We found this viewpoint by accident when we wandered uphill away from the main square - Place du Massillon.
During very hot weather this shaded terrace on Casteou Hill is a splendid place to look down on the rooftops of the old town and below to the new town which sprawls all around so that you can take in the airport and the mediteranean beyond. On a clear day not only may you see Presqu'Ile de Giens but the Les Iles-d'Hyeres and Porquerolles as well.
Look west to see the remains of the ancient Fort.
Place Massillon is right at the very heart of the old town and is named after Jean Baptiste Massillon who was born in Hyeres in1663, the son of a notary in the Royal service. He entered the Church while still a young man and soon became famous as an orator and writer. In 1717 he was appointed Bishop of Clermont and remained there until his death 25 years later.
The Place is not a square but irregularly shaped, on a sloping piece of ground surrounded by numerous cafes and restaurants. It seems to buzz at any time of the day and in the mornings - if you are early enough - the market was held there.
Our family group of 8 (3 siblings and partners and two 20 years old off springs) gathered there often for coffee before separately exploring the streets of the old town which lead off from the Place.
The restaurants cater for tourists and were all of a similar standard.
On one memorable evening at the end of a stiflngly hot day, the "grown-ups" went to eat in the Place a little later than usual. We found a table but had to wait a while for service. As darkness began to fall there was a strong breeze with ominous hints of the Mistral. We all began to feel chilly until the food arrived. As the meal progressed we felt a bit colder and so the only person who had had the foresight to bring a light jacket passed it around - 5 minutes per person . In such a manner we spent a very enjoyable evening - but beware the sudden lowering of temperature as the sun sets - and the possibility of the mistral.
Rue Portalet is the main access to the heart of the old city, Place Massillon. It links Place du Portalet and Avenue du Général de Gaulle, outside the city walls, to Place Massillon, inside. It is a pedestrians only area, which allows the shops to overflow on the street.
Under "shoping", I have built a tip on a close up on a shop selling Savon de Marseille.
Rue des Porches follows the city wall from Rue Portalet to Porte Massillon. Its name (Arches street) comes from the fact that there used to be arches ("porches") that linked the houses to the city wall. None of them remains and now the street is busy with many shops.
The Franciscan (or "Cordeliers" because of the rope they used as a belt) settled in Hyères around 1230 but it was not until 1260 that they began to build a huge convent. Église Saint Louis was in the beginning the chapel of this main Franciscan convent.
From Villa Noailles and Parc Saint Bernard, the landscape on the old city is stunning. In the center of the photo, Collégiale Saint Paul is seen almost as a bird's view, with the houses standing tightly around. In the far background, the Îles d'Hyères (page to come) with Porquerolles, Port Cros and Le Levant.
You can reach Villa Noailles from the city, either by foot or you can drive. From Place Clémenceau, you follow the Cours de Strasbourg until the "Police Municipale" (city police). After that point, the itinerary is signposted. The entrance is shown on the photo.
You can visit freely the park (Parc St. Bernard), the cubist garden and the outside of the villa. There is a fee to visit the inside that presents modern art. Guided tours (90 min) are organized from mid June to mid September. They can be booked at the tourist office, in town.
The triangular garden, also called cubist garden, has been drawn by Gabriel Guévrékian. It is embedded between walls and is the first thing that you see when you arrive to the villa, standing like de bow of a ship.
It has two box trees, pruned as bowls at one end. The main part of the garden is composed of square elements, about 50cmx50cm that are alternatively covered with small pebbles or with low plants. Some of the alleys are painted. The whole garden is strange, at the same time very mineral and full of life. Enlarge the various photos to get an idea of how it looks.
Clos Saint Bernard, now called Villa de Noailles is a superb estate that Mallet-Stevens, an architect who, together with Le Corbusier, was considered during the 20s as a leader of modern architecture, began to build in 1923 for Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles, a wealthy couple of aristocrats that acted as patrons of many artists. They hosted the best artists of the time : Man Ray, Luis Buñuel, Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc, Cocteau, Henri Laurens, the brothers Giacometti and many others.
