This heavenly hilltop village, capital of Les Maures, floats high above the famed coastline of the French Riviera, and while blessed with historical and natural beauty, it is renowned for its chestnuts!
The coast road to Collobrieres snakes up steep cliffs that plunge to a forested valley while in the far distance the Hyeres islands lie like giant pebbles cushioned in a turquoise sea. Cyclists hurtle past on their downward spiral, within inches of my car. I peer anxiously ahead, wondering how an oncoming vehicle will squeeze past. After a dizzying eight-kilometre climb to some five hundred metres, I reach the plateau where sheep and goats graze and a warm mountain breeze leans into the chestnut groves.
It is September and the village flaunts its colourful nature palette, while a lingering aroma of fresh harvest fills the air. It is easy to see why Collobrieres has received the award for ‘Villes et Villages Fleuris”, and as a village of character it adheres to a ‘Charter of Quality’ proudly preserving its natural and historical heritage. The ‘Real Collobrier River’ runs through the village and restaurants straddle its banks, the canopy of trees giving way to a canopy of stripes and bright table umbrellas. Visitors gather outside the ‘Confiserie Azureenne’ (open daily, year round) eager to buy artisanal wares made from the local ‘Chataigne’ (partitioned fruit like a nut) and ‘Marron’ (whole fruit) which were first planted here in the 12th Century and now cover over 900 hectares. These chestnuts are sold fresh, roasted, creamed, pureed, candied and used to flavour food as well as ice cream. Indeed, the busy ice cream kiosk across the cobbled bridge advertises “La Veritable Glace de Collobrieres aux Marrons Glaces”.
A display of large chunks of honey-coloured cork, taken from the region’s Cork Oaks which line the forest borders, adorns a stall where a woman deftly weaves rough basketry from the discarded branches. Typical produce at this time of year includes exquisite goats cheese and apples, which visitors can pick themselves and purchase from the local orchard.
A short walk along the ‘Boulevard Lazare Carnot’ brings me to the village square at “Place de la Liberation’ and the impressive mustard facade of the ‘Mairie’ peers at me through the sun-drenched plane trees. I admire the modest Cherub atop an round stone fountain and wander past to ‘La Terrasse Provencale’ for a morning coffee.
For lunch, I head back to the ‘Restaurant Des Maures’ on the main street. This place has been highly recommended by English friends of mine who have a holiday home in Sainte Maxime. The menu offers a wide selection at reasonable prices. I opt for the 4-course menu of ‘Jambon Cru; Terrine Maison; Salade Verte Parmesan; Omelette aux Champignons; Gambas Grillees and a dessert trio for 27,50 Euros. After lunch, I chat with owner Sebastian Borello who tells me the Restaurant Hotel has been in his family for five generations. As a trained chef, food is his passion and Sebastian loves to “voyage la cuisine” to be inspired by new smells and flavours! As I glance around the terraced restaurant at the happy faces of locals and tourists enjoying their food, the ambiance certainly exudes the warmth of family and tradition.
Getting There: Fly into Hyeres Airport (20km); or into Nice International Airport (145km) and drive South on A8 Autoroute, to A57 and then D14; or from Cogolin near St. Tropez take D98 South past La Mole, then D41 to D14; or take D14 from Grimaud.
Getting Around: You will need to rent a car to get to Collobrieres and also to visit the local area. Car hire is available with Alamo, Avis, Hertz, Thrifty at Hyeres or Nice airport.
Where to Stay: Hotel Notre Dame (hotel-collobrieres.com) rooms from 88 Euros; Restaurant Hotel Des Maures (hoteldesmaures.fr) rooms from 75 Euros; La Bastide des Moulins B&B w/. pool (09.65.30.18.22) rooms from 75-250 Euros; La Farigoulette B&B (04.94.36.64.26) rooms from 66 Euros; Le Mas Margeurite B&B w/. pool (06.16.47.36.47) rooms from 70 Euros.
Where to Eat: La Terrace Provencal (04.94.28.19.57) open all year: Restaurant Des Maures (04.94.48.07.10) open all year; La Farigoulette (04.94.36.64.26) open all year; Restaurant Bar de la Mairie (04.94.48.07.13) open all year.
Where to Visit/What to See: Guided Nature Tours; Festivals; Geological Museum; Historical Tours – check with ‘Office de Tourisme’ (mpmtourisme.com. Email:[email protected].; ‘Chartreuse de la Verne’ Medieval Monastery a few kilometres outside Collobrieres. This ancient Monastery dates back to 1170, its religious history lasting more than six centuries. Through local fundraising by the Var department, Commune of Collobrieres and ‘Friends of the Verne’, it was restored and welcomed Monks back in 1982. (6 Euros entry)
In the area
The coastal towns of Le Lavendou and Bormes-les-Mimosas are within easy driving distance from Collobrieres.
Le Lavendou has 12 sandy beaches over 12 kilometres of coastline. It is a 33.4km drive away via D14. You can enjoy aquatic, nautical and underwater activities, or laze in the sun with a cool beer and a good book at any of the beach bars. From the quayside at Le Lavendou, catch the ‘Bateaux Verts’ for a scenic 50-minute boat trip to the island of Porquerolles, the largest of the Hyeres Iles d’Or. This beautiful island boasts silver-sandy beaches, hotels, shops and restaurants as well as 50km of paths and cycle tracks.
A 22km drive via D41 brings you to the beautiful, historical village of Bormes-les-Mimosas, situated in the hills further south in the Var. Medieval houses are overgrown with striking mauve and magenta bougainvillea, and narrow cobbled streets wind around the hillside with tiny bistros popping up where you least expect them. If you park next to ‘La Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Constance’ high up on the hill, with stunning views towards to sea, you can then stroll down into the village and explore.