The perched village of Gassin is a medieval jewel in the crown of the Gulf of Saint-Tropez, its sweeping views reigning over the entire peninsula from a height of two hundred meters above sea level. From its thirteenth century ramparts you can look down at the seaside towns of La Croix-Valmer, with its steep and hidden coves, Sainte Maxime with its symbolic curved white ‘Preconcil’ bridge; and inland to the villages of Collobrieres, tucked deep in the ‘Maures’ mountains, and Plan de la Tour spread across the Var countryside.
To best explore Gassin, you will need to park your car below the village and climb the steep access road to where well-preserved stone houses huddle together in narrow lanes teeming with rustic gates and doorways bloomed profusely with lavender coloured wisteria and yellow broom. I pass a corner store bursting with antique paraphernalia from old street signs to metal bike frames, walking sticks and paintings and make my way through the low tunnels and archways that lead to the ancient church, Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption, in the heart of the village. The church is built on solid rock and massive buttresses support the walls. Its tall square bell tower sits on the far side of the church square above the edge of the village which is lined with pretty outdoor restaurants like a string of pearls. I have childhood memories of eating here with my parents, and of revisiting many years later with my young son.
Today, I return to the same charming restaurant – Le Pescadou (Tel: 04.94.56.12.43. Email: [email protected]) – which has recently changed ownership but continues to offer the same delicious food and spectacular views. Caroline, the English server who emigrated to this part of the world with her husband years ago, has been recommended by friends and is a delight with her friendly manner and knowledge of the menu and wines. She offers a shady table for my lunch and we enjoy a chat in English as we introduce ourselves. I spend a delightful and relaxing afternoon savouring the fine seafood and local wine, before strolling back to my car past the Picasso bronze statues at the viewing terrace where my camera snaps into action!
As I leave the small, dusty car park I make a right hand turn towards ‘Ramatuelle’ away from the D89 road which brought me up the windy hillside to Gassin. This is a back road that cuts across the peninsula and down to the splendid array of beaches on the far side. Beaches like Pampelonne made famous by local film star Brigitte Bardot. On my way, I come to the beautifully restored old windmill – Moulin de Paillas – which is open to the public for 15-minute tours although outdoor access is free. People sit enjoying their picnics under the shade of the surrounding pines. There are peek-a-boo views through the trees down the hillside to the pretty village of Ramatuelle, which has its wonderful outdoor market on Thursdays and Sundays, with more restaurants, and wide open sandy beaches beyond.
It must be said that this region of the Var around Gassin boasts some truly excellent wines and there are many vineyards to visit for a ‘degustation’. I recommend ‘Chateau Barbeyrolles’ ‘Domaine de la Rouillere’ and the well-know ‘Chateau Minuty’ where I decide to return to from Ramatuelle via the D61. (I have now come full circle, counter-clockwise from my morning drive to Gassin.) The long driveway leading to the winery is grand and as I pull up outside the imposing facade with vineyards to my left and right, I am filled with a sense of expectation. This is what the French do best – make wine! It pairs with their splendid cuisine, it boasts the extensive and diverse ‘terroirs’ throughout the land, and it loosens the tongue and makes for long, leisurely mealtimes where conversation flows and families are brought together. It is a way of life here.
I especially love the prestigious, world-famous Chateau Minuty ‘Cotes de Provence’ Rose wines during the summer months and find I can easily sip my way through a bottle on any given day! Their prices are so affordable compared to the cost of lesser wines back home, so since my next visit won’t be for another 6 months I decide to stock up, loading the car and smiling at arriving visitors with a sense of ‘savoir faire’.
Gassin, like most communities on this peninsula, has remained loyal to its viticulture. This supports the environment as well as the local economy. In the crystalline soil the vines, protected by the hills, flourish on the hillsides or on the plains under the Mediterranean sun, caressed by a gentle, maritime breeze. Ah Gassin – to one of the Plus Beaux Villages in France – a votre santé!
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