It was with some sadness that I departed the fantastic Hotel du Castellet on Saturday May 19, 2018 but I certainly did not anticipate the wonderful sights and experiences, yet to come’ in France’s Department of the Var in Provence. Aside from Toulon and St. Tropez, the Var is a collection of small towns and villages, each with it’s own character and things of interest and surrounded by wide fields, many of which are lovely vineyards and dotted with very interesting and at least to me, unknown pleasures. As we drove out of Le Castellet and through some small towns we came upon a wide vineyard with hills and clouds on the horizon and decided to stop for some photos. In just a few moments the farmer and vineyard owner came along on his tractor and jumped off to welcome us to his vineyard which he proceeded to tell me were Merlot grapes and began to show me how he pruned the vines, so that they would grow and give a good grape harvest. He was most congenial and anxious to tell me all about his handiwork and about growing grapes in the Var. From there we proceeded to our first major point of interest and stop the amazing Abbey du Thoronet located between Draguignan and Brignoles so now I know that you know exactly where we were! The abbey was constructed in the 12th and 13th Centuries between 1160 and 1230!! It is a Cistercian Abbey which called for the monks to observe a stricter adherence to the rules of St. Benedict which included a sober esthetic which emphasized volume, light and fine masonry, eliminating the distraction of fine details. Although the abbey fell into disrepair for many centuries and it’s restoration began in 1841, one can still appreciate the gorgeous masonry, the fantastic stone work and austere, pure and clean lines which almost remind one of a Protestant Church, rather than a Catholic Abbey. I never cease to be amazed at how massive blocks of stone were quarried, carried to the abbey, cut and put into place sometimes many meters high and how the superb barrel vaults and supports were constructed. The abbey includes the church, the monk’s building, the cloister, the building for the lay brothers and the cellar. Producing wine and olive oil were the main sources of income for the abbey in it’s functional time. I also must say that the French do an excellent job of preserving their priceless places, like the abbey and I am always impressed by the families with children, exploring and understanding the heritage of their great country.
After leaving Thoronet we meandered on through the Var to the Chateau Sainte-Rosaline located in Les Arcs, 83460 if you want to look it up. The chateau is in honor of St. Rosaline who was born in 1300, the daughter of the Marquis of Villeneuve, one of the most powerful men in the region and in France. Rosaline however did not follow her father into marriage or social life but was known for her piety and care of the poor and sick of the region. The abbey was sanctified in the 19th Century but already by the 14th century it became one of the premier vignobles of Provence and in 1955 was granted “Cru Classe.” I had a chance to taste (and purchase) two lovely Rose’s to bring back home to the USA, if I can make the airlines weight limit with my suitcase! After the wine tasting, I explored the surprisingly lovely church which contains, yes it is true, the mummified body of Sainte-Rosaline in a glass case! Unlike Egyptian mummies, her face and hands are quite visible and a little disturbing. The church and adjacent cloister are quite lovely, in the midst of the green vineyards, hills and clouds of the surprising Department of the Var. It was with another bit of sadness that we left Chateau Sainte-Rosaline and began our trip back “home” to Menton. I really recommend the if you come to Southeastern France and perhaps to St. Tropez and Provence that you widen you exploration and include the delights of the Var!