are some areas to sit and have your picnic lunch while enjoying the waterfall and the peacefulness.

After lunch, you can either finish the walk by returning the way you came, or you can continue on up higher and you will come to a cave. Dude and I chose to continue on. The trail between La Source and the cave is a bit more strenuous so be careful with smaller children.

The cave is the end of the line. My advice is to be sure you bring a flashlight with you. There is an opening in the cave in which you can enter. It is not huge by any means, but it is great! There are stalactites and stalagmites and you can see and hear the sounds of the dripping water. It’s terrific!

Since the cave is the end of the line for the hike, all you need to do is go back the way you came. Dude and I made a stop at the waterfall and bridge to get a last look and take a pastry break and then we were off back through the trees and finally the open fields and mountains.

This happens to be in my top 5 hikes. It is not a difficult one and the trees and river keep you cool in the spring time. Definite recommendation if you are in the Provence area. If you’ve been, please tell me how you liked it!

If you want to see more photos of La Source de L’Huveaune they appear on Flickr. To get there just click on the “More Photos” option under Photos on Flickr.

Hiking and Sunset at St Cyr-sur-Mer

The hike through St. Cyr-sur-Mer was awesome. The first part is coastal and then you get to go through a beautiful coastal forest. We only stayed along the coastal walk because it was getting late. You can actually take the whole hike to Bandol which is about 11km away. I plan on doing that really soon. If you want more info on the village of St. Cyr-sur-Mer, check out their official website at http://www.saintcyrsurmer.com/en/

Here is a video I took while stopping to look at an ancient industrial site.

Hiking at St Cyr sur Mer

Here is a video I took of the gorgeous sunset we got to enjoy on our hike. Man this place is beautiful. I can’t wait to experience it again.

Sunset at St Cyr sur Mer

Sanary sur Mer

Duh!!!

This is one of my most favorite pictures. Not just because of the color of the water (it’s so surreal) or the peace I feel when looking at it, but because of dude’s comment just before I was about to take this shot.

You see, dude was a little ahead of me on our hike that day when I stopped to take in this view and snap the shot. Suddenly, before I could do so, he darted back to me, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Oh Cool! Hey, that’s an awesome shot!  You gotta take it! It looks like that boat is floating!”

Right?? Duh, and a double no kidding! He really said that folks. I couldn’t make it up if I tried!

I just started cracking up and then I said to him real slow and childlike, “It LOOKS like it’s floating, dude, cuz it IS”. Then he slugged me and said, “Shut up! You know what I mean!”

I guess after looking at the picture, I get what he was talking about, but come on, boats are suppose to look like they are floating. That’s just a given.

By the way, this photo was taken on the day we went hiking in the Calanques. If you want to see the rest of the photos I took on that day you can click on this link https://backyardprovence.wordpress.com/2011/05/15/hiking-in-the-calanques/

Hiking In The Calanques

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