A day in the heart of Provence Verte | To travel

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GEORGEANNE BRENNAN

The Var, a French department in the heart of Provence, extends from the beaches of Saint-Tropez in the north to the Verdon, in the west to the borders of the Bouche du Rhône and in the east to the Alpes- Maritimes. In 2017, the French government designated the middle strip of the Var, between the mountains and the coast, as Provence Verte, with the towns of Brignole and Sainte Maximin la Sainte Baume as its centre.

The landscape of Provence Verte includes thick pine, oak and chestnut forests, vineyards, Roman ruins, small farms and villages, streams and lakes. The roads here, with the exception of the A8 motorway which crosses the region, tend to be narrow and winding, taking the visitor to remote and hidden places in Provence often overlooked in favor of its better known and more glamour.

In just one leisurely day around the central area, visitors can get an idea of ​​what Provence Verte has to offer. A morning visit to one or two off-the-beaten-path vineyards, followed by lunch at the Hostellerie de l’Abbaye de la Celle, Alain Ducasse’s Michelin-starred restaurant, begins the day.

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After lunch perhaps take a tour of the 13th century abbey next to the restaurant and then a short walk down the street to the Maison des Vins. To wrap up the day, join the locals at Café du Midi for an espresso before heading home.

The road to Domaine de Deffends, located in the foothills of Mont Aurélien, begins on the outskirts of Brignoles and climbs higher and higher into the forest, passing through sloping vineyards to reach the cellar and the small tasting room tucked away on the hillside.

The winery is small, with just 15 hectares of vines producing its award-winning organic wines, such as Champs de Truffière, a blend of Cabernet and Syrah, and Champs de Sestres, a white blend of Rolle and Viognier, named after the pieces of Roman coins. , sestres, found in fields where grapes are grown.

Domaine du Deffends also produces three different rosés, each with a distinctive character and color, as well as other red and white wines. Visitors are welcome to buy wine, picnic, and hike the hills and trails surrounding the winery.

Less than 15 minutes away, the cellar and the tasting room of Château Lafoux, located in a clearing surrounded by vines against a backdrop of forest, is also accessible by wooded paths.

Larger than the Domaine du Deffends, it produces biodynamic red, rosé and white wines from 30 hectares of vines. Part of the vineyard, planted with Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rolle, Clairette and Ugni Blanc, is in the middle of the forest, accessible by a network of dirt roads that criss-cross the 166 hectares of the nature reserve which goes up to the property. From these 30 hectares, Château Lafoux creates its notable cuvées – Cuvée Auguste, Cuvée Château and Cuvée Vinicius.

The ruins of a Roman villa, as well as a stretch of the ancient Roman road, the Via Aurelia, are part of the property, which visitors are invited to explore on foot or on horseback.

After a wine tasting in the bright and airy Châteaux Lafoux tasting room, a short drive east to La Celle will bring you to lunch at the Hostellerie de la Abbaye. Here on a nice day, like many in Provence, you will be seated on the terrace where you can enjoy a three, five or six course meal, or order from the menu, with plenty of local and other wines to choose from .

To start, you will be served raw vegetables from the garden, a spread perhaps of tapenade or anchoïade, and toast or breadsticks, compliments of the restaurant. The menu changes frequently, depending on the season, the day’s catch at sea, what’s in the restaurant’s vegetable garden and orchards. In the spring, look for wild morels, asparagus, spring lamb and early strawberries.

The dish of fresh and aged cheeses is always accompanied by a herbaceous salad made with ingredients from the garden. If the weather is bad, you can sit in one of the three unique dining rooms or in the glassed-in garden room.

After a relaxing meal, a visit next to the 13th century abbey, originally built in the 11th century on Roman ruins is next. The property, now owned by the Var department, has recently been restored and some of the archaeological finds uncovered during the restoration and excavations are on display.

From the abbey, passing in front of the Hostellerie, turn into the Maison des Vins Coteaux Varois en Provence shop, which presents the wines of this appellation, centered in the heart of Provence Verte. A selection of wines is offered each week for tasting, and all are on sale.

To wrap up the day, cross the street to the Café du Midi and grab one of the small tables near the towering sycamores that line the street and order an espresso. Even though automobiles and trucks pass by, it’s a calm setting, in which it’s easy to feel the layers and layers of civilizations that make up Provence Verte.

You can taste the wine and smell it. But can you hear it too? A sound studio in Lyon, France worked on capturing the unique timbre of any wine.



Georgeanne Brennan is an author who divides her time between her homes in Northern California and Southern France.

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