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Hidden gems in the Var, Provence

Waterfall in Sillans de Cascade, Provence, a turquoise pool at the base

It’s impossible to overdo it pottering about in the many picturesque hilltop villages of Provence. Browsing the morning markets and sitting by the dreamy Le Lac de Sainte Croix with a good book or magazine is heavenly. But there are some unusual places in Provence you might not know about. Abi at The Little French Cottage blog shares some of her favourite hidden gems in the Var department…

Cascade de Sillans

Cascade de Sillans waterfall is one of the most beautiful in France, and unusually exotic. You can almost believe you’re in a tropical country. And, in the peak of summer heat, it’s a cool and shady paradise.

It’s a clearly sign-posted 20-minute walk from one of the carparks in the medieval town of Sillans-la-Cascade to reach the waterfall. Wear shoes suitable for rough ground as you’ll pass through grassland and a forest. It is not a challenging walk but there are steps and uneven surfaces. The waterfall itself is an impressive 42 metres high, and swimming is strictly prohibited. A picnic here, with the background sound of the waterfall nd the colour of the surrounding woodland make this a really special trip.

You can also view it from a viewing platform, swim in the river and wander the town which is really pretty. There’s a castle, ramparts and pretty medieval streets plus horse riding is available in the village. Close by, the pretty town of Aups is well worth a detour, and it’s a short drive to the Lac de Sainte-Croix and Gorges du Verdon.

Les Grottes de Villecroze

Trogladyte dwellings in Villecroze, France

The troglodyte cliff houses and caves of Villecroze are close to the towns of Salernes and Tourtour. A visit here offers something a bit different for those interested in history, geology, or those who just like having an explore. There are not many rainy days in Provence but when they come, this is a great place to visit

With a lush park of Mediterranean trees and a waterfall stretching 35 metres, the cliff houses and caves could not be in a more dramatic or beautiful location. The caves which are nestled in a tufa stone cliff belong to the municipality and have been occupied since pre-historic times. They were once owned by Benedictine monks, who took refuge in them in the 10th Century, and then by Lord Nicolas d’Albertas. He was from a powerful Aix en Provence family, and fortified the caves to provide shelter for the locals during the religious wars in the 16th Century.

In 1924 the caves became part of France’s Natural Listed Sites. They were classed as a Natural Monument Site under the categories: geology and history.

What to see at Les Grottes de Villecroze

The caves are split over 5 levels and consist of around 6 or 7 rooms. The rooms include mullioned windows and small water pools. A narrow passage runs behind the waterfall and the cool, damp air is a welcome break from the heat of the summer sun. The ground can be slippery and ceiling low, so flat shoes are important. There are a lot of steep steps, kids will love the adventure here. The cliff fortresses have deteriorated over time, but still impress and offer an insight into the history of this region. After exploring the caves, take a walk in the grounds. The park is green and tranquil. It’s lovely for a picnic and there’s a small play area for kids.

What to see nearby

Les Grottes de Villecroze are situated in the village of the same name (Villecroze). It is a pretty village which has managed to hold on to it medieval character and charm. Situated at the foot of the Alps it is classified as a “Village of Character”. It has a delightful square with cafés dotted around it. An ideal spot to stop, refuel and watch the world go by.

Village des Tortues

Village des Tortues is the only specialist turtle centre in Europe and houses over 2500 turtles and tortoises! It’s in the village of Carnoules (previously it was in the town of Gonfaron). The village is a scientific association run by naturalists to support the protection of turtles. It is not a commercial enterprise and the entrance fees and shop sales are used to support the project. All the turtles at Turtle Village come from private individuals or are seized by customs. It is hard to believe that they receive over 1500 turtles each year. There is a breeding programme at the centre, and the hope is always to return them to their native habitat.

What to see at Village des Tortues

It’s lovely and shady area and most of the enclosures have low fencing which makes viewing the turtles easy. There are freshwater turtles and tortoises. They are grouped by geographical areas and are clearly signposted in English and French. The varied locations are surprising – including the Balkans, Russia, Madagascar, Senegal, East Africa, and Corsica. There’s a fascinating Travel Through Time section with huge models of prehistoric turtles.

The park has a snack café and a number of picnic spots. There is also a play area for small children and a gift shop selling lots of turtle-related items.

Find out more about what to see and do in Provence at thelittlefrenchcottage.com

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