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where the eagles nest–gourdon

Have you wondered what it would be like to fly a paraglider? Have you watched a hawk making circles and imagined what it was seeing? When I was younger, I wanted to be Superman so I could plunge from the sky and then dart up, here and there, high above the ground.

I am not sure I would want to skydive. I don’t want to jump from a plane and then depend on the chute to carry me safely back to earth. But that crazy decision would permit a descent that I could control, somewhat. I would be high in the sky, and I could watch the toy houses and the Hot Wheels cars become too big. I could learn to manipulate the parachute cords, so I could move about, somewhat.

Another possibility would be more simple and less dangerous and, I am sure, would be less expensive. I might drive a car up a long, windy road to a village perché, high high in the mountains, park it, walk a short way to a wall that would keep me from plunging to my death should I become a bit woozy from a tad bit of vertigo. From the edge of the wall, I could then gaze down and far away and not worry about flying anything or pulling the wrong cords.

Gourdon is a village perché that offers extra-ordinary views from high up. It sits on a promontory about 760 meters above the Mediterranean Sea. From the edge of the village, one can look out over the valley of the Loup River, but gaze down as well, straight down, a precipitous drop, without fearing of losing ones way.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.) But wait, there’s more!

part 2: 1 friday, 2 villages perchés–fayence

The road seemed to mimic les ruelles in a medieval village: it wound here and there and twisted up a hill. On a Friday morning I pretended to practice Les 24 Heures du Mans and drove up to Fayence, a perched village that is not far from the Mediterranean coast.

Fayence is different from other villages: it does not really sit on a hill that overlooks other hills and valleys. The terrain that surrounds it is flat. From the top one can get a wonderful 360° view of the countryside, but one sees homes and farm plots instead of the vast reaches experienced from the heights of Cabris and Gourdon, for example.

In order to see the views, one walks up to the Tour de l’Horloge, and from here you will have a 360° breathtaking view. The French would say, à couper le souffle.

Standing in the viewing area, one can look down onto the nearby rooftops and further out to see toy-sized homes before gazing on the mountains in the far distances, l’Estérel, les Maures, and le Lachens(Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.) But wait, there’s more!

part 1: 1 friday, 2 villages perchés–seillans

The village Seillans was a surprise. I had not intended to visit it. I was on the way to Fayence, and a road sign under the one for Fayence noted the short distance beyond to Seillans. A decision was made: the morning belonged to Fayence and lunch, and the afternoon would be devoted to Seillans.

Seillans is one of les plus beaux villages en France, a non-official designation by  L’association Les Plus Beaux Villages de France that supports and promotes rural communities of no more than 2,000 inhabitants.

I was so charmed by Seillans that I imagined a weekend there, and I identified a hotel where I would stay and even a restaurant where I would eat my meals.

Others have seen its charms as well. Dorothea Tanning, the American painter, printmaker, sculptor, writer, and poet, and her husband the artist Max Ernst lived in Seillans during the late Sixties and early Seventies until his death.

Today, a local museum has many lithographs and engravings by both Dorothea Tanning and Max Ernst. She donated to the village  a bronze piece by Ernst, Le Génie de la Bastille, which is placed on the Place de la République. It is where she would often play pétanque with the people of the village.

By the way, did I mention that Princess Di and Fergie spent some vacation time here? Let’s see. Who else? In 1888, Queen Victoria visited Seillans to see the Vicomtesse de Savigny, founder of the perfumery of Seillans. My brochure tells me that Jacques Prévert and Man Wray would sometimes visit their friends Dorothea Tanning and Max Ernst.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.) But wait, there’s more!

cabris, what is so far and so near

To the west of Grasse, once the perfume center of France, is the village of Cabris, un village perché. It takes its name from the Latin word for goat “capra.”

French writers have been attracted to Cabris. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the author of Le Petit Prince, spent his childhood holidays there. Albert Camus, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957, stayed there on several occasions during the 1950s. André Gide, another celebrated French author, visited on returning from his journey to Egypt in 1940. Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir both either visited or lived in Cabris.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was the third child of Marie Boyer de Fonscolombe, la Comtesse Marie de Saint Exupéry. In 1932 she sold her house in Cannes and moved eventually from Cannes to Cabris where she lived for the rest of her life. Cabris took pride in her presence. She gave permission for the restaurant Le Petit Prince to use that name.

The certain highlight of a visit to Cabris is the panoramic view from the Place Mirabeau in front the Le Vieux Château. You will see the Mediterranean Sea, le Massif du Tanneron, le Golfe de La Napoule, le Lac de Saint-Cassien, and le Massif de l’Esterel. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.) But wait, there’s more!