Villages & Stations

Cavalaire-sur-Mer

Gassin

Built on a steep hill, Gassin offers an exceptional 360o view of the Maures, the Gulf of Saint-Tropez and the Iles d’Or, stretching away across a picturesque landscape of vineyards and forests.

A renowned medieval village

At an altitude of 200 metres, Gassin belongs to the exclusive Plus Beaux Villages de France club. A bell tower, town hall, post office and picturesque shops create the postcard image of a charming Provencal village. Yet Gassin has that extra soul that makes poets of us all, like the narrow cobbled streets, androuno in Provencal, serpentine porches, the stone facades of houses awash with bougainvillea, plumbago and Virginia creeper, all clustered round the church as if they don’t want to slip down the slope. Then there’s Place deï Barri, a superb balcony with famous restaurants, hundred-year-old Mediterranean hackberry trees, and below the intimate Hardy-Denonain botanical garden that watches over the Blessed Marie-Thérèse, with only a couple of Hermann tortoises as gardeners; here the Lys are black…

Outstanding vineyards

Gassin has remained faithful to its viticulture. Seven vineyards protected by the nearby hills flourish on the plain or on the slopes, caressed by the soft southern light. These are ideal conditions for producing the grand crus of Côtes de Provence. The high point, the Route des Vins (wine route), is an opportunity to discover the history of these estates, before sampling their delicious wines.

The prestigious Haras Polo Club

On the road crossing the Bourrian, just after the Maison des Confitures, an impressive gateway opens into the Polo Club and magnificent grounds of Haras. Far from being an elitist club, this lovely venue is the scene of top level international tournaments that are open to the public, as well as prestigious private events. A polo school and equestrian centre initiate people into the art of this “Sport of Kings”.

A superb panoramic view

From the orientation tableau, the azure blue sea stretches out over 240 of the 360o: you are definitely on a peninsula! It contrasts with shades of green in the vineyards, forest and Massif des Maures hills spread out over the remaining 120o, dotted with splashes of ochre-red tiles in the surrounding villages. In the distance, the legendary coastal road links the Gassin/Cogolin Marines marina to Saint-Tropez, with the sailing school and its catamarans beached on the shore under the quaint name “La Moune”.

A little history

The first known mention of Gassin dates back to 1190. The name, written Garcin or Gassin, is that of a person. In the early 14th century, there were around a thousand people living in his seigniory. His land covered a bigger area than it does today having been nearly 6,500 hectares, reduced in 1929 by the detachment of Cavalaire-sur-Mer and again in 1934 by that of La Croix Valmer. The village was once enclosed by ramparts, barri in Provencal, which were used on occasions to build houses; remains of it can still be seen today. Gassin as a territory struggled to prosper due to lack of practical roads. Its development in the 19th century came from the plain, construction of carriageways and the railway.

The musts

In the village, alleyways, cobbled streets, calades and archways; Rue de la Tasco, the highest in the village; Androuno, the narrowest (one person at a time!); Rue Rompe Cul, the steepest; Porte des Sarrasins (a portcullis is called a sarrasine); the bell tower (1558); and the Roman chapel Notre-Dame de Consolation. On the slopes of Gassin: the Hardy-Denonain botanical garden. On the plain, the AOC Côtes de Provence or Vins de pays wine estates (Château Barbeyrolles, Château de Chausse, Château Minuty, Domaine Bertaud Belieu, Domaine du Bourrian, Domaine Moulin Brulat, Domaine du Pin Pinon, Domaine de la Rouillère and Domaine Tropez Béraud), all Master wine-makers on the Saint-Tropez peninsula

Panoramas

The village is a panorama! Orientation tableau at Saint-Joseph: unique view of surrounding districts to the Estérel and as far as the Alps. Place deï Barri: view over the bay of Cavalaire and the Iles d'Or. Many viewpoints from the alleyways and passages; chapel of Consolation for a Massif des Maures immersion; Moulins de Paillas for a panoramic view from an altitude of 325m

A stroll through the village

From the orientation tableau, follow the Promenade deï Barri tracing the line of the ancient ramparts (old Mediterranean hackberry trees); at the end, a panorama of the Hyères islands. Benedictines passage, Notre-Dame de l'Assomption church. Passage du Gué, Sarrazins gate, Rue Centrale, a pretty porch before the oldest part, the town hall (1584). Rue du Puits. Rue du Moulin (olive mill) and Androuno. Rue de la Treille, Rue du Troubadour Rollet de Garcin, Rue du Rompe Cuou, Rue Longue, Passage des Templiers… Free guided tours every Wednesday April to October

Grimaud

Flowers, stone, water… there is a sense of total harmony and completeness here. Grimaud combines all of the South of France’s finest attractions: a stroll round a medieval village, a castle, a windmill, vineyards, beaches, and that rare pearl - the waterfront town of Port Grimaud.

A village blessed by the gods

The heart of this beautifully restored perched village has retained all its authentic character: cobbled streets, vaulted arches, bright pastel shutters on windows decorated with flowers, and splashes of bougainvillea. A tour of the village is a must to explore the churches and chapels that mirror a rich history, also found in the Musée des Arts et Traditions Populaires (ATP). The feudal castle, Château du Grimaud, on the hilltop guarded access to a territory (now the Gulf of Saint-Tropez) called “Le Freinet” from The Middle Ages to the French Revolution. The view from the top is unforgettable. After pausing for refreshment in a village restaurant, rendezvous at the Saint-Roch windmill, before strolling down to the ancient Pont des Fées (“fairies’ bridge”) to make a wish – remembering of course to keep it a secret !

