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A Day In: Cotignac

Cotignacfontaine You reach Cotignac by rolling through a valley of vines, olive
trees and pines in the lush, water-happy countryside of La Provence Verte. The D13 road dips and Cotignac appears, pushing against a tufa cliff. 

Cotignacfontaine2_1 On the rectangular square cours Gambetta, huge platanus trees line up behind the two hundred year-old fontaine des Quatre-Saisons.
Local cafes fill up their water carafes from the fountain's cool drinking water.  On each side of the street, boutiques and cafés slow your step. Cotignac can not be rushed.

Chez Paulette, you purchase a pound of nails just for the pleasure of  entering the old dreamy blue store. You swing by rue de la Victoire to the honey boutique Les Ruchers du Bessillon where Fabienne and Laurence's family traditions of apiculture date back to the late 1800's. They offer you a taste of the shop's many flowery honeys. You melt with the sweet tinge of lavander honey.

You stroll down Grand' rue towards the Place de la Mairie and snoop into more shops: a kilim rug store that glows in reds and browns, a dash of boulangeries, antique stores full of china, boutis and secrets.

CotignacposeAt the place de la Marie, you let a tea steep at Le Temps de Pose or just sit by the fountain. Did you notice the Tour de l'Horloge bell tower and its 15th century campanile?

You walk by the Mairie and head up the Promenade du Rocher that leads you part-way up the 80-meters-high and 400-meters-long fence of tufa.

Cotignactuf The natural wall appears ghostly, like thick rounded roots hanging under oak trees. You hike closer to discover troglodyte caves where locals hid their food supplies during the region's turbulent times of invasions and pillages.

Cotignactower Two small towers from the 12th and 13th centuries stand atop the cliff.  To take a closer look outside the towers, extract yourself from Cotignac and head north on the D13 road - veer left just after Cotignac into the Chemin des Tours

For an additional treat, head up D13 north and then D22 to Sillans-la-Cascade about 7 km north east of Cotignac, and hike down its refreshing water fountain.


Office de Tourisme
2 rue Bonnaventure, Cotignac
Tel : 04 94 04 61 87 - Fax : 04 94 04 61 87
Email :

Les Rûchers du Bessillon
Closed Sunday afternoon and Monday
Shop: 5, rue de la Victoire, Cotignac
Tel : 04 94 77 75 69

Le Temps de Pose
11 place de la Mairie, Cotignac
Tel : 04 94 77 72 07

Kilims & Jarres
Galerie Anatolie
20 Grand Rue, Cotignac
Tel: 04 94 04 74 67


Map of Cotignac

Frejus Festival de l'Air (International Wind Festival)

Azuralive_windfest06The Base Nature of Fréjus, a giant open park behind the port of Fréjus, is usually filled with bikes, roller skates, skate boards jumping in the air and hikers strolling around. 

This weekend of October 28 and 29 2006, kites also filled the air for the 9th International Wind Festival or Festival International de l'Air.  Three hundred kite flyers came from all over the world to play in the wind and scribble their kite colors on a bright blue sky.  Giant socks twirled; big cats bobbed in the sky; funky musical sculptures sang in the wind; quad kites danced to music in ballet demos.

The great manta stingray displayed its 1,176 square meters.  It claims to be the largest kite in Europe.

Rokkaku kites imprinted with cartoon characters of Tweety bird, Sylvester, Goofy, Charley Brown fought to the death (ie. entangled lines).  Lots of fun, in summer-like weather no less.

Want to learn more about the city of Fréjus?  Click here for a suggested trail through Fréjus.Azuralive_bigsock


Trails: Hiking the Sentier du Littoral - St Raphael to Cap Dramont

Time:           5 hours for 16 km round-trip
Difficulty:     Medium
Highlights:   Step up and down pathway on rocky shoreline & discover string of coves, pebble beaches and tiny ports.


Getting there

Reach the port of Santa Lucia, at the eastern edge of Saint-Raphael.  Head all the way back to the shipyard, beyond the Marina Hotel.  The walkway begins on the eastern side (left as you get there) of the shipyard

At the head of the trail, a wooden panel reads: Pointe des Cadeous 1.3 km, Plage d'Arène Grosse 2.7 km, Plage de Boulouris 4.5 km, 8 km to Cap du Dramont.  You're on the right track.  It also warns: "Passage a caractère sportif" - this is not a stroll but a hike.

As you hop up and down hundreds of steps carved into natural slabs of pink volcanic rock, you confirm the warning.  It isn't a stroll but an excellent outdoor alternative to step class... 

