Holidays in Provence generally mean Peter Mayle territory or the Cote d’Azur. Great, that means that up in the hills behind Cannes and near Grasse you have a quiet, select few who can enjoy all the good stuff without the crowds: sunshine, lavender, wine, dramatic countryside, olives, thyme and great food. Still, you can rest happy with the knowledge that Nice, Cannes, Antibes and other Mediterranean sea towns are 45 minutes away.
Fayence is nestled between the mountains of the Esterel and the lower Alps. It is in a string of perched villages which include Montauroux, Seillans and Callian – each one no more than 10 minutes from the next. All these villages have typical markets, pleasant restaurants (to suit all budgets) and a sensible collection of day-to-day and tourist shops. None is over-run by foreigners, you can’t buy curry and there are no fish-and-chip shops. But you can drink Pastis and watch petanque.
Travel to the Fayence area is straightforward. For car drivers, it’s about twelve hours door to door from London via Eurostar. Set off bright and early, then aim to break anywhere from Beaune onwards. We’ve stayed in downtown Puligny at Le Montrachet – right in the heart of Burgundy and minutes away from the most valuable wine real estate in the world. We’ve also stayed in Tournus at the classy Hotel de Greuze.
For the brave and armed with books on tape, go on – do it in one go.
Air travel takes you to Nice (British Airways, Easyjet and British Midland/BMI) all offer routes. You’ll need a car, so avoid the hassle of queuing and rent one from Truche Location. They’ll make a plaque with your name on it and meet you. Leaving, just park the car in airport terminal parking and drop your keys in the post. Fayence is about 50 minutes drive from Nice airport.
Those wishing to arbitrage money for time can try Toulon/Hyeres – closer to two hours after a Ryanair flight.
Fayence is exit 38 (Les Adrets) off the A8 autoroute.
For aquatic activity, you have the beaches, the mountain streams and, well, the swimming pool – which can be enjoyed with a good book. We love heading off to the mountain gorges of the Siagne and the Siagnole – either side of the 830m high village of Mons. Splash around in “refreshing” streams, dive into rock-pools and plunge in the waterfalls. Or eat your picnic lunch and watch the children do it. The beaches really are crowded but a walk down La Croisette in Cannes, lunch by the sea and a quick dip should not be missed. For a more intimate experience, find a cove in the red rocks Esterel or visit Theoule. Make sure you book ahead for sun lounger: at about 10 euros a day, it’s well worth it. Marco Polo beach gets our pick.
Les gorges du Verdon offer something for everyone at about 90 minutes drive. Hire a pedalo (with water slide) at Lac St.Croix and meander down the river looking up several hundred metres of rock wall. For the walker, take the six hour Sentier Martel hike along the Verdon. (Tip: leave a car at the end then catch a taxi to the start point). The more adventurous can pursue hybrid sports like white-water rafting and canyonning: book ahead at Castellane.
Closer to home, there’s plenty of spectacular, challenging hiking (with gorgeous hostelries at either end). For 1200m and above, our top picks are Bauroux (start in Seranon, where Napoleon stayed on his way to Grenoble in 1815), the plateau de Caussols (between St. Vallier and Gourdon) which affords views of Cannes, Nice and the southern Alps from the same vantage point. For a riverside walk, head for the Pont des Tuves between St. Cezaire and Mons.
After a long hard day in the sun – temperatures in the summer average 30 degrees – one’s mind drifts towards food and drink. Lunch is never problematic: baguettes, salad, cheese and saucisson or rillettes are a done deal, washed down by some rose and followed by juicy, fresh fruit.
For a “quiet” night in, the chefs amongst you will prepare the cuisine yourselves. Fayence boasts three supermarkets to procure the wherewithal. The Leclerc in Montauroux has the widest choice: in our family the name “smelly Eric’s” has stuck and we have been ticked off for scantily-clad appearances. For the night out, Le Castelleras provides Michelin one star quality (order the menu gastronomique). Mons, Fayence and Seillans all boast sensibly-priced, well-prepared local fare with friendly service.
We like Mons: Le Petit Bonheur, busy and casual in the town square and L’Auberge Provencale with views out across the Esterel and the coastline.
To accompany your meals, there’s a splendid and affordable range of local Provence wines to sample – supermarket output is fine for everyday quaffing. For the connoisseurs, a visit to the Maison des Vins in Les Arcs will deepen your liquid knowledge.
Tired, enjoy a coffee and a marc de Provence under the stars – there’s no light pollution up here in the hills.