The waterfront town of Port Grimaud

It is impossible not to fall immediately under the spell of Port Grimaud, created in 1966 out of the imagination of a visionary architect, François Spoerry. Strolling along the quays, you will be entranced by the two thousand fishermen’s houses topped with Roman tiles, their boats moored outside, and Venetian bridges linking small islands with their colonnades, retro street lights and bowls of flowers. Covering 90 hectares, this town on the waterfront with its labyrinth of canals is best viewed by boat – although you may need a map! When you add in the view from the modern church, the lively terraces, two weekly markets and all the water sports on offer from a large beach, you can appreciate why this exceptional place enjoys such an international reputation.

A celebration of culture

In the village streets up to the balconies of the castle, there is something on all year round. Be it in one of the many galleries lining the streets, contemporary art, painting and sculpture exhibitions, musical evenings, local traditions being celebrated, culinary gatherings like the truffle festival, or the Festival de Musiques du Monde des Grimaldines, Grimaud’s cultural vocation is to highlight its rich historical heritage.

A benevolent nature

Nature is all around you in a dazzling range of colours. From cork oak forests to fine sandy beaches, renowned vineyards to protected coves, from the massif to the sea linked by the plain and rivers, Grimaud offers a range of recreational activities. And for the contemplative souls among you, take time out to watch the daily metamorphosis of light, that red-pink-orange explosion in the sky at sunset.

A little history

Grimaud has a long history dating back to the Neolithic period. In the 11th century, its steep-sided location attracted the attention of the strategists. In 1058, a cartulary mentions the name “Grimaldo”, so nothing to do with the Grimaldi family of Monaco (11th century). Its location on the Gulf of Saint-Tropez allowed them to control access from the north and the Massif des Maures from an early defensive occupation. During the 12th and 13th century, the Counts of Provence were lords of Le Freinet, and life revolved around agriculture. Until the 17th century, the castle was in control of the gulf, known in those days as “Golfe de Grimaud”.

The musts

Medieval castle (historic monument); the façade of a Templars house; chapels (Saint-Roch, Pénitents blancs & Notre-Dame de la Queste on the plain); church (Saint-Michel) and wayside shrines scattered over the area; the Saint-Roch windmill; ATP museum (exhibitions all year); and pedestrian streets (mullioned windows, doors framed in black lava or serpentine…), art galleries and Le Jas des Roberts (flea market: Sunday mornings). Port Grimaud (Petit Train tourist train: one hour circuit, April to October)

Panoramas

Château de Grimaud: view of village, Gulf of Saint-Tropez and the Maures. The Pont des fées footpath. Grimaud windmill: fabulous view of the Maures and the plain. Town hall esplanade. At Port Grimaud: ecumenical church of Saint François (view of Port Grimaud and the bay of Saint-Tropez from the top)

A stroll in the village

From the Tourist Office, take the lift to Place Neuve and the statuesque fountain celebrating the arrival of water pumped up from the plain. Head for Place Vieille and take Rue des Meuniers, then Rue des Templiers. From Saint-Michel church walk to the castle via Rue du Balladou. Descend via the chemin fléché, then Rue de la Treille and Rue du Baou. Chapelle des Pénitents, Rue de la Pompe (an old well). Walk up Rue du Gacharel and come back down under the porch to Place Neuve, visit the museum and return to your point of departure (circuit available at the Tourist Office)

La Croix Valmer

Discreet coves, long sandy beaches, vineyards down to the sea and protected headlands: La Croix Valmer offers an anthology of stunning landscapes and a proven commitment to protect the diversity of its environment for future generations.

A paradise preserved

It is hard not to fall under the spell of this outstanding resort which slopes gently down to the sea. From the heights, the magnificent view covers the Maures and Estérel hills. In the woods, umbrella pines, mimosa trees, cork oaks and heathers provide a haven for protected species, (kestrels, the eastern bluebird, black-headed gulls…). Below, the coastline alternates between sandy beaches cradled in turquoise blue waters (Débarquement, Sylvabelle, Gigaro, Baie de Briande…) and rocky coastal roads harbouring protected coves (Vergeron, les Brouis…). The two jewels in this crown are Cap Larder and Cap Taillat, accessed via the customs path. The Conservatoire du Littoral ensures these marvels are preserved to rival any international tourist destination.

Quality of life

Amazingly peaceful, away from the hustle and bustle, La Croix Valmer advocates quality of life for both its residents and visitors. The first Var commune to commit to sustainable development through Agenda 21, and boasting numerous labels (for the quality of its water, Blue Flag, tourism resort…), this destination pursues excellence to showcase a site where the environment is totally protected. The range of services are coupled with popular recreational activities - renowned dive sites, sailing, kayaking, beach volleyball, hiking trails on land or underwater. The invitation to relax is here all year round, with on the horizon the Port Cros National Park and Ile du Levant, accessible by boat from the Débarquement pontoon.

Wine tourism and walking through time

A walk from the village to the sea is often through sun-drenched vineyards; the terroir of wine-producers passionate about their craft and proud to introduce you to excellent wines in their cellars, fruit of a mild climate all year round. More unusual, La Croix Valmer reveals an architectural heritage of great beauty, fabulous Belle Époque villas and hotels from the 19th century, but also many traces of a more distant past, including the Pardigon Roman ruins, the Napoleonic batteries at Lardier or the Provencal Landings’ site.

