In the hills of the Massif des Maures, La Garde-Freinet is a bustling little village, worth stopping by.
At an altitude of 350 meters, La Garde-Freinet posts itself as a mediator between two worlds. On the one hand, it is part of the everyday working life in Provence as reflected in the north, on the other it flirts with the artistic and extravagance of the south.
Today, La Garde-Freinet is accessible, if you don’t mind a curvy, mountainous access road. If you enjoy walks and hikes, or if you prefer boutiques and restaurants, La Garde-Freinet has a lot to offer. It even boasts a jazz café (“Le Lezard”) where on Saturday night you can enjoy a good meal and some eclectic music. Last time we tried it, we found ourselves stomping and clapping along Blue-Suede Shoes. Not sure whether “jazz” will stretch that far, but way after midnight who cares?
There are some good restaurants in Garde-Freinet, many of them in the Place Veille or the Place du Marche. Enjoy a Provencal meal in one of the terrace restaurants overlooking the beautiful countryside, or head to popular Le Feiulle for a Moroccan meal in a cosy garden setting.
History & Culture in La Garde-Freinet
La Garde Freinet is a medieval town that runs across a narrow ledge with lovely views across the Maures hill range and the surrounding forests. Narrow streets run between old stone buildings, bubbling fountains and pavement cafes in pretty squares, and there are also the ruins of the old fort and cross over the town. There are chestnut groves in this area and you can buy delicious local chestnut paste and chestnut honey in little boutiques and gift shops in the town.
Until the beginning of the twentieth century, La Garde-Freinet found an ample income in the harvest of chestnuts, the sale of cork oak and even the culture of silkworms. Now most of that is in the past. Today, tourism is a major source of income for the village of 1500 people. This does not mean that the area is swamped with holiday makers every day of the year. In the high season of July and August you might find it difficult to park your car in the village square, but beyond that it is surprisingly accessible and agreeable.
What makes La Garde-Freinet especially proud is its medieval fortress, built on a hilltop, three kilometres outside the village. For many years, it was thought that the Saracens were the builders of the fortress. Now historians believe that it was the indigenous people, perhaps against the Saracens, who secured themselves an impenetrable habitat in the mountains.
Events in La Garde-Freinet
As with many towns and villages along the south coast, La Garde-Freinet is no different and hosts its very own town fete.
Sights & Attractions in La Garde-Freinet
When it comes to sightseeing, there are the ruins of the chateau, a fort built by Saracens in the 8th century to launch their raids in the surrounding Provencal countryside. There are also some charming fountains and lavoirs to be seen in the village, as well as the 16th-century St.Clément church.
Things to Do in La Garde-Freinet
There are plenty of walking trails around the surrounding areas and Garde-Freinet is a great place to stop on your winding way through the Maures. The long-range hiking path GR9 actually runs through the town, while the GR51 ‘The Balcony of the Cote d’Azur runs 8kms from the town. You can go mountain biking and horse riding in this rolling, forested countryside too- a spectacular way to enjoy the area.
With the narrow, cobble-stoned streets and 16th and 17th century houses, La Garde-Freinet is at one with the many villages around. Its fountains and communal wash basins are typically Provençal. The twice-weekly market is a meeting place for local people and visitors alike.
A one-hour hike from the village will take you to the medieval fortress, through brush and overgrowth, steep climbs and occasional steps hewn out of the rocks by the original habitants. When you finally arrive at the ruins of the fortress, you can indulge yourself in the amazing views over the Massif des Maures and beyond over the Alpes Maritimes, and south to the Mediterranean Sea. You can imagine yourself in the 9th century when the original inhabitants found a safe-haven in the mountains, cut an impressive moat in the rocks, found a water source (even in summer it’s still filled with water) and waited a century or three before descending to what is now known as La Garde-Freinet.