Tourtour: Provence’s Beautiful Village In The Sky

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Tourtour is an idyllic medieval village in rural south-east France.  Locals call it “le village dans le ciel” (the village in the sky) on account of its stunning location.

The village is full of beautiful stone buildings, with narrow streets, tinkling fountains, ornately carved wooden doors, and tiled archways.  Its central square has elegant cafes and authentic local restaurants with shaded terraces and a tranquil, laid-back atmosphere.  The scent of flowers lingers in the air.

It is, in short, a picture-perfect slice of Provence.  

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Tourtour, Provence

Tourtour has been recognised by Les Plus Beaux Villages de France, an association celebrating the most beautiful villages in France.  Within minutes of arriving, it’s clear why.

The centre of Tourtour is perched on top of a hill 635 metres above sea level.  From various points in the village, you get panoramic views across large stretches of the Provençal countryside, including the Montagne Sainte-Victoire and its surrounding hills.  

Looking out over the vineyards and rolling hills, you can see why Paul Cézanne loved to paint the views in this region.  The whole place has an air of timeless tranquility.

Where Is Tourtour?

Tourtour is located about 50 kilometres inland from the Mediterranean coast in south-east France.  It lies in the Var department, which is part of the larger Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region – between the Gorges du Verdon and the Côte d’Azur.

The nearest medium-sized town is Draguignan, about 20 kilometres to the south-east.  

History Of Tourtour

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Timeless views of the beautiful Provençal countryside

The area around Tourtour has been inhabited for many thousands of years.  Traces and remains of ancient neolithic people have been found in nearby Arquinaud.

The village de Tourtour itself dates back to the Roman settlement of Pontus Tortorii, established in the 4th century.  

At the Battle of Tourtour in 973 AD, the Christian army of William I of Provence won an important battle against the invading Saracens.  (The Saracens who survived the battle were forcibly baptised and enslaved…)

For the next 800 years – until the French Revolution – Tourtour and the surrounding area was ruled by a series of aristocratic Seigneurs (Lords).

The Var insurrection, which followed the coup of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1851, and the ensuing repression and killings, cast a dark shadow over this idyllic place.

Happily however, today Tourtour is about as peaceful a village as you could wish to visit.

Things To See In Tourtour

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Winding medieval streets and stone passageways in the centre of Tourtour

Central sights

Tourtour is a small village, easily explorable on foot.

At the heart of the village de Tourtour sits the Place des Ormeaux, Tourtour’s beautiful central square.  Pretty cafes and restaurants spill onto the square, shaded by large trees, and surrounded by tinkling fountains and colourful flowers.  This is a perfect place to sit, read, enjoy a coffee, glass of wine, or a bite to eat.  Or just watch the world go (slowly) by.

A number of narrow, cobbled backstreets lead off the main square.  Spend some time exploring these picturesque streets, soaking in the atmosphere.  You’ll see medieval houses (some built into the surrounding rocks) old stone archways, fountains, tiny artisan shops and several art galleries.  Tourtour has attracted a large number of artists over the years, including the French expressionist painter Bernard Buffet who spent much of his life here.

Between the Place des Ormeaux and the Mairie lies a smaller square named Place Annabel et Bernard Buffet.  The far side of this square opens out to a glorious panoramic view over the surrounding hills and countryside.  You’ll probably see at least one local person playing pétanque (an awesome Provençal ball game, a bit similar to bocce or bowls) on the sandy ground here.

This square also hosts the regular Tourtour village market, on Wednesdays and Saturdays.  Here you can buy a range of locally produced food, artisanal produce, odds, ends, and even old antique furniture.

Tourtour-market
A very random assortment of goods for sale at the Tourtour village market

The Saint Rosaire spring

Tourtour’s many fountains are fed by the crystal-clear waters of the Saint Rosaire spring.  You can drink the water from most of the fountains – it’s delicious – though check for signs marking the fountains which aren’t good to drink from.

In the west side of the village de Tourtour, on Rue des Moulins, you’ll find an olive oil mill (moulin à huile).  Originally built in the 17th century, it’s still used today during the winter months to press the oil from locally-grown olives.  

Water from the Saint Rosaire spring powers the mill, as it has done for almost 400 years.  The mill functions as a sort-of living museum, and also hosts art exhibitions.  To see the mill in action, come between December and February.

The spring also feeds the old village lavoir (public wash house), which lies on Rue de le Lavoir.

Castles & Churches

Tourtour has two castles.  

South-east of the central square lies the 16th century Chateau Municipal (formerly called Chateau du Raphélis).  This impressive castle has four large round towers and houses the Tourtour Mairie (village hall), plus the post office.  (It also used to be the village school until the 1970s).

The other (older) castle, Chateau Vieux, is at the northern edge of the village.  This chateau is mostly closed to the public, although there is a small art gallery here which you can visit. 

The village has an attractive 11th century Romanesque church called Eglise Saint-Denis.  This church sits on a hill slightly above the main part of the village, surrounded by trees.  The church contains many historic religious artefacts, and three bells made in the 17th century.  

It’s well worth the little detour.  From the church there is also an exceptional panoramic view out over the valleys below.  On a clear day, you can see all the way to Fréjus on the Côte d’Azur, and the Sainte-Victoire mountain range in the west.

There are several other (tiny) chapels and shrines dotted around the village, evidence of the area’s religious past.

Places To Eat And Drink In Tourtour

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The terrace at La Farigoulette Tourtour is fantastic year-round

For a small village, Tourtour has a great selection of places to eat and drink.

My personal favourite is La Farigoulette Tourtour.  This friendly local restaurant on the Place des Ormeaux (central square) has seating inside and on the square, but try to grab a table on their panoramic terrace out back – “sur la terrasse” 🙂 . As well as an incredible view, you’ll enjoy delicious, traditional Provençal dishes.  It’s not the cheapest place, but I think totally worth it – the quality is excellent.  Highly recommended!

Two other great places are La Mimounia (Moroccan – superb) and La Table (inventive French – beautifully presented).

For a coffee, beer or glass of wine, head to any of the places with terraces on the central Place des Ormeaux.

Almost everywhere takes walk-ins, though it’s a good idea to book ahead during the peak summer months to make sure you get a table.

Walks And Hikes Around Tourtour

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Stunning views on a hiking trail from Tourtour

There are many fantastic walking trails through the fields, meadows and pine forests surrounding Tourtour.  These are mostly well marked with signs and information boards.  Some can be done as easy loops from Tourtour itself.

One good short-ish walk from Tourtour takes you to the ruins of Abbaye de Florièyes.  This medieval abbey was founded in 1136 and, although now ruined, is still beautiful inside and out.  It’s about 4 kilometres each way from the centre of Tourtour.

If you have the time, there are a few longer distance (multi-day) hiking routes which pass through Tourtour and several other attractive villages in the area, including Villecroze, Ampus and Salernes.  If you have the time, you could easily spend a few days walking between these places, perhaps spending a night in each.

Head to the tourist information office (inside the Chateau Municipal, next to the Mairie) for more information on local walks and hikes.  They should be able to provide you with maps and useful tips to help you plan your route. 

How To Get To Tourtour

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Traditional southern French houses on the road up to Tourtour

The easiest way to get to Tourtour is undoubtedly with your own car.  The village is located approximately half way between Nice and Aix-en-Provence.  It’s about 110 kilometres from either place, taking roughly 1.5 hours by car.

Free parking is available in the area just below Saint Denis church.  

It is also possible to reach the village by public transport – although the bus services are pretty infrequent and you might need to change a few times (this is rural southern France).  Currently, only two bus routes serve Tourtour:  one runs from Aups and the other from Lorgues.  Check here for up-to-date information on bus times.

Where To Stay In Tourtour

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The village in the sky - what a place to wake up

Accommodation in the prettier parts of Provence is not exactly cheap, and Tourtour is no exception.  That said, there are several decent mid-range options, as well as higher-end boutiques.

For budget accommodation, you’re best off looking in one of the larger towns and cities in the area (Draguignan, Aix-en-Provence, Nice, etc.).

La Petite Auberge is a good value mid-range hotel.  It’s comfortable, has friendly staff, a nice terrace with a pool, and offers free on-site parking.  (Prices and availability here.)

If you’re looking to splash out a bit, check out La Bastide de Tourtour.  This beautiful four star hotel is located a short walk from the centre of the village, in a large country mansion surrounded by several acres of greenery.  There’s an on-site spa and hammam, and all rooms have stunning views.  (Prices and availability here.)

Domaine Monte Verdi (located 6 kilometres south of Tourtour) is another excellent higher-end option.  They have a range of beautifully secluded luxury wooden cabins, with private terraces surrounded by nature.  (Prices and availability here.)

Other Places To Visit Near Tourtour

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Paddle-boarding in the Gorges du Verdon

Tourtour is ideally situated between the Gorges du Verdon and the Côte d’Azur.

The Verdon Gorge is definitely worth a visit.  The drive up from Tourtour is spectacular if you take the (slightly-longer-but-much-prettier) northern route, via Sainte Croix du Verdon and Moustiers Sainte Marie.  At Lake Sainte-Croix, head to the mouth of the gorge (near the bridge).  Here there is a range of boats and paddleboards which you can hire to explore up into the gorge.

From Tourtour, it’s also easy to make day trips to some of the famous towns and cities along the coast, including Saint-TropezNice, Cannes, or even Monaco.

For wine lovers, Tourtour is situated within the Côtes de Provence AOC, famous for its excellent rosé.  There are many local vineyards which you can visit and buy wine from.  Most offer tastings too.

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