Blog Archives

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…..

 

Views From The Remnants of Le Chateau de Giens

In the VAR department of Provence there is a little village called Giens or Presqu’ile de Giens. At one time a chateau stood atop the village, but barely anything is left now. The villagers have turned the area into a beautiful little garden and what still remains offers the most spectacular views.

To one side are the Mediterranean and the iles-de-Porquerolles.

Directly on the other side are an inlet, where kite surfing and parasailing reign supreme, and a view of the surrounding hills of Provence.

The little garden is quaint and lovely, and this time of year the flowers are all in bloom.

It is neatly manicured and also houses an artist’ shop. The artist happened to be holding an exposition on this day. His does beautiful artwork, by the way. If his shop is open, feel free to browse. He allows pictures to be taken, as well.

Just above his art work that was hanging on the stone wall, you will find a plaque giving details of what transpired during history to this chateau.

To see the views you must access some steps to a balcony (which I assume was probably the ground floor of the chateau). On a clear day, the views are exceptional and this day happened to be fairly good weather wise. From this point you can also see the entire garden.

It such a peaceful place and I always enjoy seeing people out and about appreciating the beauty that these little villages have to offer. I also appreciate it when these little villages value their history enough to keep it alive for others to share and enjoy.

Lovely Le Lavandou

Today was one of those days where I just wanted to go out and take a nice stroll along the beach. The weather here has been so perfect and I just didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to go to one of my favorite beaches. I have already written about Le Lavandou in another post (click here), but I thought I would show a couple of pictures of our walk along the beach today.

I had taken our badminton rackets and birdies in hopes that it would not be too breezy to play a game on the beach. Unfortunately, it was too windy so we happily strolled along the boardwalk instead. I love this beach because it is one of the few beaches near me that is actually large and sandy, not rocky. This time of year is great to go and visit for a day out since the weather is usually nice and the tourists haven’t flocked here for vacation, yet.

Just look how we had the whole beach and walkway practically all to ourselves. The water almost looks like a giant lake and was so calm and inviting.

Déjeuner Avec Un Vue

I guess by now you know that I am a girl who digs springtime! I’ve been so happy to be outside these past few weeks that I am just over the moon every day that I’m able to venture out. This is the time of year that makes me wish I had an outdoorsy kind of job.

I’m lucky that my office has enormous windows and a gorgeous view. That does help, though it isn’t quite the same as really being outside.

So today at lunch, Dude and I took off to a local boulangerie for some sandwiches, drinks and desserts (I love the combo packages you get here in France at the local boulangerie/patisserie!) and headed toward the Route des Crêtes which is in the hills above La Ciotat.

There are many places along this route where you can stop and take advantage of the scenery. We found a place to stop not too far up the route, parked the car, took out our little picnic and had lunch outside with a magnificent view. It was a bit hazy today, but the sun was shining, the air was warm and the view was of course, perfect.

I am so eager every day to just get out and experience spring time. Even though we had only an hour to enjoy our meal and the scenery, it was enough to satisfy the little voice inside my head that says ‘get outside when the weather is nice’.

Yes-I do hear voices, but only the good kind 🙂

The Port of Cassis

Tonight, at sunset, Dude and I took a stroll along the small beach and the port at Cassis. This village is one of our favorites to visit in the area and I have written about its charm before. It’s quite close to where I work so we are often there during the week in the evening time and can be seen window shopping and pastry shopping while enjoying the beautiful views of the Mediterranean.

Cassis is one of those towns that tourists flock to during spring and summer vacation. If you happen to visit during the tourist season you will find yourself feeling like herded cattle as you make your way around the walkway of the port. Every restaurant, shop, bars, and ice cream store in this village is full of people and you’re lucky if you can find a place to sit and relax. The main streets are crowded with tables and chairs and wide-eyed vacationers taking in the beauty of this delightful little town.

Normally during the summer months we avoid this place. After all we have the whole rest of the year to enjoy it while it is peaceful. Tonight happened to be one of those amazingly, peaceful nights. Since it is the beginning of spring, vacationers have not started to make their way to Cassis. This was the perfect night to venture there as the weather was calm and the temperature perfect for an evening stroll. There were no crowds, only a few other couples and families enjoying the warm evening.

This is the way I like to enjoy Cassis. The calm water, the warm air and the feeling like this picture perfect place is just for you and you don’t have to share it with anyone. I always comment on how wonderful it is to be able to visit whenever we want to and watch nature show off her magnificent sunset. We are so spoiled just like everyone else who lives here!

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.

Port Grimaud

The weather reporters promised us a beautiful day on New Year’s and they definitely followed through. It was absolutely gorgeous and we made every minute of it count for us.

