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A Day In: Fort Freinet

Lgf_pshop1_2 You climb a short steep hill behind the village of La Garde Freinet. You cross a moat carved deep into the rock. Step back 800 years in time, you have entered the ancient fortified stone settlement of Fort Freinet.

The castrum was built in the 12th century, in tiered layers, with the seigneurial home spread across five rooms at the top of the hill. The circular stone walls below it are believed to be those of an oven. Further down, the vestige of modest houses huddle together.

From atop the perched village, inhabitants could keep an eye on the key passage below that links the Argens Valley across the Maures to the sea. They did not stay long in the fortified village.  By the end of the 13th century, most had moved to the convenience of lower ground and settled in the heart of the current village of La Garde Freinet. The castrum was destroyed in the 16th century.

Legend long described Fort Freinet as the original strong hold of the Saraceans who poured in from the Mediterranean and occupied the region until the 10th century. Archaeological research of the castrum ruins conducted in the 1980's showed no conclusive evidence of this, but Fort Freinet and its surroundings may well hide more mysteries to unveil.

For hikers, the castrum and the neighboring Croix des Maures missionary cross offer panoramic views of the Massif des Maures, the valley of the Argens river, the pre-Alps.

Note: While the hike around Fort Freinet and the Croix des Maures is an easy 1 hour loop, it climbs on and around a path on schist rock.  The rock can be slippery after rains and with early morning dew.   Winds can also blow fierce here during the winter. We recommend you pick a dry day for this hike when winds are light.


Trails: Hiking Cap du Dramont

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You step on a bed of lemony-mint pine needles that covers the footpath. Ahead, a cove shines blue and green like an opal. Beyond the cove, the skeleton of a tree hangs off a cliff. You spot a bluebird niched in the red cliff, dozing in the sun. 

Cap Dramont is not a place for rushing.

On this seaside edge of l'Esterel, 26 kms west of Cannes, 8 km east of Saint-Raphael, balcony views of the Mediterranean are protected - Cap Dramont cannot be built. The ONF and the French Marine share ownership of its 60 hectares.  You hike minutes away from the RN98 road traffic, among comfortable pathes only accessible by foot, between ravines of red rocks that plunge into the sea and the forested hills of le parc forestier du cap du Dramont.

The 2-hour loop around Cap Dramont is popular with families.  While a section of the path climbs up and down rocks along the shore, it is safe if you watch your step and stay on the path.  The rocky section is not recommended for young children.

Hiking:

Begin your hike at the Plage du Débarquement, where the 36th Texas Infantry Division rolled in on August 15, 1944 in World War II to help liberate France.

Walk over the gray pebbles on the beach heading east towards the Port du Poussai. Continue past the Mirage Bleu snack bar. After a snack-bar, climb up stairs on the left and follow the yellow paint signs of the Sentier du Littoral.

After 50 meters, turn right towards the sea among a forest of green oaks and arbousiers. There's a little beach on the right with a side green Esterelite rocks endemic to the Esterel.

You continue up on the main path stepping over red rocks and woven roots up through the back side of climbing cliffs.

The path merges with a wider one.  Veer right on the path which soon opens up to a panorama over a string of bays to the south: St Raphael, Les Issambres, St Tropez and in the distance Cap Camarat with a lighthouse.

You reach an intersection.  To the left, a gray asphalt road leads to the belvedere. Though access to the belvedere is forbidden (it is a marine base), the view of the Esterel mountains from its perimeter is worth the steep detour.

You head back down the Semaphore path to rejoin your orginial path and continue your journey towards the Camp Long Beach. 

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 much-beloved Tintin series on L'Ile Noire.

The path heads down towards a steep ravine; ahead of you, a tiny bay shines blue and green like an opal.  You hike around the ravine.

After a fun walk over rocks by the shore, you reach a bouloudrome where you might find a group of friends carefully throwing their leaded balls as close as possible to the cochonet as they play boules.  Continue pass them and reach the beach of Camp Long where a snack bar offers refreshments and food in the summer.

You return to the Plage du Debarquement through a wooded path that you reach from the perched parking lot of Camp Long.  The path heads up away from the sea and contourns the backside of Cap Dramont.  It leads you among Pins d'Alep and Pins Maritimes to the back of Port du Poussai.

Discover the Cote d'Azur's most gorgeous footpaths with our latest hiking guide.

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A Day in: Collobrieres

Eglisestpons Behind its deep forests of sweet chestnuts trees, its tentacular cork oaks, its maritime pines that ooze of sap, its tiny streets of pebble stones that lead up to its 15th century Chapelle St Pons, the town of Collobrières appears untouched by time.

