For this month's visit to the South of France, I had the pleasure of staying in a drop dead gorgeous villa at the heart of Sainte-Maxime with family. Having stayed in the area a few times over the years, it's always a pleasure to return and soak up the summertime vibes of the French Riviera! After a couple of days spent lounging around by the pool (and eating my weight in madeleines), itineraries were drawn up and a full day of touring lay ahead.
First up, the Monastery of La Verne, a spectacular site located well and truly off the beaten track (includes 15 minute mandatory walk after parking - wear flats!). The Carthusian monastery was founded in 1170 and went on to amass over 3000 acres of forest/pastures, partly through donations. Over time, the monastery has suffered multiple fires and attacks from raiders/neighbouring lords, before being classed as a historical monument in 1921 and going on to have major refurbishments from 1969 to 1982. Present day, it stands proudly in the depths of the thick forests of Collobriéres, having had a 99 year lease signed in 1983 between the French state and monastic Family of Bethlehem. The site's tranquility is something worth visiting for alone; nuns can be found praying in modest chapels, lavender grows in masses within the boundaries of small courtyards and the views are spectacular. Go for the history, leave with a sense of calm.
Monastery of La Verne
Before leaving the small village (less than 2000 inhabitants), a visit to Confiserie Azuréenne was squeezed in, a gated business dedicated to making candied chestnuts (marrons glacés). The traditional market town is famous for its chestnut trees, to the point of one of its main exports being chestnuts. Confiserie Azuréenne has a small museum available to check out their creative process of turning them into something sweeter, as well as an outdoors, sheltered ice cream shop. Though, you'll have to let me know how the chestnut ice cream tastes, because never in the history of time have I ever turned down the opportunity to enjoy a caramel scoop!
While wandering past the various colourful buildings of Port Grimaud, one restaurant close to the waterfront stood out thanks to the infusion of nature into the front's decor. Oh and the oversized ice cream cone helped too - because who doesn't love giant foods? Le Relais des Coches proved to be a pleasant, modest stop. The staff were wonderful, a soft breeze blew through on a boiling hot day and although I was brought the wrong plate of food, it seemed like a great opportunity to try something new. Long gone are the days of rejecting cheese in my crêpes!
... and then back to the villa for a good night's sleep! One thing I'm already missing is the incredible views from the villa to both start and end the day. By morning, you could see the yachts speeding across the sea in the distance and by night, the skies were covered with smatterings of deep orange and red shades before the stars emerged. Anyway, more of that in part two - keep your eyes peeled!