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An Evening at Le Pradet

With summer upon us and the days in Provence becoming increasingly warm, we have opted to stay indoors during the mid-day to keep cool and venture out for our travels in the cooler evening hours. The bonus for us is that by the evening time most of the crowds and tourists have left and we get to enjoy the scenery with only a few others.

Last night our choice for an evening outing was to Le Pradet, a small village in the Var that is situated just next to the Mediterranean Sea.  The village has installed a nice walkway along the water that stretches for about one kilometer and they have also put in benches so one can take a rest and just gaze out at the ocean. There are two restaurants in close proximity to the walkway, one it L’essentiel and the other is Le Samana.

Continuing south you will find some hidden away stairs leading down to the rocky beach. Once on the beach you can head left and you will come upon a Sentir Littoral. This is one of the many located here in Provence and it is a nice path that follows the ridge along the water on which you can stroll. Last night we only encountered a hand full of people, but mostly we were the only ones enjoying the lovely view of the sea from this advantage point.

The end of the trail leads you down to the port where there are a few restaurants. We stopped in for an evening snack of crepes abricot and refreshing drinks.

After our “dessert before dinner” snack, we followed the trail back to the walkway with the benches and finished the night off by watching the sun set. A perfect end to a relaxing evening.

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.

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.

Chapelle Ste Philomene Puget-Ville

On Sunday, we took a road trip with no particular place in mind to go. Well, our travels took us to Ste Philomene near Puget-Ville in the Var. I had never heard of this place though it is an historical monument of the Var department. While traveling along the windy roads near Puget-Ville we ended up seeing a sign that simply read Ste. Philomene. We decided to follow it and see where it would take us.

About a mile down the road we came to a small parking area on a hill. Once parked, we descended towards a barrier and followed a sign saying “chapelle”. The dirt path takes you on a little tour of the trees and shrubs which happens to be the start of a botanical hike. Many of the trees and plants are labeled with their French and Latin names. Around 5 to 10 minutes later we came across an open field with a wooden statue of what seems to be a monk. Across the small field there is another sign reading “chapelle” which pointed us in the direction of a few steps and down a cobblestone path.

Once we made it to the bottom of the path, there was another statue of a cross, with Mary and Baby Jesus. Just across from this statue were some steps leading us up to the chapelle. At first it appeared that we weren’t going to be able to enter through the tiny gate, it seemed to have a lock on it, but then we found it to be not locked at all. We entered freely and stepped out onto a grand terrace with a small building just off to the side. The view of the valley was simply amazing from the terrace. The little building was locked up tight but I was still able to get my camera through the gate to snap some shots of the interior.

Leaving the terrace we headed left and down more steps. Here we found the main entrance of the chapelle. Unfortunately we could not enter as the main doors were locked. We made our way around the side of the chapelle and were greeted with views of the bell tower and side door. We also discovered that the second half of the building was now a private residence. What luck for those people living among the restored ruins of an 11th century chapelle!

We also discovered that you must have an appointment to see the interior so next time I am in the area I will be heading off to the office of tourism to make my appointment.

In searching for information on the history of the chapelle I was not able to find much even though it was first constructed in the 11th century. Apparently, it was first called Sancta Maria Descensa when constructed, then the name changed to Saint Jacques and then finally it was renamed in 1840 to Ste Pilomene.

It was originally built of stone and has three naves of equal length. It has a simple Romanesque style and is separated by arches and pillars. The original roof was replaced by the current terrace (the one where the view is extraordinary and on a clear day one can apparently see Toulon!)

The restoration began in 1837 and then was resumed in 1910. Though there have been periods when no work was done, it has been continuously worked on since the 1960’s thanks to volunteers, aid from the Beaux-Art school in Toulon and since 1978 by a society called the Friends of Old Puget.

After taking in the views and searching around the chapelle, we headed back up the cobblestone path and discovered that it leads to the rest of the botanical trail. On this day we decided not to continue the trail, but instead, we would go back with our appointment to visit the interior of the chapelle and do the botanical trail that day.

I would love a chance to speak to the owners of the place. I know I would enjoy hearing how they acquired such a great find and what it has been like to restore their part and be there while the chapelle is being restored. What a wonderful piece of history to be able to have. I definitely am looking forward to my next visit and perhaps I can discover more history about this place.

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.

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.

Flooded

With all the rain that has been happening in our region, we have had severe flooding and there have been families who have lost some of their belongings and even some of their animals. The Maire in our town sent out an email to everyone urging those who have had catastrophic losses to come by and make an application for assistance.

I firmly believe that within the next few weeks many more people will pass by the town Maire to make their applications.

I took some photos of what our town and the surrounding area looks like. By the way, the house with the flooded front yard is not ours, thank goodness. It is, however, just down the street from where our house is located. Also, I had to take the photos while driving since there was really no way to stop (it wouldn’t stop raining long enough and I didn’t want one of these crazy south of France drivers to run up on us cuz he was going 130 in the rain and could break fast enough!)

It doesn’t seem like we are out of the woods, yet. I saw today on line that the next four days we have no rain, but starting next Tuesday we are set to have another week’s worth.

