Fires in the Var



Photo - twitter screen capture.

The fire-fighting Canadair planes may be impressive to watch as they swooped into the Saint-Raphael and Frejus bay yesterday to scoop up water from the sea, but they unfortunately indicate the presence of fires in the local area.

A few fires broke out in the Var department yesterday. One of them began in Saint-Aygulf by the Villepey lagoon around lunch time and forced the temporary closure of the seaside road that links Frejus to St Aygulf. The fire was quickly under control and the road re-opened.

Another more serious fire started on the RD4 road between Frejus and Bagnols-en-Foret. This one burned from 2PM until around 6PM ravaging around 20 hectares of dry land. Despite very strong winds and dried vegetation, over 200 firefighters soon had the fire under control. It caused no human physical harm, but destroyed a number of mobil-homes in both Pin de la Legue and at Holiday Green.

Over 5000 holiday-makers were evacuated at Pin de la Legue and 3000 at Holiday Green. Most have now returned. No one has been harmed, though clearly some were shocked at how quickly this all happened.

According to firefighters, the vast majority of fires are man-started (cigarette butt flicked carelessly, BBQ  when forbidden, etc ). The dry sunny terrain and winds quickly pick it up from there.

Take a look at our quick video of the Canadairs in action yesterday in the Saint-Raphael bay, French Riviera: 


Fire by Roquebrune-sur-Argens

Fire by Roquebrune-sur-Argens

Just as we were warning about the risks of forest fires on very windy dry days like today, a couple of them started early afternoon today in Roquebrune-sur-Argens behind the Villepey Etangs. A flume of smoke rose above the grounds and spilled into the Villepey marshes. We could spot the smoke from the Fréjus and St Raphael beaches.

Despite the strong winds, two canadair fire planes came to the rescue and the smoke soon vanished from the skies. 

Yes, fire season has started. We have no idea yet how this one got started. We'll update the post when we hear more. 

Pale Pink Flamingos

Flamingos stroll along the fresh-water inland lakes called the Etangs de Villepey, near Saint-Aygulf by Fréjus on the French Riviera.

These wetlands may be small, but they are protected by the Conservatoire du Littoral and birds of all feathers flock here to splurge on tiny critters that hide in the muddy waters.

Crouched and quiet in the wooden bird observatory, we spotted a group of flamingoes at Villepey yesterday evening. They were white, not pink. It's the plankton that flamingoes eat that gives the birds their color. So much for pink flamingoes. They were nevertheless beautiful, perched up "en pointe" and swaying around the lake like ballet dancers.

Care to learn more about the Etangs de Villepey? Check out our previous article about Villepey here.



Jean Cocteau's Last Chapel, Fréjus, France

Chapel Cocteau in Frejus
"Mystery has its own mysteries, and there are gods above gods. We have ours, they have theirs. That is what's known as infinity." -Jean Cocteau

It takes some effort to reach the Notre-Dame de Jérusalem chapel, also known as the Cocteau Chapel, at the Tour de Mare neighborhood of Fréjus in Southern France. It isn't all that far from the center of the old Fréjus, but the road that leads to it is a hushed secret. In my opinion, it should be sign posted everywhere as a must-see for visitors to Frejus.

Reach it and you enter a different world. Like a dream, it grasps you and pulls you into its own separate  reality.

Chapel Cocteau in Frejus 

"Art is a marriage of the conscious and the unconscious." -Jean Cocteau

The Chapel sits at the outskirts of the Estérel Mountains. You park outside its gated entrance and walk your way up a pathway through a garden of cork oaks.

At the end of the path, you notice a small octagon-shaped structure propped up on a mounticle, the chapel. Its three heavy iron doors greet you solemnly. Light pierces through the doors' stained glass and runs inside.Chapel Cocteau in Frejus

"One of the characteristics of the dream is that nothing surprises us in it. With no regret, we agree to live in it with strangers, completely cut off from our habits and friends." - Jean Cocteau

On the the floor, glazed tiles shine in different tones of blue. They're shaped in elongated hexagons and slither their way to the center of the room. They move under your feet like waves on water. The murals surround you in dreamy blues and washed-out yellows. You notice bloody splashes of red across this soft pastel canvas: the Jerusalem cross, the nails in Jesus' hands and feet, the blazons of the Saint-Sepulcher order and the cup of wine all stand out in red.


