From monasteries to châteaux

Distance: 205km | Duration: 1-1.5 days | Download

Philippe Chanin Journalist Freelance reporter specialising in motorbikes, he’s always hitting the roads in his PACA region. « I love taking it easy on board a huge GT as much as I love hugging the bends on a race track. »

Like the landscapes you ride through in the Var hinterland, the Provencal buildings have been around for centuries. This route takes riders in search of the real Provence from abbeys to monasteries and villages to forests.

The A8 motorway that dropped you off on the edge of the city is but a distant memory. You step straight into historical Provence in Saint-Maximin. Soak up the common theme and look out for the building peeking above the rooftops. This impressive basilica is probably the best Gothic landmark in Provence. You need to take the former N7 for 7km to complete the first stage; a short and sweet foray on the « holiday road » as it was called in the 60s and running from Paris to Menton. You won’t find any churches in Tourves but instead the château ruins that once watched over the village.

RELIC LOVERS, THANK US LATER

There are yet more château ruins in Rougiers on the D1. The « great road » ends here as the D80 heads off to conquer Sainte-Baume after the eponymous golf course and lays its narrow tarmac towards Nans-les-Pins before tackling the northern side. Sainte-Baume is the other Provencal giant with its Pic de Bertagne peaking at 1042m. Aubagne, Marseille and the Mediterranean lie below it. But for now you’re on the south-facing side, handling your engine with fun and flair as you get back into your stride after each bend, drowning in the shade of so many trees that you’d think night had fallen. As the road opens into the plateau, riders in a rush can go back down the mountain to the east. You could also go the other way and visit the lovely hotel that’s just 3km away. You can have something to eat, sleep or pray depending on your mood in this large house open to all Dominican nuns and monks.

SHADE AND COOL AIR

Once you’ve recharged your batteries then ride through the oak, maple and hazelnut trees to Mazaugues whose glaciers once supplied water to Marseille and La Roquebrussanne, another village with personality whose Saint-Saveur Church is said to have inspired Saint-Maximin basilica. Thrillseekers can make a detour to the Circuit Paul Ricard racetrack 20km away whilst those who want to stick to the road will prefer the D5 which leads to medieval Brignoles on the foothills of Loube Mountain. This little town will feel like a capital city after so many natural sites. It’s great to cool off here in summer. If the sun is overheating the bodywork then take this piece of advice and seek shelter on the banks of Lake Carcès. There’s no traffic on the road along the Caramy in low season.

CARPE DIEM

The AOC designation of controlled origin goes for the roads as well as the wines. From Vins-sur-Caramy the road gets narrow and bendy as you pass a pretty château B&B on the left. The red lands are a reminder of the bauxite mines that were once prolific and line the D24 right up to the lake. Vineyards and olive trees abound. Before bypassing the peaceful stretch, you’ll want to visit Thoronet Abbey, a landmark on this historical trail. The abbey lies in La Barbousière forest and belongs to the world-renowned Cistercian order. It is one of the most remarkable of its kind and has been listed as a Monument Historique. Go back on the same road with a sense of fulfilment and a clear head as you drink in the fresh bucolic lakeside air right up to the fortified town of Carcès. The D562 followed by the D3 lead you between the Côte de Provence wine estates to Entrecastaux where you’ll find Count de Grignan’s château and French-style grounds that are probably the best in the Var.

 

WATER, EVERYWHERE IN THE HAUT-VAR

Cotignac lies 9km away on the D45 sheltered by the famous rock housing troglodyte homes. A break on the square’s patio among the plane trees won’t go amiss. Look up as you venture through Montfort to see its regal château. You may spot the Knights Templar or the UFO that was seen in 1965. The road along the Argens is simply staggering. It snakes through Correns Woods before diving into the gorges popular with climbers. Water, the symbol of purity, bursts from the many fountains in Barjols where all that remains of the 14th century Pontevès château are ruins. Brue-Auriac on the D560 to Saint-Maximin is your chance to see one last chapel, the staggering Notre-Dame and its priory. The source of the Argens lies in Seillons on top of a tuff hill. And less than 5km, Saint-Maximin’s basilica looms like a semaphore telling travellers they’ve returned to the port.