So far, Dude and I have not been able to fix our roof or the plumbing so we are now going on more than a week with a leaky roof and by Friday it will have been a week since we have been able to use the bathroom. In order to get any work done we need a week or two of dry weather. Dude and I can only work so fast.

I have, yet, to hear from the insurance company. Someone was supposed to come and survey the damage by now. I suppose they have had a run on clients due to the weather. Also, the agent who sold us the house called a plumber to come out (2x), but we never heard from him. Typical customer service in France I would say. I know that plumbers in our region will be getting a ton of calls and we have to get in line, but sheesh I would have liked to at least gotten a call as acknowledgement.

In other news, last Monday, I attempted to call SFR to replace my Neufbox (cable box for those of you who aren’t in France and don’t know what a Neufbox is). So I was on the line for 1 hour with this tech guy who attempted to solve the problem when all I really needed is a new one cuz this thing was fried, I tell you. I was going around in circles with him cuz he kept trying to solve the unsolvable issue. Then after the ridiculous hour all he could tell me was that someone else would call me in 2 days. Thanks buddy.

On Wednesday when I hadn’t heard from SFR, I called them again. This time I got a guy who listened to me explain the issue then he said, “That’s not normal and SFR will give you a new cable box”. Yippey! That was all I had wanted in the first place. He said it should come straight to my house in about 5 working days. I hope he is right.

Even though I’m thrilled that I might be back in the real world soon with my new Neufbox, it still leaves us without phone, tv and internet until next week.

Tomorrow is a holiday in France so Dude and I will be working on the house, of course. We will attempt to do whatever we can. Not really feelin’ it, though. More unfinished projects is not what I really need right now. I am not sure if we can start on the plumbing issue ourselves or not and the roof is definitely out since there is not enough dry days and we can’t risk leaving it exposed.

I really hope that we do at least get some dry days. Aside from the havoc the rain has caused it also wears on the psyche not seeing the sun and blue sky for days. That only increases the depression you feel.

Well, I guess I better strap my work boots on and make the most of the next couple of days off.

Abbaye du Thoronet

On Saturday, we finally took a break from our nightmare remodel and went to visit the Abbaye du Thoronet. Last spring we had happened upon it, but it was towards the end of the day so we were too late to take the tour and told ourselves we would come back in the fall to see it.

Since the weather is still absolutely glorious here, we decided to take advantage and skip out on the job. The abbaye is located in the Var and in the Forêt de la Darboussière. There is ample parking just across the road to the entrance and it’s free (I like that). The general fee for entering the abbaye is 7€ for adults. They also offer group prices, school tour prices and some people even get free admission. Check their website for more details and hours as those do change according to the season and day. There is a self-guided tour, but you can also take advantage of a guided tour if you so choose. We chose to make the rounds ourselves. I would recommend allowing yourself about 2 hours to see everything. There’s a good deal of information on the guide and just as much photo opps as you can imagine.

When you pay for your ticket you will also receive a rather large pamphlet (and I mean by size cuz this is the biggest, laminated tour guide I’ve ever seen) to tell you the different areas of the abbaye and describe what they were used for. It was originally built in the 1100. Over the years it had fallen into serious disrepair and for the past 150 years the government has been working on restoring it. The buildings are gorgeous and the state has taken care to preserve it very nicely. The one area I would have liked to see the government fix up is a beautiful plot of land surrounded by a stone wall that used to be the monk’s vineyards. There are no longer any vineyards there and the land is overgrown with weeds. I hope in the future this is on the books to do since it would be a very nice place to take a stroll or rest after taking the tour.

Most of the buildings are intact and just beautiful. There are a few ruins towards the Lodge and some parts that look like they are in ruins, but I was not sure if that were true or if the monks simply ran out of money and didn’t finish. Unfortunately this was not explained in the rather large pamphlet and this area was also inaccessible to the public.  All rooms are empty with the exception of a building that houses a replica of the abbaye, a large press, an area to show original tile work and photos and explanations of the abbaye and the restoration that has gone on over the last 150 years. The main chapel has two statues and houses four alters. Concerts have taken place in the chapel (I assume it’s because the acoustics must be marvelous) so lightening and movable chairs are also in there. Other than that, it seems to be just like it was when it was occupied over the centuries by the monks. The most interesting fact to me was that there was only one, very small area in this entire abbaye where the monks were allowed to speak to each other. It was here that they would converse about who was to do what tasks for the day. I found that amazing! Every day they would live with their fellow monks and never a word to each other except for this tiny area. It must have been quite lonely for them.

There whole life was wrapped up in the work of God and providing food and money for themselves. They whole idea for them was a life of solitude, servitude and no material possessions. They made honey, wine and olive oil and I suppose they sold these for money to keep the abbaye going. In the end, before it was abandoned, but already had fallen into disrepair, there were only seven monks left. There was no explanation on what happened to these seven monks. Once they were gone, the abbaye was left to ruin until the state started to make repairs.

It’s a lovely and peaceful place to visit and I do highly recommend it. It’s great to see the government of France take hold of places like this and restore them so the public can enjoy seeing and learning about the history. This is definitely on my list of “return to” places when our family and friends come to visit.

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

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