The Maures: a green massif all year round
The Gulf of Saint-Tropez has an exceptional natural heritage which is part of its identity and contributes to the quality of the living environment. The Massif des Maures covers 135,000 hectares of hills, valleys, rivers, woodlands and artificial lakes. These nature areas are fragile, rare or under threat. They embrace a remarkable biodiversity, a variety of landscapes and valuable plant species, giving the impression that this environment in all its nuances remains green all year round.
Pines, cork oaks, chestnut trees, olive trees, strawberry trees, rock-roses, ferns, mimosa, brooms, heathers – it really is like a “miniature mountain” the name of which comes from Mauro meaning “sombre” in Provencal. This land, one of the oldest in Provence is also one of the best preserved. To go there is to fall in love, to observe, discover, feel and understand; and to want to protect it.
Well hidden: discreet but busy wildlife
The Massif des Maures is home to foxes, wild boar, deer, badgers, lizards, squirrels and the famous Hermann tortoise, the only species in France. Thousands of birds (the Petit-Duc owl, sparrows, blue rock thrushes, black-headed gulls, kestrels, seagulls, gannets, etc.) come here to nest; and then of course there is the distinctive, unforgettable sound of the cicadas in summer. So many species in such a closely defined area makes the Maures unique in France.
To get closer to this palette of sounds and colours, there are many guided outings you can do with the experts. For example you can go birdwatching with the LPO (Ligue de Protection des Oiseaux – bird protection society); or, armed with net, magnifying glass and map scrutinise the insect life (butterflies, caterpillars, beetles, spiders, dragonflies…), or admire the flowers (the heady scent of lavender, myrtle, culinary herbs like thyme, rosemary and oregano). You can even go into an apiary to experience the extraordinary social organisation of the bee. The Var forest has long been Man’s pharmacopoeia and larder.
For a walk...
A land of unforgettable trails
On foot at liberty
Happiness is when you first set out on a path and start walking; to rediscover man’s natural pace; to be in touch with the soil and feel the earth beneath your feet, the slope, and the fresh air in your lungs. It is to breathe deeply, approach and observe. So what can you see? Man came early to this region, and remains testifying to the fact are sometimes hard to find: Fort-Freinet (La Garde-Freinet), Briande Bay’s Dolmen (Ramatuelle), Gallo-Roman fishponds (Sainte-Maxime), the old Pardigon Villa (La Croix Valmer) – there are more.
The 50 marked trails maintained by the municipalities will never cease to surprise you. There is nothing to prevent you pausing by the wayside to peer into a living world among the grasses, around tree trunks and water courses. In the forest, the music is everywhere – just close your eyes and listen. Depending on the season keep your ears open for birdsong, animal noises, and the sound of trees and plants rustling in the wind.
With a good guide it’s instructive
To discover the hidden treasures of the Massif des Maures and this rugged coastline, you can sign up for a tour with a naturalist guide. Every year around 200 are offered for a symbolic fee, such as discovering the protected Cap Lardier, 350 hectares of outstanding nature: or the secrets of driftwood and the life of sand, or the maquis path and coastal plant life.
Unless you prefer creating your own portrait of a bird in a forest, imagine a large canvas stretched between two trees in a corner of nature. Before seizing your brushes, pens and colours, take time to look around you and be inspired - then take up your sketchbook.
After the winter rains, the colours change. Countless little streams appear, along with a wide variety of flora and fauna. Edible or medicinal plants, a fascinating world of small mammals, and life-giving pools and rivulets on the Maures plain, our territory is an endless source of inspiration for the guides who accompany you. Unless you follow them to see how they strip the trees in the cork capital or go on one of their nocturnal excursions to see the April Moon, the tawny nights will elude you.
And if you are looking for gold !
Over 300 million years ago, the Hercynian mountain-building movement as it formed led to the transformation of pre-existing rocks, trapping veins of minerals in the process. Over the millennia, these mountains were eroded down into the Massif des Maures as we see them today. Minerals were released and we can find them in the river beds and streams. If you know what you are doing, you may even stumble across some gold - a geological, biological and ecological meeting in our environment to seek the most precious element of all.
2 wheels 4 hoofs
Paradise on two wheels !
How can we forget the first cycle tracks of the legendary Roc d’Azur? The world’s most prestigious mountain bike challenge will remain forever associated with the trails that gave it life. Breathtaking scenery, up hills and down dales, with plenty of variety and 300 days of sunshine a year, if you are looking for a cyclist’s paradise this is it !
If you don’t want to lose yourself in the maze of trails that criss-cross our territory, famous riders from Tribe Sport Group and Pep’s Spirit, accustomed to roaming the globe with the best, offer a variety of guided hikes in this mecca for mountain bikers on legendary paths. And since we are talking cycling, it is difficult to overlook the superb road bike itineraries available, particularly out of season in the heart of grandiose scenery.
Here in the Gulf of Saint-Tropez and Massif des Maures one thing is for sure: hikers, riders or cyclists, whatever your mode of transport you are the true nature lovers.