Its streets radiate out from the old church of St Pons, propped up on a promontory, down towards the bend of the Réal Collobrier river.  The Romans, struck by the number of harmless green snakes (Collubreira) that serpented by the river's bed, named the area after the snake.

If you stroll among its streets, the rue Hoche, rue Gambetta, rue Jean Jaures (which town in France does NOT have a Rue Jean Jaures?), you will find a handful of épiceries painted with the fading letters of "Alimentation Générale", one boulangerie, a sentimental Pain de Jadis, one boucherie, one rusty gas service station, one Maison de la Presse the size of a shoebox overfilling with newspapers and glossy magazines.

Collobrieres may live a half-hour inland from the St Tropez peninsula, but it wears no make-up.

Vieuxpont

The town's 11th century bridge, simply called Le Pont Vieux, reaches across the river with one arch.  On the other side, the Chapelle Notre Dame de Pitie, reconstructed in the 19th century, glows in dreamy blue murals.

Restaurants and cafés vibrate during the mid-day hours, some around the Place de la Republique, some hanging on terrasses by the Place de la Liberation, above the ever-winding river. They serve provencal plates: a main dish of roasted lamb, a daube of wild boar during hunting season, a main chocolate or chestnut infused dessert.

In its little haven of eternal green, Collobrieres is the self-proclaimed capital of the Maures.  By many palates, Collobrieres also reigns as the delectable kingdom of chestnuts. Roasted, simmered
in sugar into marrons glaces or jams, crushed into flours, its chestnuts come in all shapes.

For those of us who love to also discover a place with our feet (hikers, that is ;-), Collobrieres is the perfect starting point of many adventures. 

But we will keep some of CSorbiercollobrieresollobrieres' secrets for now...

Les jours de marché:  Every thursday and sunday.

Office de Tourisme: 04 94 48 08 00

Confiserie Azuréénne: 04 94 48 07 20
Chataigneraie Godissard: 04 94 28 26 68
Cave Coopérative La Treille des Maures: 04 94 48 07 26
Restaurant de la Mairie: 04 94 48 09 22 (terrace over river)
Restaurant des Maures: 04 94 48 07 10 (terrace over river)
Restaurant Casa Mia: 04 94 28 19 57 (place de la republique)
Restaurant La Petite Fontaine:  04 94 48 00 12


Le Massif des Maures

Beginrochesblanches_2 The low-lying crystalline mountain range called "Le Massif des Maures" extends for 55 kms from Hyeres and the Gapeau valley to the west, to Fréjus to the east, by the valley of the Argens river to the north and the Mediterranean Sea to the south.

Geologically speaking, the Maures as well as l'Esterel, the islands of Hyeres and Corsica, were once part of the ancient continent of Tyrrhenia, which collapsed and made way for the Mediterranean sea in the Quaternary Era (about 2 Million years ago).

The Maures line up in waves of parallel ranges.  The most northerly chain, the deep green chain of La Sauvette, presents the highest peaks: La Sauvette at 779m and Notre-Dame-des-Anges at 771 m.

Although its southern chain, the Corniche des Maures, shoulders the popular St Tropez peninsula, the mysterious inland Maures remain largely isolated.

Preferring to cut through the flat plains of the Argens valley, TGV train and highways zoom above the Maures, leaving the inland mountain range untouched, an island of forests.

Forest fires relentlessly threaten the Maures and fire protection roads criss-cross its hills in all directions.  Some of our walks tromp along these fire pathes.  A number of Sentiers de Grande Randonnee also make their way through the Maures: the GR9, GR51, and GR90.

For those of you who, like us, love to hike, the northern chain of the Maures is a secret little heaven.  Pathes meander through forests of sweet chestnut trees such as those found around Collobrieres.  By La Garde Freinet, panoramic heights surround you with views of the distant pre-Alps, of dense hills that ricochet down to the St Tropez peninsula to the sea.

You can hike on these pathes year-round. We especially enjoy the Fall here, with the (usually) cooler temperatures, the rusty mushroom smells of the forest, and the delectable buzz of the region's Chestnut celebrations in late October and November.  La Garde Freinet and Collobrieres offer a haven of authentic small town feel. Both towns once thrived off the forests that surround them, concocting delicacies from the forests' sweet chestnuts and harvesting the cork from the cork oak trees.

Do watch your steps.  On our last hike this weekend, I tripped on a rock on a slippery descent towards La Croix des Maures by La Garde Freinet.  Went head first, tumbled down and snapped a rib.  Aie aie aie.  Though the rib is healing fast, laughing is pure torture. That means not only can I not hike for a week (or at least, not with a pack), I can't watch the French Muppets  or pay any attention to the butcher's jokes as he burns the remaining feathers of a chicken with a blow torch.   Très dur...