Previous month:
March 2007
Next month:
May 2007

The Tortoise Village of Gonfaron

Azuralivewaterturtle2

In the Tortoise Village, a couple of minutes away from the village of Gonfaron by the plain of the Maures, 2500 inhabitants crawl, swim, or snooze in the sun. Their carapaces or upper part of their shells appear like brown sea-shells locked together like a puzzle.

Azuralive_sickturtleIn the village's "Institut Mérieux" clinic, a few turtles stay put in their cubicles as they recover from the bites of dogs, the crush of car wheels or the slicing blades of lawn-mowers. When a turtle's carapace is ripped, the clinic repairs it with a mesh of flexible glass fiber and with polyester glue.

The clinic takes care of more than 300 ill tortoises a year, each one brought by individuals, police or customs. The entire village welcomes more than 1000 new chelonians each year, ill ones and healthy ones too. As the Village makes clear throughout its park-like setting, its goal is always to release the animals back into the wild.

While the tortoises abound in the village, they are threatened animals outside the perimeters of this tortoise park. They are hunted by humans for their flesh and for their shells; they are hunted by dogs and rats while they hibernate; they are losing their natural environment to urbanization and in the Maures, to forest fires.

The most endangered French reptile is the Hermann Tortoise (Testudo hermanni hermani). Once alive all around the Mediterranean coastal belt, the Hermann tortoise now survives in an narrow stretch of forest in the Maures Mountain Range and in Corsica. It was to save the Hermann tortoise from extinction that the SOPTOM, a non-profit organization for the safeguard of turtles and tortoises, created the Tortoise Village in 1988. Since its creation, the village has releases over 8000 Hermann tortoises into the Maures. Today, the Village welcomes Leopard tortoises, Corsica tortoises, Greek tortoises, freshwater "cistudes", Marginated tortoises, Balkan tortoises, Russian tortoises and the tortoise from Madagascar

Placochelys The Village is a tool to fight the extinction of tortoises, but it is also a lively and enthralling means to teach history. It takes you through a walking history tour of the ancient creature, from 300 Million years ago until today. Plastic turtles the size of a fridge lurk behind the panels that tell their story. A mere 250 million years ago lived the Proganochelys, the first reptile considered a turtle with its ribs fused against it carapace. A ghostly roar hums by the plastic giant Proganochelys. Kids shriek and get a little closer to their parents.

You may well encounter a Hermann Tortoise "in the wild," on your walks in the Maures. Chances are that it would have transited through Gonfaron's Tortoise Village or possibly been born there.

And if you don't spot one strolling around the countryside, you can always visit the Tortoise Village. The village attracts plenty of families eager for a way to learn more about this pre-historic animal or just looking for a fun afternoon.

Check out the Tortoise Village at: http://www.villagetortues.com/

While visiting around Gonfaron, why not take a hike and discover more about the region?
Get your hands on a thoroughly tested hiking guide to the Western Côte d'Azur (on sale now on Amazon!), click
here.


Flower Power

Spring has sprung and our adoptive Provence Azur region looks like someone has walked all over its countryside with a bunch of dripping paint brushes.

One of my favorite spring pot of color is by the Lac de l'Ecureuil in the mountain range of l'Esterel (see hike details here). Take a peak at a few bloomers out there right now in mid-April.


Azuralivejudas2 In early spring, the deciduous Judas-tree (Cercis siliquastrum) explodes with fuchsia-colored flowers.




Azuralivebruyerea The tree heath (Erica arborea), covers in tiny white flowers and appears dusted with snow. Its base is thick and mostly fire-proof. When fires ravage the forests of south-eastern France, as they too often do, tree heaths often survive. In the old days and to a lesser extent today, craftsmen carved beautiful smoking pipes from their wood.


Azuralivelavanderstoecas Stoechas Lavender (Lavandula stoechas) sun bathe by the red lava rocks of the Esterel. Bees swarm around them. Very fragrant, their flowers often end up tied up in cotton pouches and placed in linen closets.


Azuralivegenet On the side of the trail, the flowers of the broom plant splash a yellow so bright it appears fluorescent against the dark greens of the surrounding mountain crestlines.



Where do you like to go for a spring stroll en fin de semaine?


Mont Faron

ToulonfaronFrom the cable car that runs up to Mount Faron, the bay of Toulon reveals itself in bite-size below: its buildings, little beige boxes around the bay, its cranes on the port like toothpicks, its ships that weave into the mouth of a navy blue Grande Rade, knitting streaks of white in their wake. Beyond Toulon, the peninsula of Saint-Mandrier-sur-Mer curves into the sea.

Called Faron from the word 'Pharos', which is greek for lighthouse, the crowning mountain lives up to its name.

Off the cable car and onto solid ground on Mont Faron, paths of pebbles pull visitors into a world of crackling white limestone rocks, of forests of Aleppo pines, bushes of gray-leaved Cistus that bloom in purple at springtime. The paths pass by ancient forts and batteries once part of the city's intricate military defense. Beaumont Tower, one of the fortifications on the Faron hill, homes the Memorial Museum of the Allied Landings in August 1944.

At the summit of Mont Faron, views open from all sides - to the north, Le Baou des Quatre Aures, Mount Coudon, Mount Caume and to the south, the Giens Peninsula, the rounded hill of Colle Noire, the Golden Islands of Hyeres.

Mont Faron even homes a zoo that specializes in breeding large cats such as Bengal tigers.

The wild escape to Mont Faron is popular with local families. During hot weather, it is best to experience it early in the morning, or late afternoon.

Getting there:

For a growing view, take the 5-minute cable car ride up from Toulon to Mont Faron. Téléphérique du Mont-Faron, boulevard Amiral Vence (or bus 40, stop at téléphérique), +33 4 94 92 68 25. While the cable-car runs up and down non-stop from 9:45AM to 7:45PM in July and August, it closes on Mondays and offers fewer rides during the rest of the year. The cable car does not operate on very windy days. See http://www.telepherique-faron.com                    for details.

Not keen on cable-cars?  You can also reach Mont Faron through a winding road that runs one-way going up on the western side of the hill and down on the eastern flank. Reach it by heading towards Toulon-Nord, behind Toulon's railway station, by the Ste Anne Hospital and follow the signs.

  • Memorial Museum of the Allied Landings of August 1944 in the Beaumont Towers, top of Mont-Faron, +33 4 94 88 08 09.
  • Mont-Faron zoo, a center specialized in breeding large felines +33 4 94 88 07 89.