Like the landscapes we travel in the hinterland of the Var, Provençal buildings have traversed the centuries. From abbeys to monasteries, between villages and forests, this route guides bikers in search of authentic pleasures.
Saint-Maximin La Sainte-Baume Brignoles Le Thoronet Cotignac
Etape 1Saint-MaximinAnd its Gothic Basilica
The A8 motorway which brought you to the edge of town is only a memory. In Saint-Maximin, you get in on the ground floor of historical Provence. Get oriented by spotting the building which rises above the rooftops. This imposing basilica is one of the finest Gothic works in Provence. To reach the first step, you will have to take the ex-N7. A very short run on the Route des Vacances [Holiday Road], as it was called in the 1960s. In Tourves, you won’t see a religious building, but the ruins of the castle which guarded the village. On to Rougier via the D1 for more castle ruins. The « Big Road » stops there, since, after the golf course, the D80 that heads over Sainte-Baume is a narrow ribbon heading towards Nans-les-Pins, before attacking the hill by its northern flank.
Etape 2Sainte-BaumeAnd its famous Inn
Sainte-Baume is the other giant of Provence, with its Pic de Bertagne peak looming at 1,042 metres. At its feet lies Aubagne, the city of Marseille, and the Mediterranean. But at the moment you are on its northern face, switching gears after every hairpin, lost among the conifers whose shadows are sometimes so deep that they completely shut out the daylight. As you come out onto the plateau, the route invites the hurried traveller to descend the mountain to the east. You can also go to the opposite side to visit the Hostellerie, only 3 kilometres away. In this massive house, open to all by Dominican sisters and brothers, you can get something to eat and drink, sleep, or pray, depending on your mood.
Etape 3On the Road to BrignolesThe Mediaeval
Sated, you will head off through the oaks, maples and hazelnut trees as far as Mazaugues, whose ice-houses used to supply Marseille and La Roquebrussanne, another village with an original stamp. It is said that its Saint-Sauveur church was a first draft of the Basilica of Saint-Maximin. The boldest can blast up to the Paul Ricard circuit, 20 km away, while those who want to stick to the route will prefer the D5 which, on the buttress of La Loube mountain, runs towards mediaeval Brignoles. After so many natural sites, this little town feels like a bustling capital. In summer, it is a good place to cool down. And if the sun is still too hot on your hide, head off to take refuge on the shores of the Lac de Carcès. Out of season, the traffic is non-existent along the Caramy river.
Etape 4The Abbaye du ThoronetA Cistercian Jewel
After Vins-sur-Caramy, the road becomes narrow, while on the left stands a pretty chateau which has been turned into a guesthouse. A souvenir of the bauxite mines which thrived around the village, the red lands line the edges of the D24 until you reach the lake. Vines and olive trees mingle together. Before you go round this peaceful expanse, you will be keen to visit the Abbaye du Thoronet, the climax of this historical route. Hidden in the Barbousière forest, this Cistercian abbey is known throughout the world and classified as a historical monument. Head back the same way to cool off with a bucolic ride at the lakeside as far as Carcès, a fortified town. The D562, then the D3 will guide you through the wine-growing estates of Côte de Provence as far as Entrecastaux.
Etape 5From Cotignac to BarjolsTemplars and UFOs
9 km away along the D45, Cotignac is protected by the famous rock which houses troglodyte dwellings. Before you climb up there, you probably won’t refuse a stop in a square planted with plane trees. As you pass through Montfort, look up to see its majestic castle. Perhaps you will distinguish the shapes of Templars, or that of the UFO which was observed in 1968. The route along the Argens is only one marvel after another. It winds through the Correns woods before running towards the gorges where climbers go. In Barjols, where water springs in the fountains, there remain only the ruins of the Chateau de Pontevès, built in the 14th century. On the D560 which brings you back to Saint-Maximin, Brue-Auriac gives you the chance to see a final chapel, Notre-Dame, magnificent with its priory.