Trip to Fayence: Part I

We’ve had a look around some of the villages perchées (perched villages) in the Niçois hinterland, now we’re going to take a spin around some of those in the neighbouring Var. Whether they are on a hillside, perched on a rocky outcrop, huddled against a cliff or tucked away amongst the vineyards and olive groves, the villages of the Var also exude a certain charm.

Set overlooking the valley, Fayence is one of the larger hilltop villages, tumbling down the hillside in terraces. It’s one of the many perched villages in the Var that we’ve frequently visited largely because it’s often featured in the Paris-Nice cycle race and a number of our local cycle sportifs. It’s one of a cluster of nine pretty, hilltop villages, each with their own, unique identity.

Despite having previously visited the village a number of times, we cannot claim to have really explored all it has to offer. This time however we happily strolled around the empty streets in the warm sunshine.

Plan Fayence

The name Fayence appeared firstly in 10th century under the name of Faiença then Faienza and finally Faventia. The current village was built in approx. 13th century around the Seigneurial castle (the lord of Fayence was the bishop of Fréjus) and protected by ramparts. However in the Gallo-Roman period the population lived largely on the plain below where there’s now a church.

This 11th century Romanesque chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary looks almost Florentine as it’s surrounded by cypress trees. Built from local stone by monks from the Abbey of Lérins, it has a squat structure with a Romanesque bell tower and its nave is closed to the east by the vaulted choir in the half dome.

The Saracen Gate (now listed) above is one of its few 13th century vestiges, situated at the base of the village which has retained its defence mechanisms and you can still see the working grooves of the hatch that closed the entrance to Fayence. Nearby is the tiny 13th century chapel, altered in the 17th century, dedicated to St Roch. Also at the base to the village, there’s the Fayence agricultural eco-museum, dating from 1807, which is located in two old mills dating from 13th and 18th centuries.

To fully appreciate the size and layout of the village, you should most definitely wend your way up the main road passing underneath the Town Hall porch, built under Napoleon III, before tackling the narrow winding, cobbled lanes and stairways.

This is because the best view of the surrounding countryside is from the Clock Tower with its splendid tiled Orientation Table. The tower was completed in September, 1807, but following torrential rains in October of the same year it collapsed and was quickly rebuilt. It was finally inaugurated in August, 1808. The Watchtower is the only remaining vestige of the Castle of the Bishops of Fréjus, it was one of the guard towers of the castle which was destroyed in 17th century.

Like most ancient villages Fayence also has a charming selection of fountains (13) and a wash house, some of them are as follows:-

The fountain and the Saint-Clair wash house: beautiful back-to-back fountain with a vast fluted basin. The covered wash house built near the fountain is fed by the pouring waters of the latter.

The Paty fountain: nestled in the heart of the village, this lttle old fountain owes its originality to its oval-shaped basin.

The Gabriel Péri fountain and washhouse: covered washhouse next to a vast fountain, built in 1851. The stone which was used in their construction came from the Sainte Anne chapel demolished during the Revolution.

The fountain of the Place de la République: this majestic back-to-back fountain is next to a classified carved stone washhouse.

The Ray wash house: perpendicular to the Ray path, there are two wash houses. The older one is low with beautiful cut stone copings. The higher one allowed washerwomen to work standing up.

The Rue-Grande du Château fountain: this pretty back-to-back fountain from 1999 bears the Fayence coat of arms.

The boules pitch fountain: the newest, made in September 2010 from stone from the nearby Péjade quarry.

Probably the town’s crowning glory is its baroque Church of St Jean-Baptiste, designed by the architect André Ferraud. It’s the third-largest church in the Var (after Saint Maximin and Lorgues), dating from 18th century which, with its three naves, took 30 years to complete.

It has a main altar and eight side altars including a carved wooden altarpiece representing St Christopher which dates from 16th century. It’s been listed since 1967.

On the other side of the village, there’s the old bread-oven, the Four du Mitan, which was built in 1522 under the bishop of Fréjus, Nicolas de Fiesque. This communal oven was saved from demolition in 1997 by a Fayençois group, the Friends of the Four du Mitan. This association has recreated, inside this small space, a scene from the past. A sound animation lets you listen to a story presenting the history of bread and ovens.

You can understand why the village is popular with tourists as Fayence has plenty of historical and unusual monuments, not forgetting the eye-wateringly steep Muur de Fayence which frequently features in bike races.

I’ll have mustard with mine

Yesterday was my first attempt at a local sportif called La Lazarides. I did the shorter parcours (107km) accompanied by my beloved. Or should that be part-accompanied, since he lost me on the way back. I know: careless, foolish, misguided or what? It’s not a good idea to lose the person with the map, the money, the car keys and the mobile phone.

