An old Customs Path – the ‘Sentier du Littoral’ hugs the scenic Var coastline

An old Customs Path – the ‘Sentier du Littoral’ hugs the scenic Var coastline

I park my car at ‘La Pointe l’Arpillon’ in the seaside town of San Peire in Les Issambres and begin my walk along the coastal pathway towards ‘La Plage des Gireliers’. Behind me, the famous clock tower of Saint Tropez beckons across the topaz waters of the Gulf where sailboats meander in the freshening breeze. Past the arches of the paved path leading away from Les Issambres, and along the edge of a beach, I soon arrive at  ‘Bois de la Gaillard’ – a wooded area where several people take a morning stroll with their dogs. From here the pathway seems to disappear down the rocky ledge to the water’s edge and I must instead follow the road for a while. As I continue on, I marvel at the abundance of flowering Oleander in profuse peaches and corals – an eruption of colour at every corner! 

La Plage des Gireliers’ lies up ahead, a nice sandy beach offering some shade, several benches and a ‘boules’ area, a game the French love to play!  A group of young people are gathered on the beach with their paddle boards, chatting excitedly as they gear up for their aqua adventure.

This historic Customs Path or ‘Sentier des Douaniers’ runs for more than 800 km winding its way from Menton in the North down along the Mediterranean coast. It was requested by the Customs Administration during the French Revolution in 1791 to assure surveillance of the coastline and control the smuggling that had developed due to high taxation of tradable merchandise sent across the Channel from England. By the mid 20th century, the ‘gabelons’ or old guards became customs officials and the paths were no longer required. The guard posts, cabins and huts along the paths were duly abandoned. Thanks to the ‘Littorale Laws’ of 1976 and 1986, this small section of the old customs path that I am following, known as the ‘Sentier du Littoral’, was granted exclusive use by pedestrians.  

Today, it provides a beautiful scenic walk, although many parts of it have given way to the sea, so I have to climb jagged rocks which lead me across creeks and from bay to bay.  I pass wild flowers in vivid oranges and pinks and long-armed cacti lining the stone walls along small, sandy beaches where private gardens bloom with mimosas, their palms, pines and other Mediterranean trees offering temporary shade as the day heats up. 

On the headland that rises above the delightful restaurant ‘Le Cercle’ nestled into the curve of a bay, I look north towards the red rocks of the Esterel this side of Cannes, which dominate the horizon. From there, a wavy coastline laces it way towards me adorned with white-washed villas and terracotta terraces in stark contrast against the azure sea and sky.

The end of my 2.6km walk along the ‘Sentier du Littoral’ brings me to ‘Pointe de la Calle’ where just beyond it sits the archeological site of a Gallo-Roman fish pond (‘Vivier Maritime’) once used to store freshly-caught fish to keep them fresh for market day or Roman festivities.

I check my watch and see that this leisurely walk has taken me over an hour, so I decide to rest just long enough to take in those wonderful views once more before retracing my steps to Les Issambres in time for lunch! 

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Lead photo credit : Photo: Gillie Hutchinson

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An avid traveler, with a passion for travel writing and cooking, I love exploring new cultures, fashions and cuisines. With a holiday home on the Côte d’Azur, I enjoy the wonderful Mediterranean lifestyle and sharing my experiences on my website: