Monday, 17 October 2016

Chateaudouble - well worth the climb

The village is perched high above the rocky summits of the Gorge du Chateaudouble.
One of my favourite perched villages in La Dracenie is Châteaudouble.
Looking down at the road below.
I am not sure why exactly, but it ticks all the boxes – described as resembling a nid d’aigle (eagle’s nest), its houses huddle against a cliff edge, with the narrow, winding streets that I love exploring, a line of restaurants overlooking the 130-metre drop into the gorge below, and a fair amount of ancient history.

This is not to mention the unexpected beauty of tiny gardens or window boxes found in little crevices, or the amazing direction pointer high above the village that doesn’t point out far-distant towns – instead it points to the directions of the 32 winds of Provence!

Châteaudouble (very roughly, ‘double castles’) was named after its two medieval châteaux – one perched high above the village and the other nestled along the banks of the Nartuby River far below – perhaps for those unable to climb the massive boulders!

It guards, in fact, one of the oldest prehistoric sites in Provence – the Grotto chauvre-souris (or the bat cave. I have to admit I prefer its description in French). There are two other similar grottos nearby – the Grotto des chèvres (goat cave) and the Grotto du Mouret.

One of the restaurants that overlook the gorge on the other side of the far wall.

These are hidden, outside the village among the steep sided gorge cut by the Nartuby River which flows down through Draguignan to meet the Argens east of Les Arcs-sur-Argens.

The gorge is bordered by thickly forested hills, with rocky outcrops like those at Châteaudouble, often bolted together to bind them in place and prevent rock falls.

Meander up the steps toward the tower.
Legend has it that a dragon once lived in the Gorges of Châteaudouble and would venture downstream to terrorise the villagers in the small settlements below. The Bishop of Draguignan – now Saint Hermantaire – fought the dragon and slew it, saving the village. The town (not sure if it is named after that dragon) now uses the dragon as its symbol.
I had been through Châteaudouble twice before on my way to the Gorges of Verdon – the high, winding road became a detour around landslides following the 2010 inondations (floods) – but on both occasions my eyes were fixed in front as I navigated the twisting road with its sheer drops, so I did have a chance to glance upwards as I passed below this little village.

A bright little corner with flowers.
This time it was my destination. I took the more direct route, bypassing Draguignan – the road is wide and easy to navigate through Provenҫal garrigue (bushland) and takes you directly to the turn-off beside the river below the village.

Look up from here and you do a double take – high above is the medieval tower and between you and the tower it is almost perpendicular. Of course the road, with its twists and turns, is more gentle but you still have sheer rock on one side and sheer drop on the other. At one point it disappears into the darkness of a tunnel straight through the middle of a massive boulder.

But on the other side, we emerged into dazzling sunlight – and a convenient little parking area right below the village itself. Cars are not permitted into the village centre, so we were glad to alight to explore more slowly.
Steps lead up between houses to the main street and a square shaded by plane trees with restaurants and bars located at the very edge of the high rocky shelf that supports the village.

We meandered through archways where we came out into tiny patches of land planted with colourful flowers – some with a convenient seat for weary climbers; but ever upwards.

Heading for the tower we had seen from below, we found it guarding the entrance to the cemetery, the highest point in the village – no doubt allowing the departed souls closer access to the heavens.
Flowers enhance every little nook and cranny around the village.
We felt on top of the world and could see for miles, the heavily wooded hills surrounding us that stretched out as far as the eye could see, and the deep gorge cut through by the Nartuby River.

Right at the summit is a lookout with a direction marker on top. We expected to see notations telling us the direction and mileage to various surrounding towns and sites. Instead, written in Provenҫal, it named the 32 different winds of Provence, the direction they blew from and the time of year when they were dominant.
The direction sign pointing our the 32 winds of Provence.
It was unexpected and fascinating. We tried to work out which wind was blowing at that time and to imagine how windy it must be during the colder months.

We dined in a vine-covered restaurant overlooking the gorge, visited ‘Za Sculpteur’ – who makes sculptures of found metal objects (and who I have written about previously) and enjoyed the ambience of this village with its flowers, tiny vegetable gardens, and wildflowers humming with bees beneath the straggly olive trees.

The 26-kilometre drive home was easy and meant that Châteaudouble is fixed on my calendar as a village to visit for itself – and its restaurants.  


1 comment:

  1. Amazing scenes and wonderful memories but just a little challenging to get them. I still have a lot to see in this region from all that I am reading on this blog! I shall look forward to it!