When you arrive at the medieval village of Tourtour, 650 metres high in the Var, you do not need the welcoming noticeboard to tell you that this, indeed, is one of France’s most beautiful villages. Forget the too-well-trodden tourist rip-off resorts of Les Baux or St Paul de Vence. Let your feet lead you through the quiet, sloping, cobbled streets of Tourtour, up its stone steps and under its vaulted arches to discover its 3 chateaux and its perched churchyard, next door to the Table d’Orientation, from where you can even see the sea, some 60 kilometres south, as the eagle flies.
Tourtour is perfectly preserved, and as neat as a pin. A little bijou, set in sweeping green countryside, mountains and forests, its centre is an attractive plane tree-shaded place, where white sunshades over white tables indicate the welcome presence of an attractive, unpretentious restaurant: L’Amandier. Their €25 menu of the day is relatively simple, but excellent — even if their choice of wines is disappointingly limited. The service is relaxed and pleasant, and you have a great outlook onto Tourtour’s boulodrome which has, incontestably, the best views any boules player ever had to distract him from the seriousness of his game.
Just 6 k’s down the road is another ancient village worth visiting, and another restaurant… Where Villecroze is not quite as picturesque as Tourtour, Le Colombier, I would say, beats L’Amandier by a short head, gastronomically. It also boasts a €25 menu, but with more choice and more panache (in winter they serve a menu based around truffles from nearby Aups.) Depending on the season you can either eat outside in the shady, flower-bright garden, on the summer terrace, or inside, in their intimate Gentilhommière dining room. The Lecompte husband and wife team are absolutely passionate and keen to please their constantly-growing loyal local clientèle, as well as the passing tourist trade.
Although this delightful area is not full of visitors all year round, (unlike the traditional tripper traps), inevitably in July and August buses by the coachful fill the carparks, and Nikons and Canons snap reels of film recording geranium-laden stone balconies, sleepy cats yawning in shady alleyways and incontinent dogs stretched out on the steps of penitents’ chapels.
So now is the time to visit the pretty hilltop villages of the Haut Var, and enjoy their quiet rhythms, take the time to talk to the local villagers, and explore some of the arts and craft shops that flourish here. And, of course, to savour the freshness of the local produce at one of the local hostelleries…