Destination: France: Provence
Eastern Provence: The Var region
Only a 40-minute drive north from Cannes, the peaceful inland Var countryside may be one of the last frontiers of southern France’s uncharted territory. Up in the hills, the landscape changes dramatically, with winding roads bordered by emerald grassy fields, lush vineyards, blue lakes and lovely medieval perched villages that have honey-colored stone churches, shaded squares and picturesque narrow streets. It’s the kind of destination where days are filled with visits to local villages, authentic smaller museums, open markets and, of course, meals in fantastic local restaurants, many of them Michelin -starred. Here’s what not to miss.
Take a drive through the leafy road D19 that leads to Seillans, the oldest of six fortified villages in the Eastern Var. You’ll find a cluster of beige stone houses dominated by a castle, rising up in the middle of a forest. Then head southwest and explore Tourrettes (named after the two towers of its château) and Montauroux, a village that has a pretty 12th-century chapel, which was once owned by the Christian Dior family. The nearby Lac St-Cassien makes for a great outing for picnics, sailing and water sports. Die-hard hikers and extreme sports fans may want to venture further north to the Gorges Du Verdon (expect hairpin turns and windy roads with dramatic scenery on the drive there). This gorgeous river canyon has verdant hillsides, deep ocher gorges and waterfalls, and active travelers can partake in everything from rafting to rock-climbing.
Located in the grassy farmland plains between Grasse and Fayence, Restaurant Eric Madio is a perfect spot for lunch thanks to excellent regional cuisine that’s served on a cool tree-shaded terrace.
Spend a relaxing afternoon at the fantastic spa at the Four Seasons Resort Terre Blanche in Tourettes, a 35-minute drive from Cannes. Try the signature Provencal Escape, a two-hour treatment that includes a massage with lavender-infused olive oil and crushed lavender buds, Afterwards, have a snack at Infusion, the spa restaurant headed by Michelin -starred chef Philippe Jourdin.
Work up an appetite before heading to Chez Bruno, in Lorgues, the renowned restaurant run by chef Clément Bruno, who prepares such caloric dishes as creamy gnocchi with truffles and caramelized truffle ice cream. Diners sit on on a shady terrace surrounded by an olive grove.
Drive to the panoramic mountain village of Gourdon, a tiny perched medieval village near Grasse, for a visit to one of the best kept secrets in the area. Visitors can arrange tours of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs et de la Modernité appointment only. It’s housed in a medieval castle and features hundreds of spectacular pieces, including works by Klimt and Louis Majorelle, from the 1920s and 30s.
Stop by the classic Bastide de Saint Antoine, run by two-star Michelin chef Jacques Chibois, in the pretty village of Grasse, about a twenty-minute drive form Gourdon.
Spend the afternoon at the new International Perfume Museum, in Grasse’s Old Town, where you can admire Marie Antoinette’s precious nécessaire (a brass and wooden travel case that held her gilded vials of balms and lotions) among the 5,000 items on display. (Tip: read Patrick Süskind’s fascinating novel Perfume, set in 18th-century France.)
Head for the romantic shady ding terrace at Le Castellaras, near Fayence, where chef Alain Carro cooks up delectable authentic Provencal recipes.
Wander the Old Town of Vence, a maze of cobblestone streets with pretty local ceramics and Provencal house wares, then drive to the nearby starkly beautiful blue-and-white Chapelle du Rosaire, also known as the Matisse Chapel, as it was decorated by the artist between 1949 and 1951 (the stained glass windows are world-renowned).
Just a stone’s throw from the Matisse Chapel, don’t miss Les Bacchanales, which opened in July 2008 in the private home of Michelin -starred chef Christophe Dufau, whose wildly creative cuisine celebrates his passion for vegetables, herbs and flowers, all plucked from the garden.
Drive down to Cannes for some afternoon shopping on the Rue d’Antibes and the endless row of designer boutiques on the seaside main drag, La Croisette. Then climb up the hill of the old Le Suquet, the old quarter’s steep winding cobblestone streets, up to the 12th-century watchtower for a sweeping view of the coast. Just next door, the museum, Musée de la Castre, displays archeological finds from around the world.
While you’re in Cannes, make a reservation at newly-reopened Félix, the legendary haunt that has been revamped into a relaxed, stylish bistro, complete with a candle-lit outdoor terrace and a Champagne bar.
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