Located in the Haute-Var (83) near Fayence, Seillans is just 30 kms (18 miles) from the popular city of Grasse, Draguignan and Saint-Raphael on the coast of the Cote d'Azur.
Getting to Seillans
It's an easy journey from Nice. Take the autoroute A8 towards Aix-en-Provence and turn off at exit 39 (Les Adrets de l’Esterel). Cross Lac de Saint-Cassien on the D37. Turn left onto the D562 and continue until you see a sign for Fayence to the right. The D19 takes you past Tourrettes to Seillans.
Why Visit Seillans?
Seillans, officially designated one of the ‘Most Beautiful Villages of France’ (Plus Beaux Villages de France) is typical of the region known for its 'perched' villages. It may get its fair share of tourists in the summer months, but there’s enough genuine local village life to keep Seillans busy all year round so it's as pleasant in the off season as it is in July and August.
Because of the narrow streets (these villages were built for horses and donkeys not for cars), park just outside the village and continue on foot. Start at the local tourist office at the top of the town for a map and information. The helpful staff speak English; they can also organize guided tours which if you have the time are well worth taking. Tours are all year round on Thursdays from 10am to 11am and in July and August also on Tuesdays from 5.15pm to 6.15pm.
If you’re at the tourist office in the afternoon, you can see the works of two of Seillans' most famous residents, Max Ernst (1891-1976), one of the pioneers of Dadaism and Surrealism, and Dorothea Tanning (1910-2012), the American painter, printmaker, sculptor and writer, plus works by another famous local artist, Stan Appenzeller (1901-1980).
Place du Thouron
Tel.: 00 33 (0)4 94 76 85 91
Website (in French)
Open June 19 to September 8: Monday to Saturday 10am-12.30pm & 2.30-6.30pm
September 9 to June 17: Monday to Friday 10am-12.30pm & 2.30-5.30pm, Saturday 2.30-5.30pm.
History of Seillans
Seillans’ past starts in the Dark Ages when the Celtic Sallyens tribe settled here. They were followed, inevitably, by the Romans, then Saint-Victor’s monks who settled on this lonely hilltop around the ancient fortifications. Over the centuries the village grew slowly, the steep cobbled streets and shady squares clinging to the hillside.
Tour the Village
From the Tourist Office a printed leaflet will guide you up the steep route de la Parfumerie, named after the redoubtable inhabitant Viscountess Savigny de Moncorps whose perfumery, founded in 1881, saved the village from economic ruin. She planted jasmine, violets, roses, mint and geraniums for the oils and perfumes made on her estate. She was also a formidable hostess, inviting the likes of the writer Guy de Maupassant, fellow perfumers and Queen Victoria to her château.
Walking down towards the placette du Jeu de Ballon, you pass La Dolce Vita where Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning lived. They were here for a year before Dorothea, tired of village life, persuaded the artist to build le Mas St-Roch nearby.
Continue walking down past the Hotel des Deux Rocs, once a private house built in the 17th century by the rather improbably named Sir Scipion de la Flotte d’Agout, now a good hotel.
Go a little further down to the fountain where animals drank and humans washed in less fussy days. The arms of Seillans appear on the fountain with a crown on top indicating to anybody interested in conquest that Seillans was a fortified village.
Take a right and walk through the 12th century Porte Sarrasine that defended the first, innermost rampart. It’s so called, not after the Saracens (sarrasines), but after the style of portcullis which hung downwards. To your right the château stands up a flight of steps at the bottom of which there's a dragon made of iron and very carefully placed. Look closely at the dragon and how he is standing for an anatomically interesting way of projecting the water from the fountain.
Follow the narrow street round to the left past the placette Font-Jordany on what was the second rampart. Continue round to the right past the rue de la Boucherie (Butcher Street). Butchers formed an honorable and wealthy class, but they had to pay a charge to the local council for the privilege and keep the price of meat the same for that year. As an added bonus, the butchers sold the skins to the tanners. If you’ve ever been near a tannery you’ll recognize the particularly disgusting smell of curing leather which was a distinct disadvantage to the manufacturers of gloves and shoes for the rich.
So the wily tanners of nearby Grasse developed fragrances to hide the smell of the leather. People’s bodies were equally rank smelling, so the logical step from here was body fragrances. To this day, Grasse remains the center of the perfume industry.
If you want to get back to the place du Thouron and its restaurants and cafes, walk up Butcher Street. Otherwise go down the fight of steps opposite the street to the rue du Mitan-Four and keep your eyes open for the communal bread oven. Keep walking down to the rue de la Vanade which forms the third, outermost rampart then turn left back up to the Porte Sarrasine and the place du Thouron. The walk should only take about an hour unless you linger to take advantage of some very photogenic views.
La Chapelle Notre-Dame de l’Ormeau
At the bottom of the village, and only accessible with a guided tour, the small chapel holds one of the most remarkable framed altarpieces in Provence, a retable commissioned by Bernard Pellicot, co-Seigneur of Seillans and Engineer to Francois I. It’s sculpted in painted wood and dates from 1539-1547. Seven scenes are carved, each one an episode in the life of the Virgin Mary. In the center an extraordinary Tree of Jesse holds 19 figures, carved out of one piece of walnut. The left side of the retable has a sculpture depicting the Adoration of the Shepherds; the right is the Adoration of the Magi.
It’s a powerful piece of carving even today; to the illiterate peasants of the past its effect must have been extraordinary.
Visits every Thursday morning at 11.15am at the chapel. In July and August there’s also a tour at 5.30pm on Tuesdays.
There’s a thriving arts and crafts community producing terracotta tiles, jewelry, paintings and sculpture and wooden toys. The village also has a furniture restorer and a silk screen printer who makes pretty aprons and children's clothes. Go to Emilie Volkmar-Leibovitz at 9 Rue de L’eglise to see her at work.
Where to Stay
Hotel Restaurant des Deux Rocs
Place Font d’Amont
Tel.: 00 33 (0)4 94 76 87 32
There’s always a lot going on in this thriving village. One of the most important events is the annual Musique Cordiale Festival which takes place from around August 5th or 6th to 18th or 19th each year.
Contact the local tourist office for local markets and festivals in and around the village.
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