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October 2007

Adventure: Roc d'Azur 2007


It's almost time for Roc d'Azur 2007, the 24th edition of the mountain bike races and celebrations.

If you haven't heard of it, Roc d'Azur is a series of mountain bike events running in October each year. It draws huge crowds - over 14,000 folks participated last year. This year (2007), Roc d'Azur takes place from October 10 to 15th, and still at the Fréjus Base Nature.

While the Roc Marathon is a killer with its 87 km of timed racing across the Maures Mountains, the event offers plenty of other races.  The Classic, the Roc d'Azur, sends its competitors pushing up and maneuvering down rusty red rocky paths around the Massif des Maures between the towns of Les Issambres, Roquebrune-sur-Argens and Fréjus.  This ride isn't for newbies, but the views of the forest invigorate the spirit just enough to make it up infamous Col du Bougnon and reach the sea view part of the ride.

The Roc Ruelles ride bounces around the streets of Fréjus.  Kids between 7 and 14 years old taste MTB races in their own 2.2 to 8 km rides. 

For those not quite ready for a technical timed race but longing for an exciting ride, the Rando Roc Rouge (22 km) and the Rando Roc Noire (50 km) are the ticket. These rides are not timed, so you can enjoy the view without the pressure. Here's a sample of the view of the Maures Mountains by the Col du Bougnon.

Check out our entries on the Maures Mountains for suggestions on hikes in the remote Maures hills, just a few minutes away from popular beach resorts.


Besides rides and races, over 250 cycling vendors show off their cycling and mountain bike equipment at the event's "Salon du Roc". It's free. 

For a full listing, check out:

If you go:

  • A medical certificate is required to participate in the events, unless you are from an accredited biking association - consult the rocazur site for details on this. Last year, many folks who came unprepared without a certificate were turned back.
  • Helmets are required.
  • Biking shorts, jersey, sunglasses, water bottle and long gloves come highly recommended.
  • Best place to stay to be close to the gate is Fréjus-Port. Check out Fréjus' Tourism Office for a listing of available accommodations in Fréjus-Port.
See AzurAlive's many Roc d'Azur Pics on Flickr.

Les Vendanges on a Human-Scaled Domaine


Last week was another wine-picking week for many folks across the Var region, and for a few innocent adopted locals also.

The Vendanges were early this year since 2007 brought warm weather to our region and to all of Provence.

We moseyed on across the rounded fields of the Dracénie region, by the old town of les Arcs, by Taradeau, and into Lorgues. Between Les Arcs and Lorgues, narrow little tractors bounced on the country road, pulling bènes (large metal containers) filled with freshly harvested grapes. The tractors are narrow to squeeze between rows of vines without damaging them.

We began the arduous work of grape picking in the wee hours of the morning, at 10 a.m. sharp. The Domaine St. Marc des Omèdes was the perfect place to vendange for a couple of reasons:

  • It's owned by a wonderful couple, Lindsay and Anne Marguerite Phillips, who generously welcomed grape picking newbies;
  • Lindsay and Anne paid needed help in bottles of wine, a currency we enjoy being pegged to;
  • Domaine St. Marc des Omèdes is the self-proclaimed smallest British-owned vineyard in Provence - les Vendanges, we deducted, couldn't be all that difficult on such a human-scaled Domaine;

Armed with a bucket per hand, and a set of rustic clippers, we squatted over the rows of tightly bunched carignan grapes and snipped.

"Carignan," said Lindsay, "used to be widely harvested around here but it was associated with bad acidic red wine."
A decade ago, the carignan vines were plugged out of many local vineyards and replaced with more fashionable varieties.
"Only a few old Carignan vines remain here today," said Lindsay. "We trim them to have them produce less quantity and higher quality, but we keep these ancient vines preciously."

We snipped, rather silently at first and soon with good banter.

"Don't tug at the grapes," said Lindsay, "just snip along."

After a row of snipping, I learned to nudge my bucket right under the grapes to have them plop into the bucket in a thump. It was a thrilling thump.

"Don't go so fast," said the French expert picker who also raced back and forth between pickers and the bène, emptying buckets into the fast-filling bène.

By row three, I started to look up at the rest of the bushy rows. There were many.

By row six of the low-lying, old knotted Carignan vines, the vineyard seemed like the largest-owned of any nationality.

"Care for a nice cup of tea?" asked Lindsay around four o'clock. As we slumped to the side of the path, clippers on the ground by our sides, with a well-fed bène behind us and a cool breeze whooshing over our heads, the parcel looked friendly again. It looked like a little parcel of vines we could clip and comb by hand until the sun began to dip towards the hills.


Domaine St. Marc des Omèdes
83510 Lorgues France
Tel (33)

Best Beach: Plage de Cabasson


Plage de Cabasson et Brégançon

In the commune of Bormes-les-Mimosas, not too far from La Londe-les-Maures, behind vineyards of Cote de Provence, you can visit two beaches for the price of a single parking ticket.

To the north-west, the Plage de Cabasson offers a wide and almost wild expanse of fine sand, a beach security post, a summer-time beach bar and yellow buoys to demarcate the swimming area from the security boat channel. Here, kids of all ages build sand castles, jump in waves, and body surf. While the shore is gorgeous, the sea is often rougher here due to open exposure to wind. Folks with hiking shoes and light packs on their backs cross the beach and hop up the rocks on the Sentier Littoral hiking path. The beach of Cabasson brims with life.

Azuralive_fortbreganconTo the south-east, the pebble Plage de Brégançon beach pulls you into the serious realm of politics. Here, you might spot Nicolas Sarkozy swimming around the austere looking rocky island of Bregançon and its fort, or jogging by vineyards. Fewer beach balls bounce around. A helicopter might swerve in out of nowhere for a closer look at the fort. You feel the gaze of secret security eyes pore over you as you swim close to the buoys that encircle the fort.

The Pointe du Diable or Devil's Point separates the two beaches.

We voted Plage de Cabasson as a Best Beach winner.


The ruins of the Hyères Castle

When I asked a man by the Place St Paul in Hyères for the most shaded path up to the castle, he looked inquisitive. Walk under the olive trees, he said. but you know, it's nothing special. The views are spectacular, yes, he continued, but the old castle is just ruins.

From the Place St Paul up the winding road, by old homes that bulge over the street, by the silver coins of olive trees, I reach the castle. It dominates the city with layers of thick stone walls that circle the hill of Castéou. First built in the eleventh century by the Lords of Fos, the castle was enhanced and expanded through the years until demolished in 1620 by order of King Louis XIII.

At the highest point, two viewing tables in painted ceramic (designed by Patrick Conzett) describe the sites from the Maures to the north to the sea, to the Giens Peninsula, the Hyères islands, the Fenouillet mountain, the limestone hills by Cuers. From the top of Castéou, there are no plush villas, no grand hotels, no exotic gardens or swaying palm trees. The city of Hyères breathes below the old stones all the way to the sea. It's worth the half hour climb from downtown to see the ruins anew.