Shortly after Santa Lucia, a line-up of blushing pitons leans towards the sea like tilted statuettes. These statuettes were born of a quartz-rich lava flow of trachyte some 250 million years ago.  You are among wise company.

You play hopscotch on rounded stepping stones as wavelets skim them. Behind a lava finger in the sea, a tiny bay shines like a ruby. You dig your shoes into mounts of algae washed ashore by the wind and waves. A salty whiff of crusty drying algae invigorates you.

By the Plage d'Arène Grosse beach,  a handful of restaurants tempt you with promises of grilled fish, of a bourride Raphaeloise dish of loup fish, gambas shrimp and scallops, a chilled glass of Rosé (note: not all of the restaurants are open year-round).

You pass a short promenade by sandy beaches, a quiet and discrete version of Cannes' La Croisette.  Gorgeous private homes hide behind stone walls, cactus and pine trees. You imagine living there.

With so much playing, you may not notice the halophile succulents growing here: the yellow-lined Agave Americana, the fast growing cactus Opuntia monacantha, the Barbary figs or prickly pears with their bright plum-like fruit.

At the Plage de Boulouris, small pebbles roll under your shoes.  The square tower that occupies most of l'Ile d'Or in the distance appears larger with each new beach.  After the long stretch of the Plage du Débarquement, the Cap du Dramont stands in front of you.  You have reached your destination.  If you long for more exploration, press on.  The hike around Cap du Dramont is also a  treat.

For more information:

This section of the Sentier Littoral can become slippery on wet days.  Click here for current local weather.

This sporty hike is not recommended for small children.   

You can veer inland at anytime to reach the N98 Route de la Corniche, a block inland.  The bus line n°8 stops along the N98 between Agay and Boulouris and the n°5 goes from Boulouris to St Raphael

Trails: Hiking l'Esterel to the Lac de l'Ecureuil

Azuraliveecu2380Hike Time:           2.5 hours round-trip
Difficulty:             Easy, flat wide rocky road and path. 
Highlights:           Great family hike with varied landscape and
                          a picnic-friendly lake as a destination point
Map:                   IGN 3544 ET Fréjus-St-Raphael. 

Here's a family-friendly hike in the heart of the Massif de l'Esterel.  It leads you through the Ravin du Grenouillet, the Ravin du Mal Infernet to Lac de l'Ecureuil.  A pleasant hike year-round, the cooler ravines provide some relief from the heat in the summertime.

Azuraliveecu1150Getting there:  Head up through the Corniche d'Or seaside road (N98) to the quiet resort of Agay and its sheltered cove.  From Agay, veer inland on the Route de Valescure (D100). After 1.5 km, turn right  to enter the Massif de l'Esterel which soon meanders beyond the Maison Forestière de Gratadis forester's house (on your right).  At the upcoming fork in the road, turn left to the Col de Belle Barbe and park at the open area 500 meters away.  The path begins beyond the gate to your right and marked "Lac de l'Ecureuil".

Reach the Lac de l'Ecureuil by staying on the left-veering path, which merges with the GR51 (path of Grande Randonnée marked in red and white stripes) at the Ravin du Mal Infernet gorge.  Note the cooler temperature by the gorge that leads you to our destination lake.  Return through the same path.

Tid-Bits:  The Lac de l'Ecureuil is a man-made lake filled in the 1970's to help prevent and fight forest fires.

During the dry season, fires can spread wildly through the forest of l'Esterel, in part due to its exposure to the dry and violent Mistral wind. 

Remember that no smoking is allowed in l'Esterel and check with the local tourist office for possible summertime closures when fire risks run high.

See our Esterel overview for contact information.

Adventure: The St Tropez Classic Race

Sttropclassicazuralive1_380Sunday, Oct 22, 2006 -- Today was yet another fun day in St Tropez, even if the sun played peekaboo behind dark clouds.

Img_1713Starting at the port, runners dashed through the streets of St Tropez, looped around town and around the hill of the Citadelle to cross the finish line, 16.5 km later, at the Place des Lices.  Cream-lathered Tartes Tropéziennes and glasses of Rosé awaited the runners, which might explain the large number of smiles found beaming on sweaty faces around the city.

Characters from the 1964 classic french movie "Le Gendarme de St Tropez" completed the race in uniform.  The St Tropez Classic run is a tough but deliciously irreverent race.


A few upcoming races in the area:

A Dog Day in: Cannes


When I found out that Cannes celebrates the canine heroes of show-business with a yearly Palm Dog Award, I knew I had to pack up bone and leash and visit.