A village with an ear for music

Apart from the Provencal markets and nightlife, the children’s shows and entertainment which are on all year round, in summer the family-oriented life of the village is lulled by the melodious harmonies of the Nocturnes Croisiennes or Festival des Anches d’Azur. These take place in the Forum Constantin, in a friendly cheerful atmosphere that is so characteristic of the welcome you can expect in La Croix Valmer.

A little history

The village owes its development to a winery (Domaine de la Croix) founded by silk industrialists from Lyon in 1882. The village, which was to be called La Croix, La Croix de Cavalaire then La Croix des Mimosas, became autonomous in 1929 and adopted the name La Croix Valmer in 1934. “La Croix” comes from a legend claiming that the Roman Emperor Constantine, on route to Rome in 312 to eliminate Maxentius, one of his rivals, saw a vision in the sky of a cross with the words In Hoc Signo Vinces (by this sign you will conquer). The resort’s appeal as a tourist destination took off in the 1950s.

The musts

In the village, the cross of Constantine the Great (1893), residential villas in the flared-style architecture of the last century; a weekly market; vineyards (Domaine de Chausse, Domaine de la Madrague, Domaine de la Sultanine and Domaine de la Croix). On the hill, “la maison des pères Saint-Esprit” (first historic hotel); glazed tiled roofs of neighbouring houses; the very picturesque, tree-lined road to Ramatuelle; walking the three headlands in an area of natural beauty covering 350 hectares. The beaches (Débarquement, Sylvabelle, Héraclée, Gigaro, Bastide-Blanche...); ruins of the Pardigon Roman villas, and Napoleonic batteries at Lardier

Panoramas

Route de la Corniche des Crêtes: residential district on the edge of the Maures’ forest. View point for the Gulf of Saint-Tropez and across Cavalaire bay, and down the Mole Valley if you go a little higher. In these woods, the ruins of Peinier farm (group of 18th century houses called “Ménages”) near where a river emerges! Route du Col (between La Croix Valmer and Ramatuelle): panoramic view of the Iles d'Or and Gulf of Saint-Tropez. All coastal paths linking the three headlands offer sublime views

A stroll in the countryside

After visitng the village, take the car to the Gigaro beaches via Boulevard Tabarin. From the car park you can walk. Direction: Cap Lardier and Cap Taillat. The coastal path (marked in yellow) runs by the sea between dark mottled shale rocks and light sandy beaches. You reach Andati point by Brouis cove to find 300 hectares of aromatic bush and pine warblers, a little gem in one of the last gardens of Eden in the Var: honey-scented undergrowth, Aleppo and parasol pines, mimosa forest, rock-roses, tall heathers, prickly brooms and wild lavender. In winter look out for cormorants, gannets and swallows; in summer millions of cicadas: welcome to Provence by the sea !

La Garde-Freinet

Whether you arrive from the Luc plain or the coast, a winding road will take you to La Garde-Freinet in the heart of the Massif des Maures: a Provencal village as discreet as it is picturesque and the starting point for many an unforgettable walk. Jeanne Moreau chose to live here and turned the spotlight on its charms.

A Provencal village

The charm of La Garde-Freinet lies in the patina of time passed, like the houses of uneven stone and red tiled roofs which leave the valley and end up clinging to the hillside. You need to cross this maze of sloping streets, past ivy-covered houses, and to take narrow passages sometimes carved out of the rock, to discover a church or chapel, an old wash-house or spring water fountain. The village seems to have escaped the ravages of time; on the terraces of café-restaurants the days drift by peacefully for the occupants, waiting for the inevitable game of pétanque. On Sundays and Wednesdays the pedestrianized road hosts a Provencal market. Here the brand that goes into your basket is “made in…” with vegetables from neighbouring gardens, walnut bread from the bakery at the end of the street and crème de marron still turned by hand. In October, gourmets come from far and wide for the Fêtes de la Châtaigne to sample the marrons glacés, hot chestnuts, chestnut chip ice cream and other delicacies.

Discover a heritage

Outside this festive period and that of the Bravade in May, the village’s tranquil appearance hides a lively cultural scene that revolves around art galleries, intimate concerts and local craftsmen skilled in the trades of their ancestors and showcasing a rich heritage. If you still need convincing, just pop into the chapel of Saint-Jean, a national monument belonging to the Conservatoire du Patrimoine (heritage museum). We can tell you about Fort-Freinet, one of the village’s early settlements perched on a rocky outcrop in the medieval period, the chapels of Saint-Clément and Miremer, or the history of cork, basketwork, beekeeping and even silkworms.

La Garde-Freinet - the nature resort

La Garde-Freinet is the starting point for many walks, mountain bike trails and horse rides, with or without guide, which allow you to immerse yourself completely in the Massif des Maures. You get a better idea of the vastness of this green ocean from the orientation tableau overlooking the village, near a giant cross: from the Maures plain to Notre-Dame de Miremer, Plan de la Tour to Collobrières, Nature in all her glory and infinite shades of green lies before you. But it’s not all green, especially if you take the Route des Crêtes, one of the most beautiful in the Var where you will discover the only stretch of white, a sparkling vein of quartz emerging from the shale: Les Roches Blanches. Welcome to the Massif des Maures, a kingdom of infinite panoramas.

