Saturday, June 7, 2014

France 2014: Road Trip to Bargeme, Comps-Sur-Artuby

For our next day trip, we headed north to Bargème, which is the highest perched village in the Var region at an altitude of almost 1100 meters.  Reaching Bargème required us to climb higher and higher up the hilly roads and we encountered some strange sights along the way.  First as we whipped around a hairpin turn, we spotted four goats calmly standing by the stone guardrail, as if they were admiring the beautiful view.  They had collars and bells so they must be owned by someone in the area and seemed used to people and traffic.  One goat seemed to be scratching himself by rubbing against the stone wall.  When we stopped to take photos of them, the goat slowly approached the car and started to rub against the car as well.  Not being comfortable with animals, this was a bit closer to a goat than I wanted to be, so I stayed in the car.

As we continued up towards Bargème, we started to catch views of the dark and imposing Mount Lachens, which is 1715 meters at its highest peak. All along the way, there were signs that indicated the area was a Military Training Zone and that we were forbidden from getting too close.  Of course, Rich pushed the boundaries by walking right up to one of the signs in order to get a better photo of the mountains.  We have felt the presence of this military zone before.  On our hike to Claviers, it was a bright and sunny day but we heard constant roars of what sounded like claps of thunder.  It was actually the sound of gun fire from the military's artillery practice.

When we arrived at our destination and saw Bargème in the horizon, it resembled an industrial town with two tall smoke stacks.  In fact, what we were seeing were the towers from the ruins of a feudal castle as well as a few churches, chapels and the ruins of an old mill.  The various structures dated back from the 12th through the 18th Centuries.  Coming closer, we marveled at how intact some of the ruins were–much more so than at Chateaudouble and more like ruins we once saw in Kenilworth, England.  We wandered around looking to replicate the iconic image of Bargème that was highlighted in the tourist brochures and finally found it–a concrete arch perfectly framing the castle ruins in the distance.

Visiting the highest perched village in the region, we were confident that we would see some gorgeous landscapes, but they seemed so much more interesting when glimpsed through windows, doorways and arches of the ruins.

It took a while to find the actual village with live people and open shops, since the buildings in the town often looked as old as the ruins.  One of the stores was found at the highest part of town, which must have been pretty high, since the entire town was already the highest in the area.  We found a store with some pretty pottery and bought yet another oil dispenser (to go with the one we already bought in Vallauris).  We were intrigued by the poster for an upcoming festival in Bargème, called the "Fête de la Transhumance" which featured multi-coloured sheep.  I googled this festival and found out that it is an annual agricultural and crafts fair with livestock judging, and demonstrations of shoeing horses, milking goats, training dogs, basket weaving and more.


We stopped for lunch in the only open restaurant (this seems to be a common theme in the little towns that we've been visiting, probably because it is still early in the tourist season).  Luckily it was a beautiful outdoor patio with stunning views of the countryside.  We were looking for just a quick, light snack since we had planned to go out for dinner.  They had the perfect entrée du jour (appetizer of the day), which was a beautifully carved cantaloupe with prosciutto on a bed of greens.

On the way home from Bargème, we decided to stop at Comps-Sur-Artuby, whose main attraction is the pretty Chapelle Saint-André which sits at the top of a hill and can be seen from quite a distance.  The fortified Romanesque chapel was built in the 13th Century either by the Knights Hospitaller or Knights Templar, both famous Christian military orders of those times.  The chapel had very picturesque and colourful mosaic tiles for its roof.

A bit higher, we found a circular walled area with what looked like two metal hatches, one inside the wall and one outside. Rich thought it could be an old military gun post since it overlooked the village and had the perfect vantage point for spotting any approaching invaders. He thought the hatches were hidden entryways into the gun post.  Regardless of its former purpose, it now provided breathtaking 360 degree views of all the surrounding areas.

Even more interesting, it acted like a stationary directional compass, showing which way was north, south, east and west while you traverse around it.  Plaques on top of the walls indicate which city, town or village could be found in the direction of any spot that you looked out from within the circle, as well as the elevation and an outline of the terrain of that area.

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