Head out on the picturesque little roads of the Sainte-Baume Regional Nature Reserve and succumb to the countless charms and vibrant views of this hub of heritage, sport and gastronomy.
Plan d’Aups Sainte-Baume
Vallon de Saint-Pons
Tucked away in the heart of the valley and crossed by the Fauge river, enjoy a restful pause at the Domaine Départemental de Saint-Pons estate on the first day of your adventure. A pretty walk awaits your from Col de l’Espigoulier : head to the village of Plan d’Aups Sainte-Baume, stopping off at Pic de Bertagne to admire the sweeping views over the Mediterranean and Garlaban hills. Enjoy a picnic lunch with the bays of Marseille and Toulon as your backdrop. When evening comes around, make your way to Lou Pèbre d’Aï, a Valeurs Parc Naturel Régional hotel-restaurant steeped in the atmosphere of Provence: this venerable establishment has been flying the flag of local traditions and cuisine for over 50 years!
The Sainte-Baume sanctuary
Venture into the primary forest of Sainte-Baume to discover a preserved ecosystem and genuine refuge of biodiversity. This unique and very-ancient forest is dominated by veteran beech trees and other remarkable tree varieties. Let your meditative mind guide you to Sainte-Marie-Madeleine’s Grotto via the iconic Chemin des Roys. The climb isn’t over yet: next stop is Chapelle du Saint-Pilon, boasting breathtaking views over the Mediterranean Sea and Alpine mounts of Provence. Make the most of this magnificent decor to savour a must-do picnic. In the evening, enjoy wining and dining again at Lou Pèbre d’Aï before bunkering down for the night at La Maison Rouge, a Valeurs Parc Naturel Régional B&B designed and built by local carpenters in an elegant rustic spirit.
It’s already your third day! Continue the adventure in the footsteps of Saint Mary Magdalene at Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume Basilica, Provence’s largest Gothic construction. The basilica shelters the Saint’s relics and is an international place of pilgrimage. Pause awhile to absorb the treasures on view, from the reliquary in the crypt to the 16 panels of The Passion of The Christ. You can explore the natural environment around this sacred site with a delightful hike, taking in the limestone cliffs of Caramy Gorge and Chapelle Saint-Probace standing over it. After your morning’s adventures, settle down for a sumptuous lunch at the Chapitre du Couvent Royal before winding up the day at La Bastide de la Provence Verte, a Valeurs Parc Naturel Régional hotel set in 5-acre grounds where you will be welcomed by Ben, Flo and a chorus of cicada song!
Discovering local flavours
The fourth day is a real treat for foodies. Head to Le Panier Bio Var where you can fill up your hamper at the organic market garden. Guided by members of the association Les Amis de la Cuisine Provençale, you will concoct some succulent Mediterranean dishes with your haul before sitting down with your fellow cooks to relish your creations. In the afternoon, a nature guide will introduce you to the astonishing diversity of Provencal plants that flourish on the sunny slopes: you’ll love learning about their many colours, shapes and benefits. A fabulous evening awaits you at the Font des Pères farm-auberge set amid vines clinging to steep terraces – perfect for relaxing and recharging your batteries after a busy day…
Sainte-Baume hilltop villages
Wind up your break in style by heading to the of Nèbre: perched on a volcanic rocky spur and panning out around a medieval castle, this charismatic little village is a popular tourist spot. Revel in the panoramic viewpoint over Fort de Pipaudon, the surrounding gorge and Bay of Toulon. Treat yourself to an easy-going lunch at the creperie Lo’tentic and lap up the views over the hills as you chat and savour. After lunch, stick to the hilltops and take the road to Le Castellet. A holder of the “Village de Caractère” label, this gorgeous village gazes over vines and a plain. Its authentic atmosphere, ancient abodes and numerous arts & crafts shops make it an ideal place to pick up some souvenirs of your wanderings in the Sainte-Baume Regional Nature Reserve, in the beautiful South of France.