A little history

In the 10th century, there were three areas of settlement on land that is now La Garde-Freinet: Miremer hill, then called Miramar, around Saint-Clément chapel and lastly near the hamlet of Moure in the Ville-Vieille. At the end of the 12th century, for reasons unknown, these people moved up to live on Fort-Freinet hill. This majestic, impressive site reveals the remains of dwellings and a wide moat cut into the rock. For centuries it was mistakenly believed to have been a hideout of the Saracens who were in Provence in the 10th century. From the end of the 13th century, the inhabitants gradually moved down to a route linking the Maures plain to the Gulf of Saint-Tropez, on the site of the village now called La Garde.

The musts

Fort-Freinet (a fabulous listed site with moat cut into the rock); Saint-Clément Chapel (revisited by Italian sculptor Di Teana in the sixties); Saint-Clément church - In the village: the picturesque streets and alleyways, old houses, weekly Provencal market, Place du Marché and bandstand (site of former fish market), beautiful fountains and old wash-houses, art galleries, Conservatoire du Patrimoine (heritage museum with permanent and temporary exhibitions, including model of the original Fort-Freinet), Saint Jean des Pénitents chapel (exhibition space) - Outside: hiking trails; and the Roches Blanches (white rocks)

Panoramas

Fort-Freinet: amazing look-out at an altitude of 450m, with panoramic view of the whole of the Mediterranean side of the Maures, the Argens plain and Provence Alps. La Croix des Maures: large cross above Fort-Freinet, with panorama and plunging view of the village. Les Roches Blanches: the highest point in the municipality at 638m: incredible scenery and view

A stroll in the village

From the Point Infos, cross Place de l’Hôtel de Ville, follow Rue de l’Ormeau to reach Place du Marché and bandstand (1872), once home to a fish market. On the right: a wash-house (1812) and further on Place de la Vieille Fontaine. Head for Rue de la Vieille Caserne, then Place de la Vieille Mairie and the prison. Cross Place de l’Amour towards Rue St Joseph to find the old threshing area (Aire de Battage); keep on up to Aire de la Planète, starting point for hiking trails to the big cross and Fort-Freinet. Return to St Clément church built early 15th century (bell tower); from Place du Baou to Place Vieille

La Mole

On the edge of the Dom forest, time seems to stand still in La Mole valley which blooms to nature’s rhythms. The starting point for many a long walk, the village does however have a few carefully guarded secrets to unveil…

An identity worth preserving

La Mole may cultivate the tranquillity of a small Provencal village surrounded by nature, yet it defends this advantage with passion, loudly proclaiming its autonomy. For although La Mole is often described as a gateway to the Gulf of Saint-Tropez’ south-west, it really belongs to the Massif des Maures. An aerial view of the village, all but submerged in its beautiful green setting, only serves to confirm this assertion. The soul of this municipality is to be found in the motto engraved beneath the sundial of its magnificent little church: souviens-toi de vivre (remember to live). The original village and excellent restaurants have seen its population triple over the last few years with a successful extension, but that’s as far as it goes. Nobody will encroach upon the forest path that leads to the discreet Sainte-Magdeleine chapel. And nothing may disturb the river as it wends its way between vines and roses: in La Mole nature reigns supreme.

An unforgettable panorama over a sea of green

At the other end of the village, a remarkable chateau is proud to have seen Antoine de Saint-Exupéry grow up, the man who described these scenes with such joy in The Little Prince. From now on, it is up to Patrice de Colmont (owner of Club 55) who wishes to transform the place into experimental agricultural pole of the sustainable development and the center of international conference dedicated to this theme. Just opposite is an airstrip cut off by the stream which gives the village its name. Follow the bridge spanning a small road that crosses a beautiful plain, scene of the annual sheep and goats’ transhumance migration into the hills, to the Niagara water park and slides amidst the pines, before it winds its way up to the Col du Canadel (pass). We hesitate to mention the breath-taking sea view in order to draw attention away from the village. We turn instead to gaze on this extraordinary valley, its road lined with renowned vineyards; to follow the sheep drovers’ paths to the peaks and wild mountain streams; and to breathe in the aromas of humus, mushrooms and eucalyptus in a forest where horses run free. In the distance a splash of silver-blue emerges in this sea of green.

From the Verne Dam to the silence of the Chartreuse

An oasis in the Massif des Maures hills, this is the Verne dam (built in 1991 of earth, clay and mica schist – height 42m, length of wall 235m – run by SIDECM). A large body of water fed by the Verne, a tributary of La Mole River, the dam is home to families of grey herons and cormorants, migratory birds in autumn and turtles in springtime who swim in the waterfalls watched by wild boars and foxes who come here to drink. You could be in the Alps. It is this site which provides fresh water to the salty communes of the Gulf. Although swimming and boating is not allowed, the path along the left bank leads hikers and mountain-bikers to the impressive Chartreuse de La Verne monastery (Carthusian), an historic national monument dating back to 1170 which has been immaculately restored by people who love this site. Fifteen nuns who have taken a vow of silence live in peace in this timeless place. Yes, La Mole keeps quiet about so many of its secrets !

