The three faces of Le Coitat

The first face of Le Coitat can be seen high above the sprawling buildings & resorts that spread along the Mediterranean to the east of Marseille. A dozen or so gantries & cranes hold up the sky in the distance and become more impressive as the old ship building yards are approached. This is where proper big ships were built with huge keels and propellers the size of tall men. Now the rusty remnants stand as hanging idols to a glorious past and grasping fingers fight rusting decay against a blue sky.

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These guardians of history stand tall around the tightly formed, compact, old town, the second face. Here the narrow streets & faded tall buildings would have offered protection from Saracens & Turks & pirates. Crusaders must have walked her once on their way back from the Holy Land. Nowadays the tight darkish streets offer shade & respite from the burning sun for locals & visitors alike.

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The final face of Le Coitat comes out as dark approaches & stays until the early hours. Hundreds of stalls start to appear and like candle flames start to attract an increasingly busy crowd of holiday makers who feed the umbrellered  hives with Euro pollen. The streams of bustling shoppers turn to rivers & then a flood around the once picturesque quayside of the old port. When morning comes all is as before and the night is forgotten until it all starts again as each day ends. Like the seasons the Night Market comes seven nights a week – beware!!! Well in July & August anyway!

 

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A few days down on the Cote d’Azur – Villefranche-sur-mer

A short skoot from the Var, through the golden delights of Nice brings me to Villefranche- sur-mer. Once, a beautiful small fishing village with a secure harbour and a protective citidal built in mid 1500s. Now surrounded by typical Côte d’Azur developments: villas, properties, apartments & hotels and the tall, 21st galley- the dreaded cruise ship although to be fair, other than a few northern accents the presence of its cargo of UK tourists went barely noticed.

Down on the quayside tourists meet bars meet yacht owners meet20150809095407_IMG_7601 20150809100208_IMG_7616 20150809102708_IMG_7628 20150808173432_IMG_7537

pizzas meet oyster restaurants meet beer meet rosé. A delightful atmosphere in the cool of the evening. Take my frame, place it around the old town, add a bit of cool salsa played in a bar, distress the plasterwork and shutters and ignore all the buildings outside it – you could be in Cuba.

Some of that history & local character still remains whatever the tourists try to do to the place. You can see why I had to include one of my frames!!!

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Enjoy the smell of the sea and the sight of glistening white yachts & sailing boats of all sizes bobbing at anchor on a turquoise sea.

 

 

 

Fun, food and farewells at Restaurant la Gloire de mon Pere

While at Seillans the restaurant at the heart of this lovely small medieval Var village has become a favourite place to eat & enjoy the shade of the four huge plane trees and the gentle breeze during the evening. The site of the first & the last meal, of a wonderful long lunch with friends from home and countless beers & cafes that have been purchased during the week spent here. Staff found time to have some fun with photo frames & bonhomie (that’s French, you know, for geniality & good spirit). A special place!!! Thank you.

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The Pàrumeries of Grasse

Grasse is a wonderful mediaeval town, surrounded by a spreading slick of suburbia in the form of apartment blocks & private housing along with commercial developments, that is the centre of a large well reknowned perfume manufacturing industry. Museums & smelly shops sing the praises of this long established industry. Women walk around its narrow stepped streets holding a fan of white emery board shaped samplers to their delicate noses trying to decide which small aromatic treasure to buy.

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The heart of Grasse old town is magnificent in the colours of its tall, stretching tenements which line the narrow alleyways. Blocks of rich oranges & orchas & reds & tans stand side by side as if in a merchants sign or a baron’s coat-of-arms. Arrays of shuttered windows hide away secrets of bubbling vats & coppered urns linked over furnaces by pipes and test tubes all furiously working together to create the next fragrance to take the classy class by storm. Alchemy in practice in the 21st century.

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It’s a shame that tourism, once again, hides the innocent glory of a once elegant centre where Victorians would have travelled to take the air away from the coast of the Med which can be seen in the far distance from Grasses’s high promenades.

