The day started out simply enough. Our plan was a relaxing drive into the mountains and to meander through some of the villages that we marked on our map in this Var region of Provence. What we didn’t account for was coming across a village that has cave dwellings and dates back to the 8th century. This lovely little village was Cotignac. The name is said to have derived from coing which is the French word for the fruit, quince. Not even on our radar of places to stop and visit, but here it was. And we were in for an adventurous surprise.
I have always been one to love looking at a beautiful mountain, but all the while wondering what’s on the other side. These cave dwellings were no different. While they looked amazing from a distance (especially with the two towers that sit atop the massive cliff to protect this village from the Saracen invaders), I determined that climbing the cliff to get into them has got to be even better! So we began our exploration of this charming village and were ready to begin our climb.
As with so many Provencal villages, the main street was lined with large plane trees (sycamores) and quaint cafes and restaurants. Beautiful fountains are scattered throughout the village streets. Although Medieval, the town seemed to have a hip and artsy feel to it. Artists of all types-painters, sculptors, photographers-have made their home here as evidenced by their tiny studios along the narrow streets that start their ascent up towards the cliff.
The streets begin to get more cobbled and steep where they eventually lead us to the remains of a feudal castle that dates back to 730 AD and was inhabited until 1330. The age of this area is truly astounding.
At the base of these amazing grottos we find that people still live in some of these structures. People who live in caves are called troglodytes and these troglodytes have beautiful little homes complete with patios and gorgeous views of their hometown.
The climb up the cliff and into the caves takes us into another world. This world is full of stalactites and stalagmites and of ruins of where early inhabitants sought shelter with their livestock and belongings from barbarians. The waterfall that once cascaded over this cliff created many of these intricate crevices and caves. The river that created the waterfall was diverted in centuries ago (10th century)to allow for the dwellings and the village at the base of this cliff to thrive.
The climb is very narrow and very steep. An itty bitty spiral staircase held only by a piece of rebar shook as I climbed up further into the cliff and we had more climbing ahead. Suddenly it occurred to me that what goes up must come down. I wondered how a French helicopter was going to get me off this cliff-the thought of going back down made me nauseous. Just get to a flat part and you’ll be fine, I told myself in a mantra as I continued to climb.
Our climb ended when we reached a lookout cave. This was as far as we could go. Further trails and more dwellings were evident all along the cliff, but this is where the public could go and I was fine with that. The views were stunning, though. Peeking our heads out of the cave and looking onto the rooftops of the village and hills of Provence was worth the treacherous climb. In flip flops.
Obviously, we made it down unscathed. Photos were taken and memories were made. We made our way back to town and sat under the canopy of trees and enjoyed a glass of wine (only $2 euros!!) with the locals.
This village with so much character and charm has withstood the test of time and has managed to continue to carve out its own niche through the centuries.
This post is part of the “Oh the Places I’ve Been” on The Tablescaper- sharing in the joys of many fabulous journeys.