A little history

The first mention of La Mole as a territory dates back to 1008 in a cartulary charter from the Benedictine Saint-Victor of Marseille Abbey. The medieval village of Sainte-Madeleine was established to the west of the Maravieille plateau on a rocky basalt outcrop. From the end of the 12th century La Mole was partially included in the Chartreuse de La Verne abbey estate, founded in 1170. By the end of the 14th century the area was deserted. Several centuries later an attempt to repopulate it failed and it remained classified as uninhabited until the 1800s. In 1770, the seigniory of La Mole was acquired by Emmanuel de Boyer de Fonscolombe, a knight and King’s advisor in the Provence Parliament to Joseph-Jean-Baptiste de Suffren, marquis of Saint-Tropez and brother of the famous Bailli. The village as you see it today took shape during the 19th century.

The musts

La Mole chapel (private) where the De Fonscolombe barons and family members were laid to rest, notably Marie, mother of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry; La Mole’s parish church (19th) in the village centre; Sainte-Magdeleine church (11th) up on the hill – the castra and chapel are listed as regional heritage sites; the chateau (1km, direction Cogolin, a private estate visible from the road)

Panorama

The Verne dam and road up to the Verne monastery; Col de Canadel (267m) and the winding road up to a stunning view of Cavalaire bay and the Iles d’Or above Rayol-Canadel; Les Pradels (528m) for a panorama of the coast and the Maures coastal road with orientation table

A stroll in the area

From Place de l’Eglise take the tarmac road to the left of the building. The road runs through a valley under cultivation. After 2.3km on a right-hand bend, turn left onto a path through a field. At the first fire hydrant, turn right and walk along the left bank of the river Verne. Continue straight on and at the end (closed gate in front of you), leave the ford on the left. Again on the left, go up a long furrowed trail like a gully. You reach a tarmac road. 50m along on the right you will see the dam. Go beyond the iron gate. You can continue as far as the Chartreuse de la Verne (follow the shady trail reached by a surfaced path: 3km of uphill walking) or return to La Mole via the direct route (earth/tarmac), which arrives at the dam gate

Rayol-Canadel-sur-Mer

Imagine the Massif des Maures plunging into the crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean; between the two, having taken root on the coastal road and happy to enjoy this sublime view, a charming village with extraordinary gardens. There is such a paradise; allow us to introduce you.

A strip of land balanced between sea and sky

The Route du Mimosa snakes along the side of the hill, winding its way for several kilometres through a landscape of infinite beauty. We have just passed the Foncin white house perched on a hill, when the Maures’ coastal road begins above the old Provence railway line: a portfolio of images which will remain forever etched in your memory. Below, a succession of pristine coves and strips of sand delight those who love swimming and water sports. Their names are evocative: pointe du figuier (fig tree point), anse du petit port (little port cove), and the beaches of Rayol, Canadel and Pramousquier stretching as far as the sheer cliff face of Cap Nègre. Here the clear blue water is enhanced by thousands of mica particles that reflect the sun’s rays, making the sea sparkle more than usual.

A health and seaside resort that takes you by surprise

This small village has many treasures to reveal. The monumental shale stairway begins by the sea and takes you way above the Patec Pergola to the flag, the highest point in the municipality and symbol of freedom. Both are listed as regional heritage sites for their original architecture and breath-taking views. The church and chapel, on the edges of the village, are also worth a detour; the first for its unusual exterior and the second for its colourful interior, as well as the magnificent 19th century villas and the pretty little harbour of Canadel. As for recreation and restaurants, will you have time to discover them all ?

Jardin des Méditerranées

The resort’s reputation is intimately linked to that of the “Jardin des Méditerranées”, as the landscaping à la Renoir is among the most beautiful on the Côte d’Azur. Make a journey in the open air through several hectares of plant species from five continents, suited to a Mediterranean climate: from Australian acacias to the agaves of Mexico, bamboos from Asia to New Zealand flax, palm trees from Chile to the carob trees of the Mediterranean – a guided tour is a must. And then there is the fascinating history behind the Domaine du Rayol, the creative workshops, guided tour, snorkelling in summer to explore the underwater fauna and flora, the gardener’s organic coffee break. Look around you, breathe in the scents and dream on! This is a real Garden of Eden; how can one bear to be away from it ?

From the pass a 360° panorama that takes your breath away !

From the top! In fact it’s impossible to imagine the surroundings without taking the twisty road up to the top of Col du Canadel, amidst the oaks, broom and strawberry trees which thrive even in the brown rocky terrain. At the top of the pass, a fabulous view described on the orientation table awaits you with the Hyères islands as the backdrop. “He who comes here one day, always returns” is the motto inscribed in gold on the municipality’s crest.

A little history

Until the 18th century, there was nothing: a wild coast impossible to access. And yet how beautiful. The arrival of the railway (1885) sowed the seeds for tourism in this region. It comprises five districts (Les Pierrugues, Dattier, Fenouillet, Rayol and Canadel) spread across 300 hectares. The “Terre de France” company was responsible for significant infrastructure work in the Rayol district: 35km of road, the village, stairs, gardens, hotels, the Patec Pergola, a jetty, etc. – the goal being to create a luxury estate. This district, created as an extension to La Mole (1925), became a health and seaside resort before attaining its independence in 1949 under the name Rayol-Canadel-sur-Mer. Two memorials serve as a reminder that Canadel beach was the scene of the Provence Landings on 15 August 1944 at midnight.

