Whenever one of our local vineyards holds an open day, we find that it’s always worth going along. Not, we hasten to add, particularly to taste the wine, but because almost always the vineyard is based around some old château or other historic building that is normally closed to the public. So when last month we saw that Château Sainte Roseline, just twenty minutes away and on our way back from church, had an open day, we thought we’d turn up.
There’s a lot of history here. The Château Sainte Roseline, near Les Arcs sur Argens, is part of a complex of buildings which started as a hermitage in the early Middle Ages and developed into a monastery. A 12th century chapel and cloisters still remain. The cloisters are usually reserved for private events, but were accessible as part of the open day, as were the cellars where the wine is matured in barrels. Like most of these places you can rent it for weddings but be prepared to pay a lot of money.
But who was Saint Roseline? Her father was lord of Les Arcs in the late 13th century. The legend goes that during a time of famine Roseline took some of the family’s food to feed the starving peasantry, but was discovered by her stern father who demanded to know what she had in her basket. When she opened the basket, it was full of flowers – angels having transformed the food to protect her from her father’s anger. Less apocryphal is the fact that Roseline became a nun and then the prioress of the abbey in the early 14th century. She was known for her piety and charitable works and is said to have done other miracles. Her body is still preserved in the chapel in a glass casket to be gawked at by the faithful and the curious.
Apart from this, the chapel is well worth a visit as it contains some fine early 16th century art, plus a large mosaic by Marc Chagall and a small bas-relief by Diego Giacometti. We were less enthused by the massive steel sculptures that had sprouted around the gardens although the giant rabbits were a wry touch.
Château Sainte Roseline is a charming spot with splendid views southwards across the rolling fields of the valley of the Argens to the high range of the Maures. The wine we tasted seemed distinctly superior but it seems hard to find a bad rosé round here.
There is also an interesting reference here to a historical episode which is still, just about, within living memory. In the planning of Operation Dragoon, the D-Day equivalent in the south of France, the smooth open fields of this part of the Var were deemed suitable spots for parachute and glider landings that would leapfrog the German coastal forces. So, just before dawn on the morning of 15 August, the first Allied soldiers landed little more than walking distance away from the chateaux and a plaque on the wall of the cloisters offers an eyewitness comment that the chapel was liberated not simply on 15 August but “at 4 in the morning”. We hope the residents of the château offered their liberators a good wine for breakfast.