Do you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the French Riviera and explore the cooler, greener countryside? Head up into the hills and spend some time in the picturesque hilltop villages in the Var. Nestled up in the hills about an hour’s drive west and inland from Nice and Cannes, the Var is in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region in the south-east of France.
Many of the medieval hilltop towns and villages were built in the 12th and 13th Centuries in strategic positions on the hills so that they were protected from invasion. They were built in the time of horses and carts, so many of the streets are too narrow for cars and you have to make your way up on foot.
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The walls of the houses are creamy or vibrantly painted and the terracotta tiles on the roofs give it the quintessential Provence feel. With winding cobbled streets and alleyways, towns, villages, and the occasional castle or two, expanses of greenery and lakes and rivers, the Var is a beautiful place to visit.
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Pretty Hilltop Villages in the Var
With several hundred hilltop villages or villages perches to explore, how do you choose which ones to go to? I have visited the Var many times and here are my five favourite hilltop villages in the Var to spend time in.
Like most of the towns and villages in the area, Fayence started off as a fortified town and some of the remnants of the early fortifications can be seen around the town including the Porte Sarrasine from the 14th Century.
From the old stone wash house at the bottom of the town, creamy stone houses climb the hill up to the top in a zig zag fashion, winding its way to the Clock Tower at the very top.
If you are not confident with parking on steep hills, drive to the top of the town where there is plenty of parking in the municipal car park.
From the Clock Tower at the top Fayence you can take in the stunning 360-degree view across the town, over the surrounding area and to the hills beyond. The endless green of the plains and wooded area go on for miles. The edge of the 19th Century Clock Tower has been embellished with a painted tiled fresco of the view which also helps you locate places in the distance.
Tucked in and around the streets of Fayence are ateliers, art galleries and antique shops as well as clothes and food shops.
One of my favourite shops is La Cave de Fayence where you can peruse the wines, champagne, jam, sweets, honey, soap, olives & olive oil and other Provençal products on offer. They offer advice on wine pairings without the heavy sales pitch you get in other places.
La Cave de Fayence | 1 place Léon Roux | 83440 Fayence|Facebook
Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, Church Square is turned over to a bustling and vibrant market. The stalls offer fresh vegetables, cheeses, olives and olive oils as well as clothing, linen and local produce. If the fish sellers are there, be sure to pick up some plump prawns, oysters or fresh fish.
There are also several specialist markets held in Fayence throughout the year including an Antiques’ Market four times a year; An Art Fair on the 3rd Sunday in July with over 60 artists and Artisans and an Exhibition of “Provence Gourmande” on Sunday in mid-August.
Down on the plains below Fayence is a small airfield where there is a gliding school. You can have a meal or drink or for the more adventurous why not try a 25-minute flight. You can glide across the beautiful countryside surrounding Fayence. For more information contact www.aapca.net
I do have a soft spot for Claviers, not just because my father lives there, but it is such a gentle, pretty little village with winding cobbled streets, a small square, a church, and beautiful views over the surrounding tree-covered hills. The locals are friendly and you can have a game of boules while taking a beer or cup of coffee at Bar Tabac Saint Eloi.
Sit in the shade of the plane trees in the square outside the St. Silvester church and watch the world go by. In the square, you have several restaurants, the most interesting is Le Clavero. Run by Guillaume, who is French and chef Gergely who is Hungarian but married to an Indonesian, the wonderful menu has influences of all three countries. You can sit inside the cosy restaurant or, when the weather is good, on the terrace in the square. Le Clavero closes during winter (October to March, check the website for details).
La Cave de Fayence | 1 place Léon Roux | 83440 Fayence|Facebook
With narrow little lanes, dry stone walls, olive trees and tall picturesque townhouses the village is calming for the soul. Village life seems laid back, but actually, there is a lot going on; a choir, events where the whole village gets together to share a meal, brocantes – the French equivalent of a car boot sale, but oh so much better, traditional dancing make it the perfect place to spend some time relaxing.
From Claviers, take the twisty, winding road down to the left past the deserted mill house – allegedly haunted and one of those that would be a dream/nightmare to renovate – and back up the other side and take the left fork you will come into Callas.
Callas meanders down the hill with a series of steps taking you between the different levels.
Most of the restaurants and eating places are along the Rue Saint Eloi. Try the cosy La Grupie Restaurant for amazing fish dishes and traditional French dishes, or Clotilde Patisserie for divine eclairs and pastries. Along at the main square is La Fontaine who serve beautiful French dishes alongside hearty stews.
During the week you can sit in the square and have a coffee, but on Tuesdays and Saturdays, the main square is taken over by the market, filled with fresh fruit, vegetables, olives, cheeses and other local produce.
The hills and plains around Callas are filled with olive trees; young trees growing alongside old gnarled trees bearing fruits. The olives are all harvested by hand, with large nets put below the trees.
On the road out of the village is The Moulin de Callas. Started in 1928, the mill uses locally grown olives to produce oil, soaps, olive wood chopping boards and a range of other items. It is worth a visit to see the old mill wheels and presses which originally did the hard work of milling the olives.
Moulin de Callas | Les Ferrages | 83830 Callas |Website
If you would like to learn some French for your next trip, check out The Intrepid Guide Language School’s Master French for Travel Fast course.
Bargemon is to the north of Claviers and sits at an altitude of 500m. The small medieval village is charming to wander around with many brightly painted building and cobbled streets.
In the centre are squared shaded by large plane trees where you can stop for a coffee, lunch, dinner or aperitif. My favourite restaurant is La Taverne in Place Philippe Chauvier where you can while away a few hours chatting and eating their delicious food. Don’t miss the 18th century found in the Place too.
Like many of the villages in the area, there are many artists who exhibit here in the art galleries. In early July there is a handicraft and agricultural fair with live music and entertainment for all. The weekly market is every Thursday morning.
With parts of Bargemon dating back to the 12th and 16th century and ramparts to explore as well as the 15th Century church and the amazing views down the valley. Bargemon is a beautiful place to spend an afternoon.
Considered to be one of the Plus Beaux Villages in the Var – most beautiful villages – Seillans sits prettily to the north east of Fayence. Nestled into the hillside with views from the top out over the surrounding green valley.
Like the rest of the ville perché, the village is on a very steep hill, in fact, so steep that you can only access the medieval centre on foot. Climb up the cobbled streets to the top to see the 11th Century castle and 13th Century Saint Léger Church. Among its historic monuments, Seillans features a medieval castle (11th century) and the delightful Church of Saint Leger, which a clocktower that was added in 1561.
Take a break in one of the shaded little squares for a cup or glass of something and take it all in. In Place de Thoroun there are a beautiful fountain and plane trees for shade which is perfect while you have a meal at La Glorie de Mon Pere.
Also in Place de Thoroun, there is a museum to the surrealist artist, Max Ernst. Ernst made his home in Seillans and lived out his last 10 years there. One of his statues stands in Place de la Republique.
Seillans holds an annual pottery market in Place de la Republique on 15 August – which is an annual holiday in France – where you can pick up artworks from established and emerging artists. There are also regular brocante which can be fun to wander around and pick up a bargain or two.
Have you visited the Var region of France? Let me know in the comments below