The musts

Coves, beaches, the underwater trail and endless walks on the old Provence railway line; the Domaine du Rayol for its fascinating history, its acquisition and resurrection thanks to the Conservatoire du Littoral; the Patec Pergola and its monumental steps, the memorials to the Africa Commandos buried in the national necropolis; the commemorative plaque to Sir Henry Royce (who stayed here from 1911 to 1931); Canadel’s chapel and Rayol’s church

Panoramas

The Patec Pergola to realise that blue is a natural colour and not one dreamt up by a painter’s imagination! The Col du Canadel (pass): close your eyes as you face the bay then open them suddenly! To prolong the enjoyment, take a hike along the Route des Crêtes, either towards Bormes or Cavalaire (when the route is open): a long tracking shot over a deep blue sea

A stroll in the village

From the Tourist Office, head for Avenue Mistral. Climb as far as the church. Reach the Patec Pergola and take the path to the monumental stairway. Go down as far as the road, cross it and pick up the stairs again, until you meet the earth road (former railway line). Go under the iron bridge and continue to Avenue des Belges. Pass in front of the Domaine du Rayol (Jardin des Méditerranées), take Avenue Rigaud to the junction, Avenue des Américains to the hotel “Le Bailli de Suffren”. Go back up the stairs to Jean Aicard Square; return on Avenue Capitaine Thorel

Le Plan de la Tour

Placed by a Divine hand into an amphitheatre of hills covered in trees and flowers, this remarkable village is surrounded by vineyards and blooms like a flower in the heart of the Massif des Maures. But don’t be fooled - one hamlet hides many others…

“Benvengudo au Plan de la Tourre”

From the Gulf of Saint-Tropez, a narrow road winds up through the cork oaks before swooping down to a plain and vineyards where the village has taken root. Acutely aware of the riches of its terroir, this typical and very lively Provencal municipality looks to the future and is determined to maintain its exceptional lifestyle in the heart of the Massif des Maures, a stone’s throw from the sea. At first glance, this small town does not seem very big until you walk round the alleys discovering the church’s campanile, fountains, the presbytery and wells of yesteryear. Beneath the plane trees in Place Foch, a Provencal market adds a lively splash of colour on Thursdays, and shops are open every day including Sundays. You can absorb the ambiance at Quatre Chemins where locals sit in the sun swapping tall stories! And yet you are far from having made the “tour” of this unusual municipality.

No less than 25 hamlets !

Plan de la Tour is not a mere visit; it’s a journey of discovery. Extending across quite a large area, the district boasts a unique feature for this region - 25 tiny hamlets scattered across the deceptively steep-sided hills. Each has its own character and way of life and it is always a joy to venture out in any season to seek out the pearls in this treasure trove of place names: Les Brugassières (where the heather grows), Préconil, Vallaury, Vernet (where the alder tree grows), Prat Bourdin or Revest where the horses run free. It is not uncommon on the many forest trails to come face to face with a buzzard or the elusive fox, or to be accompanied by a donkey on your walk. Dotted about are numerous traces of the past dating back to prehistoric times.

Wild nature: land of discovery

Would you like a preview? The Gorgues path is an easy walk accessible to all and gives you a taste of all that the commune has to offer: for example its vineyard, hamlets and two menhirs standing proud at a bend in the stream. Everywhere there are footpaths criss-crossing the landscape, beckoning you to follow them. You can climb from the plain to the top of one of the many hills. You get a better idea of this world apart from San Peïre, at an altitude of 416m: a paradise for hiking, mountain biking, horse riding or meditation… each to his own form of transport !

Traditions celebrated all year round

Traditional festivals mark the eternal rhythm of the seasons; in March Corso floats covered in white heather, at the end of April plants and olive oil, in May Saint-Pons blesses animals and all things agricultural, and in the summer months evening markets, dances and the Festival dans les Vignes performances. In September, when the grapes have already ripened on the vine, it’s the turn of the Vigne à l’Époque Romaine to be celebrated. The mulled wine festival heralds Christmas as the hamlets put up their lights and prepare for the lantern parade and famous Grande Veillée when all the locals gather around the cacho fue.

A little history

The village of Plan de la Tour was created in 1792 as a break-away settlement of the eastern side of La Garde Freinet. The biggest hamlet at the time was Saint-Martin. In 1835, it grew to cover more than a thousand hectares of the western part of Sainte-Maxime. Man has been leaving tracks since the Neolithic era in the menhirs (see the Gorgues circuit) and dolmens. In the Middle Ages, the various seigniories that made up the region belonged in turn to viscounts from Marseille, the Saint-Victor abbey, monks from the Lérins islands and in the 13th century to the Cistercians from Thoronet Abbey. The 25 hamlets in the municipality today represent the final phase of the re-conquest of the territory in the 16th century by the Thoronet monks.

The musts

Saint-Martin church and its remarkable campanile, including the old presbytery, now partly divided into artists’ studios and for exhibitions. The restored old districts with cobbled streets; Saint-Pierre chapel and its large fig tree growing out of the stones; the 25 hamlets that make up the municipality; the Prat Bourdin menhir

Panorama

The little hamlet of Forge offers a delightful view of the village, vineyard and circle of hills that surround it. And the road as it swings round from one hillside to another offers some very characteristic images of the wild, often sparsely inhabited Maures hills

A stroll in the village

From the Tourist Office walk down to Place Foch as far as Place de l’Oranger then take Rue Saint-Martin as far as the site of the old wells. Pick up Rue Pasteur and stroll round the back streets leading up to Place Clemenceau where the Mediterranean hackberry trees provide much needed shade to the church. Visit the open exhibition in the former presbytery before going through the porch to Rue de l’Horloge for a great view of the church’s campanile. Return via Avenue du Général Leclerc as far as Foyer des Campagnes. For a longer stroll, explore the cobbled streets of the Emponse district several hundred metres on the right.