Not for the Palm Dog Award - I enjoy beautiful fellow dogs, but I'd rather roll and tumble in the park with them than watch them parade and sit. No, I went to sniff uptown and downtown Cannes to get to know this enlightened place.  Here's what I found.

Top Things for a Dog to Do in Cannes:

Sniff until your muzzle drips

Sniff-wise, France is a dog's paradise.  Paved road, parking meters, store fronts - everything is doused in wonderful aromas.  Unfortunately, Cannes tends to be scrubbed clean.  Even the beach is combed clean, like a Japanese zen garden.  Look at this, Cannes offers poochie business garbage in stylish  blue, complete with plastic bag dispenser.

Azuralivecannes4dogs Dog Note: Do not pee on this blue pole.  It's considered de mauvais gout.

To get a head full of aromas and colors, start at the Place du Suquet. Trot down the Rue du Suquet (medieval paved road heads downhill, watch for nails screeching) and Rue Forville to the covered Marché Forville where fellow french dogs bring their masters for meats, links of saucisses, but also vegetables, cheeses, flowers.

Gorge on Panoramic View

By the rue Mont Chevalier, which used to be an old mule path, head up the hill to the church of Notre-Dame d'Esperance built in the beginning of the 16th century, when a dog year was 0.1 of a human year.  Tuck under its clock tower and reach the Place de la Castre for the best panorama of the city. If you are a small dog, hop on the wall of the place and admire the view: the port de la Pantiero, the Croisette, the Islands of Lérins.  So much to walk and smell.  You may not visit the Musée de Castre - no dogs allowed.


Dog Note: the beautiful church of Notre-Dame d'Esperance is also closed to dogs.

Trot by Palatial Dog Houses

Head down to the Croisette and walk by palatial hotels (hotels are extremely plush kennels for humans) like the Majestic, the Gray d'Albion, the Hilton, the Martinez.  Dream the life of the royal poodle nibbling duck legs in gravy, of the bichon frisé carried in a hand-bag.


Dog Note: if the sight of humans in uniforms makes you cringe, beware of humans in suits opening doors around fancy hotels.  Restrain your bark.

Dash in front of Ferraris

If you live on the edge - say, you enjoy chomping into gluts in uniform, go ahead and cross the Croisette boulevard in front of the fancy Grandes Dames of hotels. You may skim a Ferrari, a Rolls Royce, possibly with a greyhound wearing a diamond-studded collar upright in the passenger's seat. Worst-case scenario, you'll be road kill under an incredible set of wheels.

Search for Paw Prints outside the Palais des Festivals

Your paw imprint may find its way here (please write if you figure out how to do this), but for now you'll find tons of famous human hand prints reaching out as if to pet you. Aww - c'est si bon.

Shop for sausage links and chewy slippers

Azuralivecannes4dogs13After strutting down la Croisette head up Rue Amouretti to Rue d'Antibes, Rue Hoche and Rue Meynadier for shopping.  Meynadier tops my list as most dog-friendly shopping streets (no cars!).

Fellow canines, the streets beam with boucheries and charcuteries, not to mention cute small shops of leather boots, sandals and felt slippers!



Pee on Lawns in Le Californie

This one is tricky - I'm in fact typing this under the kitchen table, without my master's permission.  Some of the lawns in the neighborhood of 19th century multi-storied villas called La Californie are distant and gated (some with gorgeous and appetizing iron-carved gates). Even if you can't pull it off, the classy and classic villas will perk up your walk.

Have a ball in Cannes, and if you find other interesting dog things to do there, please write or add as a comment on this post.  When my master's asleep, I read emails at:  azuralive (at) gmail (dot) com.  Woofingly yours.

For more info on Cannes:

  • Human Tourist Information
    Palais des Festivals, La Croisette
    Tel: (04) 9339 2453. Fax: (04) 9299 8423
  • For a Google map of Cannes, click here.

Bites: Chestnuts (Les Châtaignes)

Chestnutazuralive4long3_1It's October.  Chestnuts begin to pop out of their spiky cupules and roll into local markets and tables of Provence.  They are boiled, roasted "chaud! chaud! chaud!," candied into marrons glaçés, simmered in sauces, crushed into flours, macerated into liquors, pasted into jams.

Many of these shiny maroon fruit of Provence originate from the chestnut trees of the ancient granitic mountain range of the Massif des Maures, west of St Tropez.