Market days and dinner out in the Beaux Villages of Var

Fayance is just one medieval hilltop village amongst many close by. Market day is like any other when columns of visitors move up the ancient pathways leaving their shiney modern cars parked down the hill heating up like ship furnaces. When they get back yells of pain will screech out as bare flesh hits red hot leather seats. Like sharks they lazily circle around the white umbrellas that shade the stalls & wares and then suddenly strike, stripping away from the stallholders their salami or cheese or linen tea towels and descending back to the depths & shade of the gite or the villa or the hotel.20150806092135_IMG_7288

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Bargemon is up in the hills of the Canjeurs about 20 km from Seillans. 700 metres up creates a cool drop in temperature as locals cluster around steps and verandas to shoot the breeze before heading for bed in front of opened windows. A long staggered line of people, many with instrument cars attached to backs like shells of a tortoise leave the church and make their way through the square obviously content at sharing the music from a set of musicians from Cambridge! The clink of meals & quiet callings resound around squares & cafes as visitors finish off long lazy meals.

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Two things are quite noticable in the Var – one is the spread of gated homes throughout these hills are around these old hilltop villages and two is the increase in the number of English voices heard around the restaurants & markets & shops – no comment!!!!

Picture framing at the brocante in Seillans

It’s hot, hot, hot!!! So, from the shade of the olive trees in the garden, this would be a good opportunity to share with you my new, six step technique to taking images of the people around me. For this I have to thank my pal Chris for constructing my portable picture frame and also to the lady at the Seillans brocante who sold me three small, empty frames for one Euro.

Step 1 entails putting together the frame.

Step 2 requires an approach by me to the subject & asking them, in my best French, if I may take their portrait for my gallery.

Step 3 is the handover when the subject agrees & holds the frame in front of them and peers through.

Step 4 is the taking of the photo with the frame.

Step 5 is the closer picture through the frame.

Step 6 involves me sharing the image with the subject.

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Great fun is had by all. Truely!!!

A brocante market is held on the small open ground at the top of Seillan. Up here, overlooking the glorious surrounding hills I try out my new approach. These are all images of some of the stallholders and I have the choice of including their portraits with the frame or without it. What do you think?

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The heated silence of Seillans

Leaving behind the layered hills of the Cevenne and carrying warm memories of time around  Barjac exploring the streams & rivers, jumping off rocks in the Ceze, picnics amongst boulders and stones on the banks of the Silver River amongst the Fools Gold & the scrubby oak woods, learning to swim & dive & snorkle & jump from high places (adults & children), of families & friends that leave & arrive & leave again and it is time to make my way back through Provence to the district of Vars and a small hilltop town called Seillans, near to Grasse in the nice hills above Nice. In the space of a few hours the scenery changes from limestone scraggy outcrops & stunted oak trees protecting an agricultural landscape to a more developed, modernised panorama where the clean, hilltop towns peer out from tall cedars that spread over all the hills like a thick carpet of green spikey hair following the contours & undulations of the pointed scarps & ridges & newly built or renovated homes are scattered amongst their foliage just presenting a hint of affluence to any observers on the opposite slopes.

Seillans boasts itself as being ‘the most beautiful village in France’. It is hard to dispute this. From the approach by the main road, the village spreads upwards and its flat, cardboard box houses are attached to the hillside with mastic.

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The road narrows to single file in the centre & from the little cafe opposite the pizzeria it is only possible to climb to the centre on foot. Narrow, cobbled streets are lined by tall townhouses with faint painted clues on their facades suggesting what business they might have housed in the past. One narrow set of cobbles & steps leads to the château dating from the 13th century, another leads up under arches & buttresses, past the Mairie’s office to the small square with seating for open air concerts & then through to the smart restaurant at the top of the village.

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All paths seem to lead to and spread from the shade of the trees that cover the tables of the Restaurant du Glorie de Mon Pere. It seems it was the site of the village boulangerie and when the baker died his son converted it into a restaurant under the two huge plane trees and named it in memory of his father. He is still there supervising his young staff from the top of the slope as they scurry around the tables waiting on the punters with an excellent menu, good humoured banter & efficient service. Reservations are recommended!!

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It feels like time has stopped, the world is at peace. Even the cicadas have gone on their holidays and the silence that then remains calms the soul & raises the spirit.