A Day In: Bormes les Mimosas

BormesoratoireCovered in yellow mimosas from late January to March, in bright pink bougainvilleas from June, the old town of Bormes les Mimosas bursts with colors like a firework.

In this old town, some 90 varieties of mimosas flourish, each doused in scents of vanilla and sweet pineapple and flush with powdery yellow balls like little rounded breath mints.

The town's roads climb around "La rue Rompi Cuou" or the break-neck road. They rest by the 18th century Saint-Trophyme church where, under a big yellow tree, a bench faces a bougainvillea. Neat and well-restored, they take cover under stone passageways or "cuberts".

If you visit, you may want to hike through the streets of Bormes les Mimosas to the Chapel Notre-Dame de Constance.  While not a "rompi cuou" walk, it climbs to reach 324 meters.  At the top of the hill by the chapel, an orientation table names the blue, green and golden sites that surround and dazzle you from the mountains of the Maures to the Golden islands of Hyères. Highly recommended.

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A Day in: Chartreuse de la Verne

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It floats over waves of dark hills in the Maures mountains, a long thin tawny brown ship with arcades for portholes, rows of roofed cubic cells for living quarters, and the pointed bell tower of its Roman church for pilothouse.

Behind chestnut and holm-oak forests, the La Verne Charterhouse glows in the browns of its Maures schist stones and the greens of its serpentine door frames and vaults.

The history of this monastery is one of turbulence and tenacity. Founded in 1170 over the site of an old presbytery, the La Verne Charterhouse endured ravaging fires, assaults and pillages. After each wave of destruction, it supporters picked up rubbles, cleared ashes and loss, and rebuilt. In 1790, after the French Revolution, the Charterhouse's goods were sequestered and the monks were in the end forced to abandon the monastery. 

Classified as a Historical Monument in 1921, it was "adopted" by a group of dedicated friends ("Association des Amis de la Verne") and restored. Since 1983, sisters from the religious order of Béthléem, of l'Assomption de la Vierge and of St Bruno live in the monastery.

Parts of the monastery are open to the public for quiet visits every day 11AM to 5PM, and closed on Tuesdays and during the month of January.  In the Porterie room, you'll find fine pottery for sale, all hand-painted by nuns and monks from various monasteries across France (no sale on Sundays).

Getting there: from Grimaud, wiggle your way on winding D14 towards Collobrieres, then D214 to Chartreuse de la Verne.

Monastère de la Verne, 83610 Collobrières, Tel: 04.94.43.48.28


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.


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...