In this forest, so dense with cork-oak and chestnut trees and shrubs that it earned the mountain range its "Maures" name (in provençal Maouro means dark), chestnut trees spread across 2,500 hectares (6,200 acres or 9.6 square miles) of maintained groves around the towns of Collobrières, Mayons, Garde-Freinet, Gonfaron.  Many more trees grow unattended on private property across the Maures.  Most of them belong to the Sardonne species of chestnut trees.

On the outskirts of Collobrières, Laurent keeps his chestnut grove free of shrubs, thereby keeping it safer from fires which often strike this forested mountain range.  He regularly visits the trees, checks on their health and grafts them to encourage stronger growth. Chestnutazuralive1

"For me, tending to these trees which are 200, 300 some 400 years old, is a passion," he says.  "My parents and grand-parents cared for these trees."

In October and November, Laurent collects the freshly fallen nuts by hand. He sells some to local stores and boils and transforms others into smooth and sweet crème de marrons.  "It's a complementary culture for most of us here - we can't live from chestnut culture alone," says Laurent.  "So I'm a vine-maker by trade, but I always return to these trees.  They give me a different sense of time, like I am working for my children, for the future." 

By worldwide standards, France is not a heavy-weight in the chestnut business. France churns out around 15,000 tons of chestnuts per year, whereas Turkey and South Korea, for example, each produce around 80,000 tons. Within France, the Var region provides about 900 tons per year of french chestnut while the Ardèches produces 6,000 tons per year.

So the châtaigne des Maures isn't an industrial giant, and therein lie its charms.  Nourished by the soils of the Massif des Maures, the wind, the dew, the sun and hundreds of years of nurturing traditions handed from one generation to the next, it is like no other.

Chestnutazuralive2A few addresses among many in Collobrières:

  • Châtaigneraie Godissard: Castagnade, crème de marrons, honey & organized visits of grove. 
    Laurent Jartoux.  Tel:  Email: jlx1 (at)
  • Confiserie Azuréenne:  Marrons glaçés et autres délices
    Boulevard Koenig.  Tel:, email: confazureenne (at)
  • Museum of the Marron Glaçé:
    Annex of the Confiserie Azuréenne, illustrates the candied chestnuts or marrons glaçés production process since the last century.
  • Collobrières Tourisme Office: Boulevard Caminat. Tel: Email: ot.collobrieres (at)

Chestnut Festivals for 2006 (they're held yearly) in the Massif des Maures:

  • Sunday, Oct 15 in Collobrières
  • Sunday, Oct 22 in Collobrières, Gonfaron, La Garde-Freinet, Tanneron
  • Sunday, Oct 29 in Collobrières, La Garde-Freinet

Bites: La Framboise de Roquebrune

Azuraliveraspberry3_1 With a view of the rusty cliffs of the Rocher de Roquebrune on the one side and of a green-as-a-frog meadow on the other,  Françoise Raffynat's raspberry patch sits pretty. 

It is a Do-It-Yourself raspberry patch, which means visitors get to romp among the rows of spiny and fragrant bushes and pick their own berries.

"With our weather here, the season lasts from early June until le premier froid (could be in October, could be in early November)," says Françoise. Françoise settled here with her husband a couple of years ago.  "I wanted to open my shutters in the morning, and see my fruit patch and the Rocher de Roquebrune." 

Worth a detour and a nibble during your next visit to Roquebrune-sur-Argens

Directions:  As you leave the town of Roquebrune on the D7 road, watch of a hand-painted "Vente de Framboises - Cueillette" sign on the left, before the roundabout intersection with the RN 7.

Françoise Raffynat, Roquebrune-sur-Argens, Tel:


Trails: Hiking Cap du Dramont


Beyond the red lava rocks and greens shrubs that smell of crushed thyme, the white skeleton of a tree stripped of its leaves hangs off the sheer rock before the sea. 

On this portion of the Sentier du Littoral, 26 km west of Cannes, 8 km east of Saint-Raphael, the path meanders between spikes of red rock that stand abrupt against the sea and
the forested hill of le parc forestier du cap du Dramont.  Despite its balcony view over the Mediterranean, the path is paved most of the way and not dangerous if you stay on the open trail.

In the wooded hill the path contourns, a white semaphore overlooks the Cap du Dramont.  In the distance stands a square tower plopped atop the tiny island of Ile d'Or.  The island was sold by the French state in 1897 and bought by the offbeat Dr Auguste Lutaud who proclaimed himself in festive fanfare King Auguste 1st of the kingdom of l'Ile d'Or.  The island remains in private property today.

L'Ile d'Or is said to have inspired author Hergé in his Tintin series on L'Ile Noire.

