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Named Esterellite by french geologist Auguste Michel Levy the blueish-gray rock of the Esterel mountains formed some 30 million years ago in a muffled volcanic activity; while much of the fiery red rocks of l'Esterel formed under extrusive volcanic activity during the Permian geological period 250 million years ago, the younger Esterellite formed under intrusive volcanism, as magma slowly cooled and solidified below ground.

If the rhyolite rocks of the Esterel mountain range, red like glowing embers, dazzle against sea and sky, the subdued grey Esterellite rocks proved utilitarian to humans.

In Roman times, the Esterellite was extracted from mining sites around current St Raphael, and used to pave roads and monuments, to build cities. Chunks of the Aurelian Way exist in Esterellite, as do sections of the city of Forum Julii, now Fréjus.

The mines of Le Dramont carved the Esterellite rock again in the mid 1850's until 1959, extracting 200-300 tons of rock each day.


Today, the mining site of Le Dramont is a quiet residential area with a few painted homes plopped at the edge of the ancient extraction site. The mine itself has filled with water. Cap Esterel owns the area, but you can visit the perimeter of the lake. Once so prized by humans, the greenish gray rocks now appear majestic as sheer walls of silence around the lake.

Getting there:

Park at the Plage du Débarquement, 3 km west of  Agay’s main round-about, 6 km east of  Saint-Raphael, on the D559 roads that hugs the sea.  The entrance is marked with a blue-bordered sign “Base Nautique du Dramont.”

From the parking lot at the Plage du Débarquement, walk through the tunnel that crosses under the D559 and the train tracks. The lake in front of you is the extraction site of Le Dramont.


Chartreuse de la Verne Pics

Below are a few more pictures from magical Chartreuse de la Verne, to add to our original blurb.

A Day In: Les Etangs de Villepey

Villepeybyevening5Between the beaches of Saint-Aygulf and the modern port of Fréjus, hidden behind the seafront N98 road, a flock of charcoal-colored Eurasian coots (Fulica atra) wades in a wide shallow pond; next to a field of reeds almost incandescent in the evening light, a black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus) pokes the lake shore with a beak as long and thin as a needle.

Over 220 birds have been spotted in the protected natural sites of the wetlands of the Villepey lakes (Etangs de Villepey).

The marshes of Villepey represent 260 hectares of land acquired by the Conservatoire du Littoral between 1982 and 1997 for protection and conservation.

Villepey displays a myriad of landscapes: sand dunes by the beach, reed fields that shield the inner marshes from the eastern sea wind and from salty spray, fresh water ponds, plots of land cultivated with cereals and pasture.

Such a diverse protected landscape translates into diversity in fauna and flora.


In about 3 hours, you can walk the 7 km marked loop around the Etangs de Villepey and experience the sites first-hand (note that a section is open only from June to September). You might meet a few great cormorans (Phalacrocorax carbo) standing on the trunk of a beach wood, their wings stretched to dry in the wind. You might hear the striking laugh of a green and spotted marsh frog by a pond,

Warning, the richness of its flora and fauna might absorb all of your senses and all sense of time.



Madame De La Truffe Noire

Aupstruffe When I heard that the black truffle, "la vrai", sold for 800 euros a kilo, "non, c'est pas vrai!", I had to find out for myself what the fuss was about. After all, we are talking about a mushroom that looks like an under-sized shriveled dirt-crusted potato.

Oui, mais... did you ever taste le petit delice?
Err, well yeah, tiny dark cubes of it in patés...
C'est pas vrai!

And thus we were off last Sunday to the annual Truffle Festival in lovely Aups, in the upper Var region.

We drove up from Draguignan, five of us swerving with the curves in the road, by parcels of olives trees and wines, by a few knotted green oak trees, stocky and vigorous. I imagined their roots, running like neurones through this musty limestone soil.

We arrived in Aups and vendors had spread under the little town's platanus trees.

TruffetroveAt a stand, a treasure chest overfilled with fungi.  "Looks like dog caca," said the youngest among us.
I spotted a little Tuber Melanosporum, round, dark, looking pitiful among its plump sisters.

We touched it, we smelled it, we scratched its skin, rugged and thick, and saw that its flesh was black throughout with a touch of burgundy.
"C'est la vrai!" exclaimed the handsome truffier.
Then we heard about its history. It was born on the root of a green
oak tree planted fifteen years ago by the owner's father on their truffle farm (few are wild).
Black truffles love the roots of green and white oaks best, though they can also develop on hazlenut and pine trees. They need limestone soils.
With a very gentle scratch of the earth, the family dog, a black Labrador (always our hero) dug it up along with many of the ones now displayed in the treasure chest.


The little thing weighted 25 grams and cost 20 euros.

"Can I feed a family of 5 with it," I asked the handsome truffier?
Oui, he answered with assurance. Make a brouillade with 3-4 eggs, 20 cl of crème fraiche, a pinch of salt and pepper. Take care to leave the truffe sliced in the egg batter for at least 2-3 hours in the refrigérateur so the scrambled eggs soak up the truffle flavor.

And so we took our little one home. Please forgive us, we stuck it in the trunk of the car, in my backpack, for the hour's drive back.

When I opened the trunk, I smelled a sweet, rusty, pungent fragrance with a dash of nutmeg.
We scrambled the truffle infused eggs in a pan with a tremble in the wrist, cleared a whole tray in the fridge and set it in the middle.

Monday evening, we all sat down for dinner. We starred at the yellow mesh of scrambled eggs, and its dozen dark slices of truffles the size of daisy petals.

It could have been our taste buds' anticipation, or the news coverage, but a delicate taste of mossy earth embalmed the room. Silence fell over the table. We listened to each morsel of truffle talk to
our palates.

Yuck! screamed the 5-year-old. I won't touch it said another. It tastes like fish said the eldest. And then someone said it could possibly get better the more you taste it.

And the grown-ups had another sip of wine.