Bargemon, located in the hinterland of the Var department was a pleasant weekend getaway for myself and my partner and a town that we will definitely return to as the area allowed a nice change of scenery away from the coast.
Fortified in AD 950, Bargemon is a lovely village to discover with 11th-century ramparts and a tower from the middle of the 16th-century. We sat at the restaurant area on the corner of Rue Gabriel Peri and the main road shaded by plane trees which was a fantastic place to stop for a drink and watch the world go by.
Things to see and do in Bargemon and nearby towns
Bargemon has interesting ramparts and medieval gates with some brilliant views over the valley and forests.
Église St-Etienne, was originally built for the monks from the Abbeye on Île-Saint Honorat off the coast of Cannes, it was rebuilt in the 15th-century and notable features include angel’s heads attributed to Pierre Puget and the icon of Bargemon, a ram (belier) on the bell tower. The Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Montaigu has a wood carving of the Virgin brought to the village from Montaigu in Belgium in the 17th-century.
You can see the old community bread oven that served the town until the 1960’s – the baker used to stoke the fire with pine branches and it took 2 hours to reach the right temperature to cook the bread.
Like most French cities and towns, Bargemon has a number of fountains including Fontaine de la Poissonerie; I assumed it had some connection to fish (poisson) but it turns out the name is a misrepresentation of ‘peausserie’ which was a basin for bathing and cleaning the skin.
The town had a constant stream of motorbikes and cyclists which is understandable as the town itself and surrounding countryside is very scenic.
Col de Bel Homme & Camp Canjuers
The Col du Bel Homme (915 m) to the north of Bargemon offers great views of the Mediterranean, the valleys and villages set in the hills and on the coast. There is a small path to the west that leads to the orientation table at the Blaque Meyanne peak (1033 m) where the view is even more spectacular.
The Canjuers plateau is used as a military training ground so it’s possible you can see the odd tank, it’s advisable not to stray from marked roads.
If you want to do some sightseeing, there are plenty of attractions in towns located under an hours drive from Bargemon.
Callas is just 6km from Bargemon, we drove through and stopped for a drink. It was dead quiet when we visited in summer and it seemed like a sleepy town to stay in. You can see the old lavoir and an old olive oil mill.
Gorges de Pennafort
I was searching online for maps for short hikes in the area before our trip and discovered the Gorges de Pennafort (enroute to Bargemon) and it was an ideal place to stop and swim in the cool waterholes surrounded by cliffs and forest. Further down from where we stopped to swim there are canyoning spots with rock slides.
You park your car opposite the Hostellerie des Gorges de Pennafort and walk under the bridge following the dirt track; there are a few sections where you need to cross the river but the river crossings are knee high at the deepest with no strong current (take aqua shoes or trainers as the surface under water is rocks).
There were some pools that were shallow so it was an excellent place for families to swim and then picnic on the flat rocks.
Coming from an easterly direction, you can travel to Bargemon via Fayence which is a popular town for pottery and antiques. The town has some remnants of its 14th-century defences.
The Fayence airfield is a big gliding base and right next to it is a restaurant ‘Vol a Voile’ that’s good for families as you can have a meal and watch the airfield action.
Just 5km from Bargemon, the village of Claviers is reached by turning off from the road from Callas (if you are coming from Le Muy direction). It is built overlooking the Riou valley, is largely untouched by tourist traffic and a pleasant village surrounded by pines and olive trees.
Perched at an altitude of 325 metres above sea level, Callian has great medieval history with an impressive 12th-century château and a pretty church with glazed tiles on the steeple. The views are excellent from the top of the village of the Tanneron and Esterels.
Villecroze is best known for the Grottes Troglodytes, a system of caves which were originally used by Benedictine monks from Marseille to hide in when the Saracens stormed through and then a local lord claimed them in the 16th-century due to their prime defensive position.
The caves are listed as National Monuments in 2 categories – geology and history – and you can visit them between April and November.
The Château Thuerry vineyard at Villecroze is a good choice for wine tastings and they host music events occasionally.
Tourtour is popular with tourists; indeed it seems many visit due to its inclusion in Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (‘The Most Beautiful Villages of France’).
Due to it’s altitude it is nicknamed ‘the village in the sky of Provence’ and has excellent views of one of Cézanne’s favourite subjects, Mont Sainte-Victoire as well as the Massif Maures from the esplanade of Church Saint-Denis.
There is a 12th-century castle, an oil mill and also a fossil museum that is open April to October but check the hours first with the Tourist Office as they vary by day (November to March is by appointment only).
Abbaye du Thoronet
Founded in 1146, Abbaye du Thoronet sits beside a monastery home to some Cistercian nuns who sell handicrafts and is known as one of the 3 ‘Cistercian sisters’ of Provence, along with the abbeys of Silvacane and Séhanque.