Dude and I decided that a road trip was in order that day. What the heck, it’s a holiday right? So off we went to visit Port Grimaud. I had never been there but I had seen pictures and heard that it was one of those “must see” places in France and I was definitely not disappointed. Dude and I concluded that it could very well be the French twin for California’s Balboa Island.

Since it was a holiday, everything was closed with the exception of one restaurant. I pretty much think that even this place would be closed down even if it weren’t a holiday. There were signs up on many of the store fronts saying that they were closed for the season and would reopen again in April.

From the look of it, I gathered that this is a hot spot during the summer season. On this particular day Dude and I were the only Americans around. It seemed to be the day of the Italians with just about everyone we passed speaking Italian. There was a bit of French sprinkled in every now and again and we did hear one group speaking British English, but we were overwhelmingly in a crowd of Italians. I’m not complaining one bit, though, since I absolutely love to listen to Italian. I’m guessing they had some special to go to France this season or something! We even saw the Italian roller team van!

There are a couple of areas to Port Grimaud. One is the gate way to the first area that was built with the bridges and shops and older homes along the canal and the other is the south port with newer style homes and a newer looking layout.

We started with the “old” Port.  Now, I use the term “old” here very loosely since this area is not old by any means. I hate to burst your bubble (since mine was) but I did some research on this area and it seems that it was constructed in and around 1967. The good thing about it is that the architect kept up with the old fashion French village look and things look really vintage which is unlike other really ugly ( I might add) structures that were constructed during that same time period in France.

We entered through the main gate that takes you to the main street which then branches off onto other streets by which you cross the bridges. It would have been nice if shops were open, but then again, it was nice to take a leisurely stroll without being bombarded by a bunch of people. There are streets to walk down that have houses on either side and then there are areas where you can walk just along the canal. I’m guessing there is something there called CC&Rs (at least that is what we call them in the states) because every house was neatly painted and fixed-up. You aren’t going to find any broken down remodels in this place. I have a feeling that is “interdit” in these parts. The other curious thing is everyone had these weird chimney tops that were surrounded by house tiles. Kind of strange, but it must be on the books that one has to have upright tiles surrounding  the chimney vent!

After walking the port we headed over to the beach area. There is a lovely view of St. Tropez just across the water. The sea, as usual, had the loveliest colors imaginable. I made a mental note not to come here in the summer as I think that finding even a small spot on the beach would be impossible due to the fact that it is a sandy beach (there are quite a few beaches in Provence that are rocky) and also due to the gorgeous view. If you do decide to make a trip here in the summer, there is ample parking (which was quite nice) and it’s not far from the beach. The down side is that the tariffs are really expensive. There is free parking along the main street just adjacent to the entrance of the port but you would have to get there mighty earlier to take advantage  of it.

After our walk along the beach Dude and I headed back to the car for a quick bite to eat (we always picnic it on road trip day) and then we walked over to see what the southern port was like. This side was also nice, but it isn’t as lovely as the old port side. This area has its own beach access which is a bit smaller, but the view is the same.

Dude and I found an old boat that had encountered some issues sometime in its life and had washed ashore. From the looks of it, I think it had been there awhile. It was only a shell as someone had come by and stolen all the internal parts. I’m sure it makes for a great toy for the kiddies in the summer.

This area, though fairly new in France, was definitely worth the trip. I do recommend it and make sure you take the whole day. Even if you don’t make it to the beach, it’s a wonderful way to stroll along the Mediterranean and just enjoying being outdoors in a beautiful environment.

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

My Favorite View

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Sometimes I think it’s worth more than that. Especially from here. The Calanques that stretch between La Ciotat and Cassis has to be one of my favorite places to be. The view is both breathtaking and inspiring. I could stay all day. One of my first outings in France was here. I packed a lunch and my colleagues and I headed out to eat at, in my opinion, one of the best places for a view and picnic. It also happens to be free and you can stay as long as you like.

I can never get enough of this magnificent scenery. The color of the water is just amazing. So much so that it’s even hard to describe when my friends in The States ask me to. I can’t seem to find exactly the right words or description. I always end up telling them they just have to see it for themselves.

When I’m here, I feel so calm and tranquil. Something I have been lacking lately in my life!

I don’t hike here. I prefer to find a nice spot to rest and eat and just stare out at the water. Dude will testify that I would never leave if I didn’t have to.

Each time I go I remind myself that people come here on vacation, movies are filmed here, this is a place that only some will ever dream about seeing and never end up making it and I LIVE here. Gosh I’m so lucky. Being in this place helps me to remember that. Especially on those days when I’m feeling terrible and like nothing is ever going to go right.

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.

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.

%d bloggers like this: