courtesy of the Grimaud Office de Tourisme

Many people go to the Côte d’Azur to visit the much talked about town of Saint-Tropez. We went to discover the perched medieval village of Grimaud, in the hills, about fifteen miles away. Grimaud offers all the amenities, historic sites and natural beauty a person could ask for, without the crowds.

Driving into the village on the D558, you will see a parking place where the Office of Tourisme is located. There is a view from here, but step into the ornate iron and glass elevator to ride up to a higher level for an even better view where the picturesque village streets loop and curve with their own random pattern. You will be greeted by cafés, terraces, gift shops, fountains and charming flower-bedecked stone houses, all lovingly restored. Follow a cobblestone pedestrian street as it meanders even higher, passing more enticing shops and adorable houses, to locate the château ruins. The tower is visible from miles around, and you can climb it to have stunning views of the Mediterranean as well as the surrounding hills called the Massif des Maures.

Historically linked to the Grimaldi family, as Gibelin de Grimaldi was rewarded with the territory for helping to drive out the Saracens in 973AD. It’s easy to see that Château Grimaud was strategically built as a defensive overlook during the Middle Ages. Torn down by Richelieu in the 17th century during the Wars of Religion, the château has been only partially rebuilt. Today, the ramparts are used as a backdrop for outdoor theatre. A short walk behind the ruins leads to an old 17th century windmill that was used to grind flour. Renovated in 1990, it looks like it could be in use today.

There are several hotels, but we chose to spend the week in a comfortable apartment we easily rented on VRBO #285072. Even though it was located in a complex convenient to the village, had secure parking and a large secluded outdoor patio, we wished there had been a view. We were tempted to trim the trees that had grown up around the property, too tall and bushy now. Grimaud faces the Gulf of Saint-Tropez, and from higher points in the village, the view is majestic.

Each morning it was invigorating to walk up the stairway from the apartment and take the elevator to the Place des Alízes where the view and Le Patisserie du Château tempted us with the scent of freshly made croissants. We indulged in numerous breakfast pastries and afternoon desserts while sitting at the window overlooking the gulf view.

Meander the narrow cobbled streets or follow the walking tour provided by the Office de Tourisme. Admire the 12th century Romanesque church of Saint-Michel, and the view, on Place de l’Eglise. Take a look at the quaint Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs built in 1482. Stop at the inviting epicerie for a chilled bottle of Gris Mots (as in: “Gri-maud”) wine. Imagine inhabiting one of the stone houses with colorful shutters, a balcony and Bougainville climbing up the side. There is much to take in and savor on foot.

Compelled to take a drive out? Grimaud is conveniently situated for day excursions to nearby villages. Highly recommend is the marina village of Port Grimaud, the perched villages of Gassin and Ramatuelle, and Cogolin where rugs, hand knotted and woven on Jacquard looms, are produced by local crafts women in a small factory in the centre of town. Saint-Tropez isn’t far and has many more attractions such as the l’Annonciade, housing a fine collection of impressionistic art. When you’ve had enough, scenic and peaceful Grimaud will be calmly awaiting your return.

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Jo Anne Marquardt is the author of "My Trip Around the Hexagon: Meandering in France" and "Falling in Love with France", both available at Amazon.com. Her first published book, Falling in Love with France, offers responses to the various questions friends and family have asked her over the years about why she visits France so often. The second book includes illustrations and descriptive notes from her travel journals. Visit Jo Anne's website to check out her art.

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