It's a two-hour leisurely hike from the Plage du Dramont to the Plage du Camp Long.

Begin your hike at the Plage du Debarquement, where the 36th Texas Infantry Division rolled in on August 15, 1944 to help liberate France. Walk over the gray beach pebbles towards the Port du Poussai. Continue past the Mirage Bleu snack bar up the Sentier Littoral which you follow counter clock wise all the way to the Camp Long beach.  You can explore the smaller rocky pathes which let you in closer to the cliffs, but make sure to stay away from pathes marked as closed - many suffer from erosion and can be dangerous.


A Day In: Fréjus

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The city of Frejus is a mille-feuilles of history. Start your historical walk at the city's Tourism Office, on Rue Jean Jaurès and walk down the street, slowly.  You are about to trek through more than 2,000 years of human edification.

A few steps down the road, the Musée d'Histoire Locale tells the story of local ways of life.

At the Patisserie Le Provençal, stop.   Observe the Pavé du Cloitre, hard almond candies wrapped in pictures of the town's cloister, and the Clémentines Confites, shining like a tiny glass dome. On the other side of the street, a rasperry tarte overflows with fruit at La Maison de la Tarte.

Have another slice.  After all, the city of Fréjus' own logo is a double-headed or bicephal Hermès, symbolic of the town's two sides: one modern turned to the sea (Port-Frejus) and the other, historical Frejus we're trotting through today. 

Back up three steps up to snoop under the ancient porch of the Place du Couvent. Behind a tiny door, the Boulangerie du Couvent.  As you sit and nibble on their lemon cookies under a thousand-years-old knotted olive tree, you feel inspired.  Ravous Gineste (Dr Augier), the félibrige poet who wrote "Amo Travado" (Haunted Souls), was born in the house that faces you.

You skip down from Place Albert Février to Place J.C. Formigé.  From the outdoor restaurants of Les Micocouliers (Provencales specialties) and the Carpe Diem pizzeria, whiffs of crushed olives and hot pizza crusts follow your short path to the huddled-together Episcopal City, the heart of town.  With a guided tour (check at Cloister or Tourist Office), the mysteries of the Cathedral's thick sculpted wooden doors unfold, and the treasures of the 5C baptistry are revealed.

Visit the cloister and absorb its silence along the delicate arches. Did you notice a boar being chased by a hungry predator, painted on the cloister's wooden frame?

For an integral view of the "Cité Episcopale", sip on a Café Crème from the terrace of the Café du Monde. 

Was that Bacchus you spotted carved on the bottom of the Cathedral's colossal wooden doors? It seems unusual on a church door.  With a door that holds the world, the Cave des Cariatides, down Rue Sièyes, may provide an answer, or at least a tasty recommendation among its colorful bottles of wines and spirits. 

Invigorated by Bacchus, you walk down Rue General de Gaulle to meet Julius Caesar.  Caesar established Fréjus in 49 BC, naming it "Forum Julii" or Julius' Market.  Forum Julii thrived as a major trading post along the Roman Empire's road that stretched from Rome to Arles.  You walk by an assortment of chocolates winking from the Plaisirs Gourmands chocolatier.

But gladiators await since the 1st century A.D. in the roman arenas built at the edge of town.  In the green hue of the three-storied sandstone amphitheater, you hear the roar of human screams as gladiators fight to the death.  With up to 10,000 visitors in the Fréjus amphitheater (24,000 could fit in Nimes' and 5,000 in Nice's Cimiez), the howls pound like thunder. Will you spare the loser's life?

You paddle back to current times up Rue Vadon, by the Celliers du Sud wine cooperative which offers local Vins du Pays de Var wines for the price of water.  Back the Rue General de Gaulle, you sit under a giant platanus tree at the Bar du Marche and rewind  and replay.

"Vous prendrez bien quelque chose?" asks the waiter.

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  • Frejus Tourism Office:  325 Rue Jean Jaurès.  Tel:
  • Frejus Musée d'Histoire Locale:  153 rue Jean-Jaurès. Tel:
  • Le Provencal, Frejus: 44 rue Jean-Jaurès
  • La Maison de la Tarte: 33 rue Jean-Jaurès
  • Boulangerie du Couvent:  53 Place du Couvent, Tel:
  • Cathedral's Cloister Office: 58 ru du Cardinal Fleury, Tel:
  • Fréjus Roman Amphiteater:  Rue Henri Vadon, Tel:
  • Cave des Cariatides:  Rue de Sièyes, Tel: