The ridge of the Massif des Maures (pronounced ‘moor’) lies between us and the sea and is clearly visible from our house. It’s not the highest of mountain ranges, barely making 1000 feet, but it’s a prominent feature. Prominent geographically perhaps, but not in human terms because apart from the southern slopes which plunge into the sea and are covered by concrete conurbations, it is a remote and quiet area.
Geologically, it’s made up of brown-grey ancient metamorphic rocks quite unlike the limestones of most of our area. Indeed if you can ignore the thick vegetation, there is something about it that reminds you of the Scottish Highlands or the Lake District. There is certainly an uncompromising and rather severe air to the range and it remains sparsely populated and thickly wooded with cork oak and sweet chestnut. The unyielding rocks are partly to blame since they are so devoid of any porosity to store the winter rains – sadly lacking so far this winter – that in summer it becomes an arid area inhospitable to both humans and animals.
Nevertheless there are small settlements built of dark stone where people have traditionally managed to eke out a scanty living on industries based around cork bark, chestnuts, and where there are gentler slopes , vines and olives. There may also be historical reasons for its lack of population: 1,000 years ago the summit of the Maures was held by peoples variously termed Arabs, Saracens, Muslims or Moors (popular belief says this is where the name comes from). From their fortifications here they sent out raiding parties into the surrounding interior. Memories of that presence and threat are preserved in the fortifications of many of the villages in our area and quite probably in the fears of the Front Nationale.
The Maures is however a great area to walk except in summer when most of the roads are sealed off because of fire risk. There are numerous tracks and trails , the hills seem never to be too steep or too long and there are innumerable charming views. Having spent a lot of the year so far indoors we made a foray into the local margin on Wednesday where after a grey start to the week and before a promised grey end, the sun shone forcefully out of a perfect blue sky.
We wandered through the little hamlet of La Mourre, then out along the ridge with splendid vistas to the west, north and east. Some of the higher peaks further inland still had streaks of snow on them. Then we plunged down – very nearly literally – into the valley bottom and back along the track. It was quiet and we saw very few people. It’s funny to think that only 10 miles away to the south is the noisy and traffic-clogged chaos of St Tropez. We know what we prefer.