Ramatuelle

Coiled on a hillside surrounded by stunning scenery, Ramatuelle village looks out over vineyards sloping down to Pampelonne beach. To the south, pine forests border pristine headlands of timeless beauty to complete the backdrop to this slice of Provence on the Côte d’Azur.

Discreet on the hill

Ramatuelle is a village apart, cradled by nature. Its characteristic spiral shape seems to have been protecting it forever from the chaos of the outside world. As you enter the medieval heart of the village, the cobbled streets curve round as if to imitate the stronghold of a bygone era coiled around its chateau. Jasmine, bougainvillea and honeysuckle are nearly everywhere in this village, where the view stretches away to the sea or up to the hills and windmills of the Paillas mill. On Thursdays and Sundays Place de l’Ormeau and its charmingly authentic café comes alive with a colourful Provencal market. The attractive stone houses open their pastel shutters onto covered stalls of local crafts, produce and fine art galleries - enough to survive should the Barbary pirates return !

An incomparable coastline

It is hard to imagine so many wonderful sights so close together! First a real gem, just 20 minutes on the coastal path from the picturesque Escalet coves, Cap Taillat which is a listed site protected by the Conservatoire du Littoral. Then a little detour of 100m via the Briande dolmen, proof that humans were here in Neolithic times, before the path to the Camarat lighthouse opposite bird island, home to colonies of gulls and cormorants. Then we have Bonne Terrasse bay, the final rampart before the legendary four-kilometres of sand that is Pampelonne. And what a beach! Forget the movie images with Brigitte Bardot or Louis de Funes, this nature area is one of the most beautiful beaches in Europe: a paradise for those who just want to laze on the sand or in the water. It is an economic force for the town with 25 beach establishments, all with the same history yet each with their own identity. And finally, how can we describe the infinite blue horizons that fulfil our dreams of the sea.

A land of festivals and entertainment

Ramatuelle is the inner sanctum of numerous artists; we know for example that Gérard Philipe lived here. In 1985 the Brialy Festival was launched, named after its instigator Jean-Claude Brialy. Now called Festival de Théâtre et Variété, it welcomes artists who attract thousands of loyal fans every summer. The same goes for the Jazz Festival, film shows and world or classic music soirées. From April to October, the balmy days and nights have something new to offer: exhibitions, evening markets, concerts, nature walks or children’s games – nobody is forgotten, not even the scarecrows which come out in June! In every corner, this exemplary village manages to reconcile excellent events with an enviable quality of life and strong community spirit.

A little history

The Ramatuelle area has been inhabited by Man since Prehistoric times, as the carved flints, polished axes and pottery fragments unearthed by the archaeologists testify. The origin of the name Ramatuelle remains a mystery although some believe it may be Arabic. The village is mentioned for the first time in the 11th century in a Saint-Victor de Marseille Abbey charter. It has retained its structure and medieval walls. In the Middle Ages, the parish church which at the time was called Notre-Dame du Pin was more or less where the town hall is today. The current church was built at the end of the 16th century backing onto the ramparts. A 14th century watchtower was adopted as the bell tower. On 15 August 1944, Pampelonne beach played a role in the Provence Landings.

The musts

Notre-Dame church (serpentine door, etc.); the manor house (village centre) with bronze door-knocker and wooden fireplace, arched doorways, fortifications; the Saracens doorway (hinges and portcullis slots); strolling round the alleyways (doorways and windows, some dating back to the 15th century); Rue du Clocher: prison cells from the Napoleon III era (a roof-less white building of round shapes). On the plain: 750 hectares of vineyards and their estates. On the coast: Pampelonne and Escalet beaches; the coastal path; Cap Taillat and Cap Camarat

Panoramas

From the Paillas windmills (active up to the 19th century - one was restored in 2002 and can be visited): panoramic view from an altitude of 325m of Cavalaire bay/La Croix Valmer on one side and Pampelonne beach on the other. Col de Collebasse: a picturesque route to La Croix-Valmer through a lovely forest of oaks and parasol pines. Above the village, view of town hall and Boulevard du 8 mai 1945. Rue Victor-Léon: orientation tableau with view of village, Cap Camarat, the Estérel hills and the foothills of the Alps. The lighthouse route

A stroll in the village

From Place de l'Ormeau (named after an elm planted in Henri IV’s time to mark peace and his conversion to Catholicism), since replaced by an olive tree; to Notre-Dame Church; then under the arch to the old village; stroll up the narrow winding streets enclosed within the walls of the old ramparts. You come to Place Gabriel Péri, formerly Place du Château, a stately home altered in the 18th century by the noble Audibert family. Rue Victor Léon and the Saracens doorway. Walk up that road then down Avenue Clemenceau to the ASSDN memorial; then to the Sainte-Anne chapel (16th century) and cemetery where the actor Gérard Philipe is buried. Return to the village centre

Sainte-Maxime

Saint-Tropez

One last bend in the road and the violet-pink village appears, floating weightlessly on a petrol-blue sea seemingly born up by the morning mist. The magic and fascination with this legendary village has not gone away. And as spring approaches, the soul of Saint-Tropez, village of art, culture and traditions reveals a lighter side.