The club was severely underrepresented: only three of us. But when I’d questioned a few of the regulars as to why they weren’t taking part, they all said it was more like a race than a randonnee. Actually, that was true. Fewer participants, generally only the better club riders (me being one of the very few exceptions), police assistance, cars covering the breakaways on both parcours and two pro-Tour riders who kindly just kept pace with the (amateur) leaders.

It was a lovely parcours and we both agreed we should ride more often over this terrain. It starts using the back-end of the smaller l’Antiboise parcours and then heads on past the dreaded Lac St Cassien (again, loads of traffic) before ascending to Mons via Fayence, but thankfully not by way of the Muur de Fayence (26%). Weaving one’s way through market day in Fayence was a little tricky. Thereafter, the roads were quiet and it was a great climb up to Mons and the feed zone where they had real coke, albeit lukewarm, and some delicious ham rolls.

Then there was a fast descent back down via  Callian and Montaroux which was were I overtook my beloved. The leaders of the 150km parcours came steaming past me and I tucked onto the end of the group. Much to everyone’s surprise, I manage to stay with them on the descent. My beloved claimed he was waiting for me at the Montaroux fountain. I never saw him as I zoomed through the town. Of course, as soon as the gradient changed, I was back on my lonesome.

I rode to the control point at the foot of the Tanneron and advised them I’d lost my husband  – careless, or what! – before continuing on up the hill. I assumed he’d soon catch me up. I was wrong, it took him until the final couple of kilometers. But what a welcome when we got back to the Stade Maurice Chevalier, a BBQ no less. Never have sausages, bread and mustard tasted so good. I’m going to suggest this for the Kivilev. Having consumed this feast, it started to rain in earnest, so we skipped the tombola and headed for home.

Once home we had to check our stats on the Garmin: more climbing and a faster average speed than La Louis Caput. Who would have thought it? It was a very rolling parcours with the final climb up the Tanneron coming at just after 80kms. There were even a few uphill stretches in the final couple of kilometers.

My legs felt tired today and I really laboured up the hill to Pre du Lac but after a gentle ride this morning they’re now feeling a lot better. The promised stormy weather held off and, as a result, I’m hoping that the forecast for the forthcoming days will improve. I’ve plenty of mileage on the programme for next week.

My beloved boys in claret and blue went down 3-1 away at Man City, effectively blowing any lingering chance of 4th or 5th spot in the Premiership. Still, with Liverpool losing to Chelsea today, we should hold onto 6th: no mean feat.

Ten minutes before full-time OGCN were comfortably leading 3-0 away at Boulogne, a team heading for relegation. Final score: 3-3! Yes, pretty unbelievable but, sadly, all too true. Goodness knows what happened to our defence – totally MIA.

Over in the Tour of Romandie, as anticipated, Valverde pounced on the final stage to take the overall, Spilak was 2nd and Menchov 3rd. The weather was again truly awful and 56 riders, who were out of contention, got off their bikes. Can’t say I blame them.

Watching and waiting

Spring has arrived and with it much balmier temperatures. I seem to have spent months muffled up like Michelin man but now I’m back into my ¾ bib tights with just a long sleeved shirt and gilet.

The last few week ends, thanks to the Tours of the Med, Haut Var and Paris-Nice, I have been able to combine training with watching live cycling. Generally, I like to ride to watch the riders sign-on and depart, then catch them en-route, preferably on an incline that I have just laboured up. On Saturday, the penultimate stage of Paris-Nice passed twice through Fayence.  So, having cycled around the undulating countryside, we wound our way up to the centre of town, to enjoy lunch and the final kms of the race.

On its first pass, the peloton was pretty much together but it split up over the subsequent Col de Bourigaille. I did note that with 40kms to go Alberto Contador was without team mates but didn’t realise that he was also without fuel. He should have said something; I had a couple of gels and an energy bar in my pocket. He would have been welcome to them.

We drifted up towards the finish to listen to race radio and heard the attacks unfold. All too soon Lou Lou Sanchez was racing towards the finish at a speed I could only hope to emulate cycling hard in the opposite direction (ie downhill). While Contador, who had quite clearly bonked, ascended the gentle climb at more my pace, with riders passing him in disbelief.

I can still recall seeing Contador take off on the Col du Tanneron in Paris-Nice 2007, on the penultimate stage of a race he went on to win the following day. He had come to my notice at the previous Paris-Nice when, at the start of the final stage, he offered me his Liberty Seguros cap and I directed him towards the small boy on my right who was only too delighted to receive this “trophy”. I wonder if he’s still got it, the former cap of a now multiple Grand Tour winner.