Saint Maximin la Sainte Baume April 06 2018, 0 Comments


This month Calisson by Gilles takes you for an historic and stunning journey. We are going to talk about the charming village of Saint Maximin la Sainte Baume and its surrondings. The city of Saint Maximin is located in the Var department about 60 miles east of Marseille. The economy of the city is growing as more and more startups, young entrepreneurs settle down there. By the way, the city has kept his agricultural tradition and this latter is always part of the economy. 

The Sainte Baume forest is one of the two sacred forests of France. (The other one is in Brittany). 


Saint Maximin has a strong Christian heritage. After the Crucifixion, Mary Magdalene is said to have travelled to Saintes Maries de la Mer (see our October 2017 blog). She left her travelling companions in a village, that will be called Saint Maximin later, and withdrew to a cave in a mountain called the “Massif de la Sainte Baume” where she later died.

In the 13th century her tomb was discovered and a basilica with a covent were built on the site. The town of Saint Maximin has become an important pilgrimage destination. 


Today, Saint Maximin is a dynamic city. Downtown has a lot of stores where you can find almost everything: food, clothing, technology etc.. 

Place Malherbe is the perfect spot to take a break at the numerous cafés or restaurants and for sure feel and taste the Provence with our sweet delicacies, Calisson By Gilles. Wherever you are, it will bring you a taste of Provence. 

The oldest neighborhood of Saint Maximin is its medieval Jewish quarter. Its oldest houses are 800 years old ! In the 14th century many Jews settled here and built arcades overhanging the street. The demolition of these structures was ordered throughout Provence but King Robert save those from Saint Maximin and now these houses are unique in Provence. 


The main monument of the town of Saint Maximin is the Sainte Marie Madeleine Basilica which is the biggest gothic edifice of Provence. The crypt is fourteen hundreds years old and you will be able to visit the sarcophagus of Sainte Marie. 

Next to the Basilica is the Royal convent which construction started at the same time but finally ended almost 200 years later, in the 15th century. The Royal convent is today a luxury hotel. Its masterpiece is its sumptuous vaulted gothic ceiling. In contrast, the resort which was used in the 17th century to welcome the wealthy pilgrims has now become the Town Hall. The common saying “rien ne se perd, tout se transforme” (nothing is lost everything is transformed) is true in Saint Maximin ! 


What to do 

Whatever your religious orientation, you can do the pilgrimage to the Massif de la Sainte Baume to visit the cave of Marie Madeleine. As we said at the beginning, the Sainte Baume was a sacred mountain for the inhabitants of Marseille since the Christian era.
Many hiking trails are available. The landscapes are stunning, cliffs are vertiginous. The vegetation is very green and dense compared to the flora you usually find in south of France. The paths and indications are very easy to read, and it will be very pleasant to choose and follow a track. Calisson by Gilles suggest a track up to the chapel of Saint Pilon, 994 meters high (3250 feet). The view is magnificent ; you can see the Saint Victoire mountain to the North, the Aurelien mountain to the East and the city of Marseille to the south. Wonderful and memorable. Definitely worth it. 


Col de l’Espigoulier

For cyclist, bikers or car driver enthusiasts, the “col de l’Espigoulier” is a succession of winding turns located at the West of the Sainte Baume mountain. The climb starts from Cuge les Pins and ends at Plan d’Aups, 20 kilometers (15 miles) later and 700 meters higher (2100 feet). The road is historic, often taken by the runners of the Tour de France and home of numerous motor races. The view is stunning, the frame is unique but you have to be very cautious ; the road  is surrounded by cliffs and a fatal accident can occur on any portion of it. 

Whatever you are cyclist, biker or car driver enthusiast, you will find an official race for you. They take place throughout the year and will enable you to live your passion on this mythic road. The races generally take place on weekends. 

Motorized hillclimbing races are organized twice a year. The road is one way only and the downhill is closed. For non participants it is an occasion to have a stroll at the departure line to see beautiful sports and race cars. It is also an opportunity to have a view on handmade crafted prototypes and meet passionate mechanics ! 


The Source of Huveaune

The source of Huveaune is the place where the Huveaune river takes its source. Wonderful ! It is a protected natural site with petrified bowls and turquoise water. Important notice: the site is very sensible and fragile and authorities are patrolling to ensure tourists don’t deteriorate this unique natural landscape. The bowls are dry between May and October.

The Huveaune river takes its source in the cave of Castelette at Nans les Pins, 590 meters (1500 feet) high at the North side of the Sainte Baume. 

You will discover a sumptuous pattern of colors that can turn pale inhabitants of lagoons throughout the world. Hues go from green emerald to a luscious turquoise further in the river. Bows filled of water are terraced. Water riche with limestone and bacteria speed up a chemical reaction that has led to these natural creation. Amazing !

How to get there 

The village of Nans les Pins is located between Auriol and Saint Maximin la Sainte Baume. Cross the village driving towards Plan d’Aups and park your car at the parking located next to the riding school. The path to be followed is GR9. There is the Chemin de Rois (path of Kings) signal spotting the beginning of the trail. Follow the path of Kings and at the first crossroads continue your way to GR9. The path crosses a wide clearing within the forest. Now you will have to walk on downhill through the valley of la Castellette. Follow the Huveaune River at the bottom of the valley. The climb up of the valley will lead you to its wonderful source of Huveaune. 




About The Author:

Gilles Cailleaux is the Owner & Master Confectioner at By Gilles, an online French candy store based in Orange County, California. They sell traditional French confections called Calissons from Provence. Gilles is always ready to share his 25 years plus experience of candy making and baking with everyone and want to hear about your experience with his calissons. Gilles and his team are sensitive about taste and harmony. They prepare your packages with special care and attention.