The villa itself was the place to experiment every tendency of modern architecture, décor and furniture. The building lasted until 1930 and in the end, it had 1800m2 with 42 bedrooms, a gymnase, an indoor swimming pool, a squash ground, The estate required more than 20 employees for its keeping.
Marie-Laure de Noailles died in 1970. In 1973 the estate was bought by the city of Hyères. In 1975 it was recognized as an historical landmark ("inscrite à l'inventaire supplémentaire des monuments historiques"). Since 1988, restoration work has been undertaken. It is now a Centre Culturel de Rencontre for the arts of fashion, architecture, decoration, design, plastic arts, etc).
In front of the main entrance into the castle, a wide space has been arranged. It is possible to park, if you had chosen to drive to the castle. From this terrace, there is a wide view on the Eastern part of the city (left on the photo). In the background, on the right and center, the sea. In the far background (left), the peninsula with the castle of Bregançon, holidays home for the Presidents of the Republic.
The Château d'Hyères (Castle) was built on top of a hill that overhangs the old city, with a cliff on the West. That was undoubtedly a fine place to build a stronghold. The first fortress seems to have been built in the XIth by the Lords of Fos. For several centuries, there was a rivalry and several wars between the House of Barcelone and the Count of Toulouse. The castle of Hyères was often wounded in these wars.
In 1257, the Fos family had to give back to Charles d'Anjou, the new Count of Provence their tenure over the castle. Important improvements were then made to the castle.
From 1579 to 1596, the Castle of Hyères played an important part in the "guerres de religion". It was several times assaulted and taken by each party, the Catholic "ligueurs" and the Protestant "razzats".
King of France Henri IVth ordered the castle to be dismantled, what was finally (partly) done after his death by the next king, Louis XIIIth.
There remains now only a part of the castle wall and half destroyed towers.
When you look at a map of the city of Hyères such as the one you can get at the Tourist office, you will see numerous "rue" in the upper old town. Do not be fooled by these names and do not try to drive them. You should walk and have good walking shoes as you can guess from the photos given here. When the name is translated into Provençal, it is given as "calade", which applies more to a climbing and rocky way than to a standard street!
The first photo shows rue du Château, steep and roughly paved with the middle with stairs!
The second photo is a part of rue Saint Pierre looking more like the dry bed of a torrent than the entrance into the Paradise.
The third photo is another part of rue Saint Pierre where the hard rock itself, roughly flattened, makes the ground!
The last photo shows the crossing of rue Saint Pierre and rue Jean-Marie Ollivier/Calado Jean-Marie Ollivier with a road sign that says "rue barrée (road )! Where is there a road?
Couvent Sainte Claire was built in the XVIIth and mostly put down during the Revolution. Instead, Castel Sainte Claire was built after 1849 in a neo-Romanesque style by Olivier Voutier (1796-1877), a sailor and archeologist that discovered the famous Venus of Milo (now in Le Louvre).
Castel Sainte Claire was inhabited from 1927 until her death in 1937 by the American novelist Edith Wharton.
The city of Hyères bought the estate in 1955. It is now the seat of the Parc National de Port Cros, Conservatoire Botanique National de Porquerolles and hosts a botanical garden.
The first photo shows the entrance. The second offers a glimpse into the estate, seen from rue Saint Paul, over the wall.
There remains very few of the entrance into the second city wall named Porte des Princes (Princes gate). Only this gothic arch remains and it is in such a bad condition that I am surprised that it is not considered a threat for the passerbys! My opinion is that it would be advisable to avoid passing underneath on a Mistral (strong Northerly wind) day!
A stone embedded in the side of the church bears the following engraving
Ci-gît l'Enfant sans sepulture, ROBERTUS…ATUS, que son père a enseveli dans le roc.
Here lies the unburied child, ROBERTUS…ATUS, that his father has buried in the roc.
This carving must refer to a recurrent legend in several parts of the Mediterranean world of a child being sacrificed by his father for the completion of some difficult building but I have been unable to find any specific mention about it.