Saint PonsParc de Saint-Pons à Gémenos
©Parc de Saint-Pons à Gémenos|B.Triffaux

The departmental Parc de Saint-Pons

In the south of France, near the city of Gemenos, the Parc de Saint-Pons is a popular place for families to go for a walk. The Saint-Pons valley offers a real oasis of greenery and freshness at the foot of the Sainte-Baume massif, which peaks at 1148 metres.

A unique natural area

At the foot of the Pic de Bertagne, the Parc de Saint-Pons offers all the diversity of the Mediterranean flora. The typical vegetation of southern Provence, composed of scrubland, holm oak and pine forests, gives way at the bottom of the valley to a forest of beech, hornbeam, lime, maple and yew.

Water is at the origin of the miracle that takes place here. The Fauge, which rises at the end of the Parc de Saint-Pons, feeds a network of streams that water the many trees present. Through an underground path that is still mysterious in many ways, the spring collects rainwater and runoff from part of the Sainte-Baume massif. It never dries up, even in the heart of summer.

A discreet fauna flourishes in the heart of this luxuriant forest. The dormouse rubs shoulders with the white-throated dipper, the roe deer or the emblematic and rare Bonelli’s eagle.

Trails and paths enable you to discover the natural treasures of the Parc de Saint-Pons.

A remarkable historic heritage

In a clearing in the heart of the forest emerges a building that seems to come straight out of a fairy-tale Middle Ages. The cistercian abbey of Saint-Pons of Gémenos, founded at the beginning of the 13th century, is a daughter of the Thoronet Abbey, one of the three Cistercian sisters in Provence. The nuns founded, on this generous territory where water is never missing, a religious community where they could withdraw from the world and devote themselves to prayer.

Other vestiges emerge here and there from the forest. Some, such as the chapel of Saint-Martin and the mills of Cuges and Foulon, bear witness to the spiritual fervour and past prosperity of the abbey. Other buildings evoke the economic life that developed around the Fauge: during your walk, you can discover the remains of the Paradou paper mills, founded in the 17th century by the Marquis d’Albertas, and the walls of the old Blancherie, which once became an inn.

A hike from the Saint-Pons Park can lead you to the path of the glaciers. These deep cavities, dug into the ground in the Sainte-Baume Massif, made it possible to build up large reserves of ice in winter. These ice blocks were then brought to Aubagne and Marseille on mules to refresh the inhabitants. The invention of the refrigerator put an end to this activity, but the iceboxes have remained and are a pleasure for hikers.

The legend of Blanche de Simiane

Legend has it that in the Middle Ages, a group of knights returning from a crusade stopped at the monastery of Saint-Pons to protect themselves from the night and the storm. One of the crusaders recognised his bride among the nuns. He wanted to get his bride back, and was prepared to use all means to achieve his aims. Blanche de Simiane, having dedicated herself to God, fled. Wishing to preserve her virtue and respect her vows, she crossed the bridge of the Abbey to throw herself into the torrent. Since then, her ruby blood has covered the bed of the Fauge.

Biologists claim that this remarkable red colour is due to the presence of an algae which only flourishes in rivers where the water is extremely pure. But we leave it to you to choose your truth!

Practical information

The park is located a few kilometres from the village of Gémenos.

You can easily reach the Saint-Pons park by car. You have to drive through Gémenos, following the direction of Plan d’Aups Sainte-Baume. At the end of the village, take the D2 road for about 1 kilometre. You will easily find the access to the parking on the left, announced by a zebra and a sign. The parking is free and it is only a few minutes away from the park walking.

The first part of the Parc de Saint-Pons includes reception areas, picnic tables, a petanque area and sanitary facilities. Visitors can stop at the Park House for further information.

The valley is accessible to people with reduced mobility.

Dogs on a lead are allowed in the reception area, but not beyond the Tompines meadow. Mountain biking is not permitted.

The Parc de Saint-Pons may be closed exceptionally, if weather conditions require it. In case of hot weather or strong winds, please consult the answering machine on (+33)4 13 31 50 30.

Ideas for walks in the Bouches-du-Rhône