"Art is not a pastime but a priesthood." -Jean Cocteau

The octagon's insides represent scenes from the Passion of Christ,from the order of the Holy Sepulcher, from the Passion of Christ and from Jesus' resurrection.Chapel Cocteau in Frejus

Cocteau's chapel not only depicts a world of sensations and of symbols, it embodies it. It's hard for me to convey the feeling of a visit when you plunge into Cocteau's world. The below video offers a vicarious alternative to a real visit.

To find out more:

We have previously written about the Cocteau Chapel. Read more about it here.

Read about the multi-talented artist Jean Cocteau at this site

Jean Cocteau was a very prolific and multi-talented artist. You'll find more of his murals on the French Riviera at Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat at Villa Santo Sospir, at Chapelle Saint-Pierre in Villefranche-sur-Mer, in Menton (Le Bastion and Salle des Mariages) and at the Cap d'Ail though that site is not open to visitors. Also at Metz, Milly-la-Forêt and even London at the Eglise Notre-Dame de France, just off Leicester Square.

To know when to go:

From November to April: Tuesday to Sunday 9:30AM to 12:30PM and 2PM to 5PM
From May to October: Tuesday to Sunday 9:30AM to 12:30PM and 2PM to 6PM

Closed on Mondays and on Holidays. Current cost 2€ per person.

To find it:

To find the Cocteau chapel at the outskirts of Fréjus, follow the below Google map.

Show The Cocteau Chapel, Fréjus on larger map

The Eery Stillness of Malpasset


When we hiked along the cobbles and rocks of the Reyran river towards the ruins, no one spoke. It wasn't the first time we hiked to the ruins of the Malpasset dam. We walk there at least once a year, often taking a hiking group along.

Yet when we walked past these giant cement blocks scattered by the river bed, something muted us. Something about the power exerted by nature (in this case, retained water behind a wall) and the way in can explode tons of concrete into smitherings.


The story of the Malpasset dam bursting in December 1959 is well-known in Frejus, and in all of France. Take a look at our full description here:

We continued our hike up from the river bed onto the main path and stopped at the upper viewpoint.


The hike to the Malpasset Dam is hike #6 in the hiking guide to the French Riviera "26 Gorgeous Hikes on the Western Côte d'Azur". 

Note that as of December 2011, the cemenet ford on the D37 which leads the parking lot to the Malpasset Dam has collapsed. Work is under way to reinforce that section of the D37 road. We expect it to complete before the Spring 2012. In the meantime, you can park just ahead of the broken ford and continue afoot to the hike's start point.

The 26 Gorgeous Hikes hiking guide is available from Amazon France, Amazon UK, Amazon Germany, Amazon Japan and a few copies left on Amazon US too:

What a difference a week makes!


Photo above: In Fréjus-Plage, Nov 17, 2011.

If you walk along the beaches of the French Riviera today, it might not occur to you that torrential rains hit the area just ten days ago. The weather is warm. The seaside restaurants open. The sand golden and full of truck tire tracks.

Tire tracks? On the beach? That's because maintenance crews have been hard at work cleaning up the beaches of the many storm residues. They've picked up car tires, branches, lots of rocks and raked the sand clean.


So once again, signs of storms are promptly wiped clean. The same with most areas affected inland: Roquebrune-sur-Argens looks sparkling new yet much of the agricultural and flower-growing land of the plain was under water a couple of weeks ago. Hats off to a great collective effort to pop right back up again.


Photo: Beaches are clean & decorated with truck track art. Above: In Fréjus-Plage.


Gorges du Blavet

If you're anywhere near the towns of Fréjus, Bagnols-en-Foret or Saint-Raphael in Provence Côte d'Azur, France, you're likely to hear about the Gorges du Blavet. They're the local equivalent of the Grand Canyon, in a shrunken form.

For hikers such as ourselves, they're a favorite place to bring our hiking friends as the little canyon and its reddish cliffs not only look impressive in their fiery colors but the road that leads to them (D47) has a few great viewpoints too!

There are a few possible hikes around the Gorges du Blavet. In fact, we mentioned one in our hiking guidebook: 26 Gorgeous Hikes around the Western Cote d'Azur.

Much to our frustration, the hiking trails are not at all well-indicated in the area. With better signaling, it should be easy enough to head up the main wide path called "Piste de Bayonne" and turn right to the bridge before returning closer to the depth of the gorges. The reality is that the course is hadly marked and it's getting worse each year. BlavetAzurAlive4

For anything more that a simple hour stroll, you need a map, a guidebook, or the company of a guide who knows the area. And of course, you should always give yourself plenty of time for the hike. If you're well-prepared, the sights are gorgeous!




Hiking the Petites Maures


If you're anywhere close to the seaside resort town of Saint-Aygulf close to Fréjus and Saint-Raphael on the French Riviera, consider exploring the hills behind the beach: the Petites Maures.

Views from the top of the mountains are gorgeous. And it's always surprising to discover these waves of deep green hills from the inside. You wouldn't suspect that so much wilderness stretches behind you as you relax on a beach towel down by the sea by St Aygulf.


Where to begin your hike? One easy start is from the Allée des Petits Etangs de Villepey, in from of the Camping Marc Hilaire off the D7 road that links St Aygulf to Roquebrune-sur-Argens. See the Google map below:

Voir Les Balcons des Maures agrandir

Roquebrune-sur-Argens: Rivers after Rainfall

The town of Roquebrune-sur-Argens, next to Fréjus in South-Eastern France, counts a dozen of excellent hiking trails. I personally enjoy hiking around the Roc and on the wooded trails of the "25 Ponts" (see Hike #10 in our hiking guide entitled "26 Gorgeous Hikes on the Western Côte d'Azur").

I enjoy it so much that I was planning to take my hiking group there on Monday for a healthy trot across the 25 bridges, down the ravine of the Petite Maurette and over on the back-side to face the Rocher de Roquebrune rock on our way back.

The problem is, it rained a fair amount these last couple of days. And this hike crosses a lovely little stream called la Petite Maurette that swells with water running down from the surrounding hills. Today, we simply can't cross it safely on foot.

So I'll re-route my group to a hike on higher ground nearby. But if you're visiting, keep in mind that the hikes close to streams such as this one aren't ideal after rainfall, even if if the day is sunny, warm, splendid like today!


The French Riviera Mimosa Footpaths


It's February and the king of French Riviera winters is in bloom. All over the hills of the Massif du Tanneron, the Estérel and the Maures Mountains the mimosa colors the hills yellow.  

Soon, French Riviera towns will celebrate the yellow flowers: Mandelieu celebrates it with floral floats that parade through the streets at its Fête du Mimosa from february 18-21 2011. The parades on February 26 and 27th take place at the port of Mandelieu la Napoule beginning at 2:30PM.

If you're interested in a more quiet celebration, you can hike among the forests of mimosas. One fun easy hike by Roquebrune-sur-Argens takes place along the Piste du Vernet. If you're going without a map or hiking guide, it's easiest to just stay on the main path and head back the way you came. Loops are possible, but best with a map or guide if you're not familiar with the area.

Begin by the camping Les Claux off the D7 road that heads to/from Roquebrune-sur-Argens (see Google map below). You'll notice a green panel marked "Moulin à Huile - Clos St Martin" off the D7, opposite the entrance to the Les Claux camping. Turn into the road that leads to the Les Claux grounds and then right on the F7 Chemin Neuf path. You can park right there, alongside the road. You'll hike up the next road on your left then veer left off the road onto a marked footpath. It's actually the GR51 footpath. Go as far as you like on this path. After about 2 miles, you'll be surrounded by a mimosa forest.