Cotignac is an idyllic place set at the bottom of cliffs overlooked by defensive towers and a waterfall. It was the first parish in France to be supplied electricity generated by its own waterfall.
You can visit the cliffs by following the paved path behind the mairie – the path passes in front of the large oil presses, and leads up to the old hospice de la Charité. From there, you can continue on the narrow paths carved into the cliff face, protected by iron handrails and enjoy views over the village. More spectacular views are found at the top of the cliffs if you follow the road out of town that circles around.
Close to Cotignac, is the 17th-century Château Entrecasteaux with a pretty garden by Le Nôtre, and the Cascade de Sillans, a 42 metre high waterfall reached via a short walk (unfortunately you can no longer swim at the falls due to danger of rock falls).
With streets laid out by Baron Haussmann, the planner of modern Paris, Draguignan has some good local museums including the Musée des Arts et Traditions Populaires de Moyenne Provence with displays of country life, tools and economic history.
The Musée Municipal has collections of everything from furniture to ceramics and art by Renoir and Rembrandt. I’ve heard rumours that the adjacent library holds ‘Roman de la Rose’, a medieval manuscript considered France’s most important book of courtly love though I couldn’t find anything in my research to support this claim…in saying that, it doesn’t surprise me that a significant literary document is not promoted here…
Fans of Ancient Provence can see the ‘Fairy Stone (Pierre de la Fée) northwest of Draguignan which is the only true prehistoric dolmen in Provence.
Route des Vins
This region is true wine terroir and a nice side trip for wine enthusiasts as it has lots of vineyards where you can stop in for some wine tasting and buy wine from the producers.
We found some great wineries on the road from La Motte to Callas, and also a bit further in the zone from Brignoles to Barjols. You can get more guidance on some of the cellars to visit here: http://w3.tourisme-dracenie.com/modules/news5/article.php?storyid=63
Many of the towns in the region have great family-friendly activities including short hikes under 1 hour suitable for toddlers and baby strollers/prams, large town squares for playing while waiting for meals, and treasure hunts.
The towns of Bargemon, Claviers, Callas, Figanières and Les Arcs have treasure hunts based on the adventures of the Villeneuve Knights (Routes des Chevaliers) where kids can solve riddles and find clues. The link to the hunts is here; note: It is in French only. http://w3.tourisme-dracenie.com/modules/mydownloads/viewcat.php?cid=16
Places to eat
I highly recommend Pescalune in Bargemon, the food was exceptional and ambiance was superb with outdoor seating beside a trickling fountain and fairy lights in the trees. Virginie, the chef/owner is a supreme ‘people person’ and so passionate about her food; she even popped out from the kitchen to talk to diners during the evening.
Hostellerie des Gorges de Pennafort on the road from La Motte to Callas is an unexpected find in a lovely location. The restaurant received a Michelin star in 2015 and has 3 toques from Gault & Milleu. The restaurant is closed from mid-January to mid-March and the outside terrace is open only from mid-May to September but it is an excellent choice (they also have kids menus) and right next to the beautiful Gorges.
Places to stay
We stayed in a lovely traditional village house run as a Bed and Breakfast by an expat couple who were very hospitable. The house is conveniently located 2 minutes’ walk from restaurants and the main street but it is located on the edge of the village ramparts in a quiet peaceful location with no street or traffic noise – it was bliss to wake up to the sound of birds and frogs in the valley!
Our Master Room was spotlessly clean and had a beautiful panorama from the terrace (with a mini fridge to store wine and water) and was decorated with antique furniture, lots of guide books about the region and most importantly, a lovely comfortable bed.
Breakfast was tasty the next morning and consisted of boiled egg, cheeses, ham, fruit salad, juice, bread, croissant and conserves. My one comment is that the Master Room is accessed on the second floor therefore you need to consider this if you have heavy luggage (This means it’s not accessible for people in wheelchairs). You can book the B&B here: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1186248
If you’re looking for a family-friendly villa, Villa Olea near Seillans has a heated pool, 3 bathrooms and enough rooms for a large family – from September to May it has good rates (the villa is also wheelchair accessible) https://www.affinity-holidays-france.com/property/olea/
How to get to Bargemon
The nearest train station to Bargemon is Les Arcs-Draguignan. From there, Bargemon is serviced by bus on demand with Ted Bus, you can book 24 hours in advance http://www.tedbus.com/fr/node/772
From Nice direction, on the A8 autoroute head to Le Muy, get off at Exit 36, then head in the direction of La Motte, then Callas on the D25 road and Bargemon.
The journey from Antibes to Bargemon took around 1 hour 15 minutes with moving traffic (no traffic jams!); tolls cost €6,30 each way from Antibes to Le Muy.
For tolls from other points, check here: http://www.vinci-autoroutes.com/fr/system/files/pdf/2016/01/tarifs_escota_2016_v_web.pdf
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