A Guide to: Provence Var and the Var Villages

Guide to the Provence Var and the Var Villages

The Var is one of the largest departments in France. At the foothills of the Alps and spreading down to the coast of St Tropez, Toulon and Marseille, half of the region is covered in forest and its surprisingly mountainous.The mountains include the Gordes du Verdon at the back on the edge of the plateau of the Vaucluse is where you begin, tumbling down to the Massif de l’Esterel on the boarders of the Alpes-Maritimes, Cote d’Azur to the east and the Massif des Maures to the west towards the St Tropez coastline. Travelling to the north west is the mountain ridge of Saint-Baume which stretches into the Bouches-du-Rhône.

You would be forgiven for thinking the statisticians had got it wrong when you hear that tourism is the principal industry of the Var, with the exception perhaps in the height of summer. But maybe it is because of its vast area that this region seems to offer a slightly slower pace of life than the bustling Cote d’Azur with the large city of Nice and vibrant resorts of Cannes, Antibes and St Tropez. Perhaps it is because agriculture and horticulture together with the farming of livestock, particularly sheep and goats, are the second mainstay of industry of the region. The gentle pace of village life seems to have found a way of embracing tourism without losing its historical roots.

It is an area of wild, rugged natural beauty interspersed with perched Medieval villages and lush green vineyards in every direction. If you are seeking the coast, you will not need to look too far with some 200km of coastline you will never be far from the sea. Stretching from a few kilometres west of the Cannes coastline, crossing Fréjus St Raphael, Sainte Maxime, around the Gulf of St Tropez and along to the beautiful coast of Hyères and the Giens Peninsular. Continuing the coastal journey will take you across the Camargue, the rugged Calanques to the resort of Bandol and Saint Cyr sur Mer. A coastline of diverse beauty.

The red rock “Corniche d’Or” east of Fréjus St Raphael is the waterline of the Massif des Maures. Take a drive along the coast road between Mandelieu La Napoule and Fréjus St Raphael and you will not fail to be in awe of the incredible rich ferrous red of the rocks that line the coast. The contrasting colours of the red rocks, dotted with parasol pine trees, the deep blue Mediterranean sea and the blue sky is truly captivating. Unspoilt nature at its best. It is possible to swim off the rocks at various points along the route. You can park your car and climb down the rugged footpaths to coves and plateau rocks but don’t forget to take a snorkel! The colourful fish in these deep waters are spectacular.

Fréjus and St Raphael – A vibrant holiday resort steeped in history

The towns of Fréjus and St Raphaël tend to merge into one but each have their own character.

Fréjus is a Roman town built around 34AD. Its historic remains can be seen throughout the town, with the Aqueduct arches, walls and Amphitheatre. As well as being able to take a tour around the amphitheatre during the day there are open air concerts held there some evenings throughout the year. The church of St Maximinus dating back to the 15th century is good to visit.

Situated at the eastern end of the coast road is Port Frejus which was originally an inland dock. In the 1980s it was transformed into a marina and apartment complex with restaurants, shops and bars.

With wide sandy beaches on either side of the port it is an other great place for a day at the beach.

The Sunday morning market along the sea front is excellent with everything you would expect to find plus a very good produce market on the eastern end. In the summer season Frejus hosts many events and activities together with firework displays in the evenings. An enjoyable time can be had meandering through the evening artisan’s market which is along the sea front during the season. This is open from 8pm and can often go on until 2am. With shops and restaurants open and street entertainment, the atmosphere is lively. It’s a good resort to bring the kids to

As you are walking along the promenade you can be forgiven for not noticing you have stepped over the boundary into St Raphael. This boasts a smartly refurbished port and promenade with its restaurants and boutiques. There is also a huge ferris wheel on the promenade. For those who aren’t afraid of heights, it will provide you with the best view of the coastline and promenade. From the the port area you can take a day trip boat ride to St Tropez or Les Iles de Lérins, near Cannes. A bustling resort with plenty to see and do. Lovely sandy beaches, water sports and activities, good shopping and an abundance of restaurants and bars.

The Var to the east includes the Pays de Fayence and boarders the Cote d’Azur. To the west the countryside opens out on a wide plateau bordered by the Massifs and mountains where you will find historic medieval villages such as Le Cannet des Maures, Les Arcs sur Argens, Le Luc en Provence and Lorgues to name just a few.

For a wonderful insight into this rich wine growing region take the N7 from Le Luc towards Brignoles, as opposed to the motorway. Your first port of call will be Flassans-sur-Issole where you should take the D13 towards Besse-sur-Issole. But do take time in the villages to take in the tranquility of a by-gone age. Continuing south on the D13 will take you through the larger town of Carnoules. Once in Carnoules we would invite Affinity Holidays clients to visit our wine supplier and partner the Domaine of Le Grand Cros. You will find them on the D13, heading south, and we are sure you will be given a warm welcome together with the opportunity to sample the wonderful wines that they produce and we are sure – buy!

Le Cannet des Maures – a village of two centres 

Located in the “Centre Var”, the original roots of Le Cannet des Maures date back to the 11th Century when it was known as the Castrum de Caneto. An ancient village, where time has stood still, perched high above the plains of the Maures and in the distance the Massif des Maures. Parking at the foothill of Vieux Cannet it is a walk back in time into the small hamlet with its 11th Century church St Michel, the wonderful archway at the entrance of the hamlet, the dusty unpaved streets, little alleyways streets and shaded square. The 360° views are spectacular. It is a world away from the bustling main town of Le Cannet but it is worth coming off the main route through to explore some of the back streets of the village and the town square.

