Located 30 minutes away from Saint-Raphaël, in the foothills of the Alpes de Haute Provence, we find the hilltop villages of Pays de Fayence. Bagnols-en-Forêt, Callian, Fayence, Mons, Montauroux, Saint-Paul-en-Forêt, Seillans, Tanneron and Tourrettes, all of which offer visitors a rich cultural heritage. Having already toured Fayence, let’s have a look at some of the others which we regularly cycle either through or past. I had hoped to visit all of them in turn but a second lockdown in France has put that on hold, so I’ll be dipping into my photo archives.
Next door to Fayence is Tourrettes, a picturesque village built on an escarpment at an altitude of 400 metres ( 1,312 ft). Its name first appears in 1032 in the records of the Lérins monastery, probably because it was the site of a small wooden fort with towers. The fort may be long gone but Tourrettes has plenty of other attractions around its beautiful and incredible labyrinth of cobbled streets: open-air museum, artists’ studios, Museum of Art and Essays, St André church, magnificent bell tower, Chapel of the Penitents, Lavoir du Boudoura, and its Clock Tower – the highest point in the village.
And that’s not all. The Château du Puy, now a private property, was built in 1830 by General Fabre, a Tourrettan polytechnician in the service of the Emperor of Russia for over 20 years, which was inspired by the St. Petersburg Naval Cadet School. Jacques-Alexandre Fabre (1782-1844) had been lent by Napoleon I to the Russian tsar to build road infrastructure in Russia.
Mons, classified as a “Village of character” on its rocky promontory at an altitude of 814 metres (2,670 ft), dominates the Mediterranean coast. The village extends from fMont Lachens 1715 m (5,626 ft), at the top of the Var, to the confluence of the Siagne at 242 m (794 ft), which explains the exceptional variety of its flora: broom, lavender, cotton cistus, thyme, red valerian, mugwort … But also wild orchids.
The site of a prehistoric settlement, as its many dolmens (single-chamber megalithic tombs) testify. In 1st century AD, the Romans collected water from the sources of the Siagne below the village and built a 41.5 km (26 miles) long aqueduct to supply the town of Fréjus with water. The village however really developed from 10th to 13th centuries onwards as evidenced by its old walls, porches, arcades, sculpted doors, renaissance windows, romantic squares, washhouses, fountains and more.
The best views of the surrounding countryside, and even the sea, is from the Square Saint-Sébastien. At night, you can even see the Cap Camarat lighthouse, near St-Tropez.
Here are some of the other sights that make Mons a charming village to visit.
- The “Marine and Monstagne” exhibition (original scale models of ships built with matches).
- The municipal museum « La Maison Monsoise »
- The Notre-Dame chapel, which dates from 17th century and offers a splendid view of the village.
- The church of Mons, a parish church built in13th century and which has a very rare collection of splendid 17th century baroque altarpieces, as well as two processional crosses.
Nicknamed “the balcony of the Estérel”, Montauroux was built during 11th century in tiers rising between 100 et 400 metres (328 – 1,312 ft) above sea level. But as Montauroux is hidden in a lush vegetation, it’s difficult to see it from far away! There’s the big, traditional washhouse at the foot of the village, on top of which is the main square. Pretty little streets lined with colourful houses and punctuated by small squares, fountains and some shops and cafés all lead off the main square.
All the streets lead to the top of the village and the Saint-Barthélemy parish church with its square bell tower topped by a wrought-iron campanile. Built around 1630 by the White Penitents with stones from a long-gone fortress, it’s architecturally quite plain. But its interior has a barrel vaulted ceiling and painted wooden panels that cover the walls and ceiling, plus a large painting of Saint Bartholomew and the Annunciation behind the altar. Once the property of Christian Dior, he bequeathed the chapel to the town in 1953 who then had it restored. The famous designer himself lived in the magnificent 19th century Château de la Colle Noir that dominates the plain of Montauroux.
I’ll cover more of these charming villages in later posts.