A prestigious destination

Like the celebrities who flock here in summer, drawn to this idyllic isle on a beautiful peninsula, Saint-Tropez is a star which in season unveils a host of sumptuous yachts, prestigious brands, luxury hotels, glamorous boutiques and fabulous cars. All compete for the attention of visitors marvelling at a surreal yet friendly merry-go-round. This authentic village will captivate those who love the sea or are history buffs or fans of culture and the Provencal lifestyle, many of whom prefer to come out of season. It is this ambivalence that lies behind the charm and special nature of Saint-Tropez, a leading light on the international tourist scene.

An exceptional heritage

Nature and history are part of the village’s key attractions. From the Citadelle - home to the maritime history museum - you discover a sweeping panorama from Canebiers bay to Graniers beach and Salins, as far as Bouillabaisse. Then there is the emblematic purple and gold clock tower; the domes of the Miséricorde and convent chapels; fortification towers; and the elusive lighthouse flashes at sunset, over a bay that disappears into the open sea against a backdrop of snow-capped peaks in the Southern Alps. What a pleasure it is to walk the streets and squares, to be part of this convivial ambiance and be steeped in the fragrance of a Provencal market, before arriving at the legendary harbour and its mermaids via La Ponche.

Artists of light

When he anchored here, Signac was instantly overwhelmed by the light: “I am not stopping over, I’m staying!” That was in 1892. He went on to preside over the fair for independent artists (Salon des Indépendants) that everyone dreamed of exhibiting in; young unknowns like Matisse, Marquet, Derain and Bonnard, all captivated by the light. Today the Annonciade Museum puts on superb exhibitions of their work. They would be joined later by esteemed writers like Maupassant, Colette, Eluard and Sagan. More unusual, the Maison des Papillons (butterfly museum) is also worth a detour. Another window opening onto this village that generates legends is the cinema: among others we need look no further than the saga of the gendarmes embodied by the inimitable Louis de Funes and Michel Galabru, and of course the icon among icons, Brigitte Bardot, sublime in Et dieu créa la femme.

International events

The sea is at the heart of it all: from Les Voiles Latines to the Giraglia Rolex Cup, the Dragons to the Trophée du Bailli, the harbour and its bay are the scene of top level events like the flagship Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez, the largest gathering of classic boats and modern racing yachts in the Mediterranean. The village also hosts many other wonderful festivals (piano, the Antipodes film festival, Château de la Moutte music festival), fairs (antiques, contemporary artists, chocolate), the Paradis Porsche, the Mystères debates, Christmas festivities and the upmarket braderie clearance sale, not forgetting the traditional Bravade when Tropezians pay homage to their patron saint. How fortunate are those who were born into this earthly Paradise !

A little history

Born in Pisa, Torpes was an army officer under Nero who converted to Christianity and refused to renounce his new faith. Under the emperor’s orders he was decapitated, his body put in a boat with a dog and cockerel and abandoned at the mouth of the Arno. Legend has it that the Ligurian current carried the boat to the shores of the Gulf town of Heraclea, which took the name Saint-Tropez. In 1558, to defend the village against repeated attacks by Barbary pirates, the council formed a local militia led by a Town Captain, a decision ratified by the Kings of France. Agriculture, fishing, coastal then ocean-going shipping and naval shipyards would occupy most of the men in the area. It was not until the 19th and particularly the 20th century that artists, writers and filmmakers marked the beginning of a golden era heralding the town’s burgeoning popularity as a tourist destination.

The musts

The harbour very early in the morning; the parish church with bust of the patron saint and the organ, concerts on the last Sunday of the month; Annonciade Museum, Maison des Papillons (butterfly museum); Château Suffren and Guillaume tower; the Lavoir Vasserot; and the Citadelle (maritime history museum); the mariners’ cemetery (view over Canebiers bay); Château de la Moutte; the old gendarmerie; the markets on Place des Lices, and the daily fish market; several chapels (Convent, Sainte-Anne, Saint-Elme, Saint-Antoine, la Miséricorde…); the Jean Réveille jetty extended by the Red Lighthouse; streets, tiny squares and andrones (very narrow alleyways); and old La Ponche port.

Panoramas

From the Sainte-Anne chapel, a sweeping view of the Gulf of Saint-Tropez as far as the Southern Alps and Ramatuelle bay; Jean Réveille jetty, ideal place from which to watch regattas; foot of the Citadelle’s ramparts, superb panorama of Saint-Tropez bay (favourite spot for watching the sunset). From the coastal path (rocky coast from Tour du Portalet to Cap du Pinet with some historic ruins)

A stroll in the village

From Quai Jean Jaurès, arrive at the fish market (entrance to old village) then Rue des Commerçants, Rue du Clocher and Place de l'Hôtel de Ville; descend via Quai Mistral and Place Garezzio (Château Suffren and Tour Guillaume); on the right, the Jean Réveille jetty and Tour du Portalet (16th century), one of four towers enclosing the town with the ramparts. Arrive at Tour Vieille then under the archway of La Ponche, former entrance to the town; Place des Remparts, Rue d'Aumale, Place de l'Ormeau, Rue Jarlier and the tower of the same name. Then Rue de la Citadelle, Rue du Portail Neuf, Rue de la Miséricorde, Rue Gambetta and Place des Lices, famous for its pétanque players and Provencal market (Tuesday and Saturday mornings)