Les-Arcs-Sur-Argens – the heart of the Côtes de provence wine growing region

Les-Arcs-Sur-Argens (not to be confused with the ski resorts of Les Arcs) has a history dating back some 2500 years. Wander through the streets and lanes of this ancient town and you will feel the aged atmosphere surround you. Once fully encircled my medieval fortifications there are many remains still visible to this day. The clocktower dominating the sky line with its ornate bell and the roman style 12th century Chapel of Saint Pierre. There are often concerts and exhibitions held in the Chapel during the summer season. The Chapel of Sainte-Roseline, now a wine domaine, is on the edge of the town of Les-Arcs-Sur-Argens. There is an 11th century chapel and part of the Monastery of la Celle Roubaud, now converted to the Chateau of Sainte-Roseline. Whilst you can visit the chapel and of course the wine Domaine, the Chateau is now privately owned and closed to the public.

Draguignan – A town of military interest

Whilst this sprawling town does not have a considerable amount of historical interest, it has become an important town for military interest with Museums and a US war cemetery and memorial for soldiers who were killed in the Second World War. Away from the tree-lined avenues and boulevards to typical of many French cities and you will discover the maze of the medieval town with small alleyways, little boutiques, restaurants and bars. Seek out the best preserved medieval houses in the Rue de la Juiverie and the 17th century clock tower which stands high on a rocky part of the town.

Le Castellet – Not just the home of a F1 race track

Heading far west of the Var department, 20km from Toulon, you can discover the popular tourist village of Le Castellet. A very popular tourist destination which typifies the glorious Provence. A fortressed village you wander through the gates into a beautifully restored example of Provençal architecture. The 15th century Chateau which now is the town hall, offers excellent panoramic views of the massif Sainte Baume and the extensive wine growing region below. This is a particularly good area for the popular Bandol wines. The meandering streets, alleyways and lanes offer up bougainvillea covered stone work, sweet scented wisteria or jasmine when in season, and a beautiful colour combination against the soft cream coloured stone. There is a wealth of shops selling everything Provençal from soaps, candles, beauty products as well delicious food treats such as tapenade and olive oils.Visit le Castellet at lunch time – you won’t be short of choice of restaurants and the scents and aromas of local home cooking will be difficult to pass by!

Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume – a vibrant town with an exceptional history

North west of the region close, 34km south of Aix-en-Provence, it is a bustling town, a great shopping area mixed plenty of historic interest. The town is dominated buy the magnificent Basilica of Sainte-Marie-Madeleine built in the 13th century and houses the remains and the tomb of Mary Magadelene.  It is reported that she arrived in France after the crucifixion and spent much of her remaining life in the Grotte de la Sainte Baume. Her tomb was discovered in the 13th century and the Basilica was built on what was reputed to be an ancient crypt where her remains lay. It is a dedicated and popular pilgrimage destination. The Town Hall was built in the 18th century to welcome the pilgrims who came to visit the Basilicia. Also worthy of a visit in this interesting town is the Convent of the Dominican monks with is cloisters and gardens, located next to the Basilica.

St Tropez – famous throughout the World

St Tropez was once a sleepy fishing village and that is not difficult to imagine even today, despite the sparkling white yachts that align the harbour. Well known for its claim to fame from the 1950s and 1960s when it became immortalised as “the holiday resort” by the celebrities of the day. A reputation which has long been continued and enjoyed by the famous, fashionable, artists and so many more. But St Tropez is not just “their” haven or a place to go for people watching, although it is probably one of the most popular past-times during the summer season.

But exploring the back streets of St Tropez, the narrow streets and alleyways, you will see the village at its heart. Wandering past the soft colours rose, terracotta, creams and yellows of the painted walls of the simple fisherman’s houses and climb up through the gardens surrounding the citadel to enjoy a perfect photo opportunity. On a clear and windy day you may be lucky enough to watch the yachts in the Gulf of St Tropez, a magnificent site.

Meander back down to the sea front, walk along the harbour wall, and take a look back at the façade which is so well know and you will see the origins of St Tropez clearly.

A visit to the Place des Lices, in the middle of the town, to watch the locals playing Boules, passing by the local artists at work on their brightly coloured paintings.

Perhaps you should allow yourself a visit of indulgence too, a visit the restaurant of La Tarte Tropézienne, which is located in the Place des Lices. The history of this delicious and totally “unfattening” tart goes back to the 1950s when the local baker made tart of brioche sponge and filled it with a thick layer of custard. He covered the top with large granules of sugar. Legend has it that Brigitte Bardot was filming in Saint Tropez and is reputed to have claimed it was the best cake she had ever tasted. The legend continues that she persuaded the baker to name the cake La Tarte Tropézienne! The restaurant remains and the Tarte Tropézienne is found in almost all good Patisserie shops locally. Naughty but incredibly nice!

Because of the sheer size of the Provence Department of the Var it would be impossible to offer a guide to all the villages or places of interest. Many of our villas are located within an easy driving distance of all of the village we have mentioned. It is a region rich in culture, history, interest and enjoyment. We are sure it will offer the clients of Affinity Holidays France an opportunity to enrich their holiday experience.