Wines along the coast to Fréjus
By Elizabeth Gabay MW
This Guide was last updated on 15 January 2010
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Vineyards close to the Mediterranean on the Saint Tropez peninsular, near Ramatuelle. © Mick Rock/Cephas
The coastal region of Provence has, for me, a dual personality. During the summer it is to be actively avoided. However nice it is to dream of dinners under the stars overlooking the sea or sunny beach days with blue skies, umbrella pines and the characteristic red rocks tumbling into the deep blue water – the vast hordes of tourists and traffic jams are horrendous. During the winter most restaurants and hotels are closed, leaving spring and autumn as the best times to visit. During late spring and early autumn the weather is generally mild enough to dine outside at midday while in the evenings a roaring fire can add to the atmosphere.
Much of the coast is outrageously built up - and this is where exploring for vineyards comes into its own. Keen wine lovers can leave the beaten track and discover the hidden beauty of the local countryside. Bellet is amongst the most built up of the vineyard areas sharing the land with the suburban villas on the hills north of Nice, while St-Jeannet is fiercely holding on to its agricultural heritage in the midst of growing villa development.
The entire vineyard region of Provence extends from Les Baux in the west to Nice in the east and as far north as the Gorges du Verdon. In the north and east the soils are chalk based, to the south and west granite (crystalline based) with volcanic soils around Fréjus. The Mediterranean climate provides over 3000 hours of sunshine each year and little rain. The mistral wind (in the western and central regions) and, sometimes violent, thunderstorms are the main threats to the vineyards. There are however, subtle differences in climate depending on proximity to the sea, mountain ranges, river valleys and altitude (with the highest vineyards reaching up to 500m). Harvest along the coast is usually a good month earlier than the more northerly vineyards.
This micro-region stretches from Toulon in the west past Fréjus to Bellet behind Nice. Côte de Provence Fréjus at the eastern end of the Maures range benefits from the silted up Argens estuary resulting in almost tropical luxuriance as do the vineyards around Hyères and la Londe to the west of the Maures along the Réal Martin. The Maures hills are often bleak, but the valleys of the Argens, Mole, Réal Martin and Issole provide suitable terrain for vineyards, with rolling hillsides and forests, which moderate the heat and provide some moisture. Bellet overlooks the river Var and St-Jeannet benefits from higher altitude (300-500m); both benefit from proximity to the foothills of the southern Alps, resulting in cooler winds and rain as well breezes from the Mediterranean.
The fastest route to Provence from Paris is the A6 to Lyon and the Rhône Valley. From here continue south along the A7 and either carry on to Marseille or, take the A8, which will take you straight to Cannes and onto Antibes and Nice. The coast roads are best avoided during the peak holiday periods as it becomes very congested. By train, the TGV runs from Paris to Marseille stopping at Avignon, journey time 3 hours. From Marseille to Nice the train runs at standard speed and it can take a further 2 hours to Cannes and another hour to Nice. The region is also served by several international airports: Marseille, Toulon, and France’s second largest airport, Nice.
Conseil Interprofessionnel des Vins de Provence,
Maison des Vins, RN 7, 83460 Les Arcs sur Argens
Hyères Les Palmiers Tourist Office
3, Avenue Ambroise Thomas, 83400 Hyères
Fréjus Tourist Office
325 Rue Jean Jaurès, 83600 Fréjus
Saint Tropez Tourist Office
BP 218, 83994 Saint-Tropez
Tel: 08 92 68 48 28 Fax: 04 94 97 82 66
Bureau d’Informations de Porquerolles
Nice Tourist Office, 5 promenade des Anglais - BP 4079, 06302 NICE Cedex 04
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