On horseback is even better
The innovative Var “Équi’Découverte” equestrian network allows you to explore the Massif des Maures on horseback. Marked trails for riders of all levels, a network of suitable accommodation, riding centres, nature sites and cultural venues linked by itineraries are accessible to all – even by donkey, another member of the docile equine family. In fact it is in the hills around La Garde Freinet that you can hire a donkey to accompany you in all seasons for the various harvests, from Easter egg hunts to gathering figs or chestnuts.
Above the water
La Mole Dam
8 million cubic metres of water in a rural setting
Built in 18 months in 1991 and based on the “terrain” technique, the Verne or La Mole Dam supplies drinking water to people in the Massif des Maures and Gulf of Saint-Tropez. You may feel like you are in the mountains but it is only 10km to the seaside.
To get to this amazing body of water, there is a quick way, 500m of asphalt road on leaving La Mole village to the west, then a 3km stretch of wide dirt road. Stop before the main gate to the dam and continue on foot or bicycle. The site offers a remarkable view of the Massif des Maures.
There is another slower path (400m up and down on the Chemin des Moines), reserved for good walkers and mountain bikers: a circuit of just over 20km which leaves plenty of time to enjoy the scenery and contemplate an architectural holy treasure from the medieval era, La Chartreuse de la Verne. Founded in 1170 and consecrated in 1174, this first Roman church rapidly acquired 3,000 hectares of land (forests, pastures and cropland) thanks to numerous gifts and donations. In 1792, it was sold to the state. Proclaimed a historic national monument in 1921, it has been completely restored and today is home to a community of nuns living quietly surrounded by chestnut trees.
In this beautiful landscape where fishing, swimming and boating are forbidden, nature lovers will appreciate the tenants who have settled here with their families – grey herons and cormorants who feed off perch, cabot and chub. In autumn you can see migratory birds and in spring the freshwater turtles (cistudes) swim under the waterfalls. Don’t forget your camera!
The garden route
Three unusual gardens stand out in the Massif des Maures and bay of Saint-Tropez. The first two are on the east and west ends of the territory and the third one in the middle. Each merits a detour and special attention for their originality.
Jardin des Méditerranées
The emotional jolt one experiences at the Domaine du Rayol can be attributed to the extraordinary view it offers of this rocky side to the Maures, the horizon only interrupted by the Iles d'Or. The story begins in 1910, and involves a Paris businessman, an Art Nouveau style residence and an ornamental garden, then the famous aircraft manufacturer Henri Potez who held amazing parties; the brochure will tell you more! Now owned by the Conservatoire du Littoral to protect it from real estate speculation, the domain boasts 20 hectares of gardens designed by landscaper Gilles Clément to evoke the scenery and flora of regions with a Mediterranean type climate (Chile, California, South Africa, Australia, etc.). It is open 365 days a year (guided tours, discovering a marine garden, events, horticulture, concerts, library and a gardener’s café) - a remarkable garden.
L’Hardy-Denonain Botanical Garden
Beneath the ramparts of Place deï Barri, the slopes of Gassin accommodate the more intimate L’Hardy-Denonain garden : 2,500m2 of shady terraces that Marie-Thérèse L’Hardy, who was passionate about botany, cultivated with loving care. A family garden that has earned the label Jardin Remarquable, it has 600 species, all labelled and adapted to the Mediterranean climate, one of the few in the area where the cork oaks have a name. Everything is natural here; no automatic watering systems, no herbicides or pesticides. The plants are at liberty, as are the visitors - no entrance fee - and the two Hermann tortoises who roam this lush domain in the warm midday sunshine.
Parc Botanique des Myrtes
Departring from Sainte-Maxime in the direction of Grimaud, the Myrtes botanical garden is a home for 60 species of plants living on more than three hectares, an amazing variety of Mediterranean and exotic trees, including a fabulous collection of palms. There is so much to do here and points of interest: safe playgrounds for the kids, a small pond with water lilies and fish, a path of scented vegetation specially laid out for the visually impaired, and the possibility of guided visits for children age six and up: ideal for exploring en famille and only 30m from the beach.
Flower parades (Cavalaire, Sainte-Maxime)
Mimosa festival (Cavalaire, Sainte-Maxime)
Flower parade (Cogolin)
Mimosa festival (Cavalaire)
Spring festival (Rayol-Canadel-sur-Mer)
Paillas mountain bike descent (Gassin)
Four seasons festival (Domaine du Rayol)
Heather parade (Plan de la Tour)
Horse festival (Cogolin)
Rural festival (La Croix-Valmer)
Summer festival at Domaine du Rayol
Cork festival (Cavalaire)
Rencontre des Jardins, garden and outdoor furniture show, Pépinières Derbez (Gassin)
Var hiking week (everywhere)
Mountain bike races: La Balade du Coq (Cogolin)
Sustainable Development Forum (La Croix-Valmer)
Gondwana, la fête des Plantes Méditerranéennes (Domaine du Rayol)
Mountain bike descent from Roc d'Azur to Sainte-Maxime
Saint-Tropez Classic (walking race)
Winter festival (Domaine du Rayol)