A short drive or bus ride from Toulon and the seaside resorts of Bandol, Saint Cyr sur Mer and La Ciotat, La Cadière d'Azur is a go-to destination for visitors eager to experience a typical provençal hilltop village.
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To the south, this pretty, flower-filled tumble of mediaeval houses, cobbled streets and steep, secret alleyways looks over vineyards and, in the distance, the Mediterranean. To the north is the craggy Sainte Baume mountain ridge, plus the picturesque village of Le Castellet perched on another nearby hill.
La Cadière's proximity to the motorway and to the towns on the coast is probably one reason why it's not one of those places that only seem to come alive for summer tourists.
While it's certainly not short of gift shops, bars and restaurants, it seems like less of a picturesque artificial enclave than some villages.
It appears to be a favoured weekend / lunch venue for people from the surrounding area and was busy when we arrived early on a sunny Sunday morning in April. Although there is a large number of (free) car-parks for such a small village, parking spots were already in short supply.
La Cadière d'Azur organises a busy year-round programme of activities. In summer there's a full line-up of events such as jazz nights, discos and concerts. An annual highlight in August is the Fête des Vendanges (wine harvest festival).
The winter programme is aimed mainly at local residents, of course, but if you are in the area then you might time a visit to catch the small Christmas market or the fireworks display followed by vin chaud (mulled wine) on the evening of 1 January.
WHAT TO SEE
You'll probably approach La Cadière d'Azur via the avenue Marx Dormoy which runs along the outer ramparts. Mediaeval and 19th century houses are built into this wall, many bearing their date of construction carved into the stone.
Most are converted into restaurants or boutiques selling tourist-oriented arts, crafts and souvenirs, but you will also find traditional village shops: in the Au Vieux Four at no.8, for example, bread is still baked in a huge 19th century oven, even if these days it's fired by gas.
The road leads to the main square of La Cadière d'Azur, the place Jean Jaurès. It's lined with restaurants and bar terraces. Look out for the Cercle des Travailleurs, or Workers' Circle, pictured above, which, founded in 1884, as its façade proudly announces, bears testimony to the village's socialist history.
Like its counterpart in Gordes, this unassuming café next to an old-fashioned butcher's shop has a billiard table and a little outdoor terrace with brilliant views - though, unlike Gordes, the plum area is reserved for members only. Useful to know: there's also a public toilet on this square, through it's very poorly indicated.
Dotted along the avenue Marx Dormoy, three mediaeval gates lead up into the fortified village. From west to east, they are the porte de la Colle, the porte Saint Jean, pictured, with its mighty wooden doors studded with nails and the porte Mazarine (named after one of the powerful brothers who also created the Mazarin Quarter in Aix en Provence).
As usual with villages in Provence, where the cold prevailing winds come from the north, most of the houses are huddled on the south slope.
Some are decorated with heads, figures and other designs sculpted in wood or stone. As you wind up the hill through a maze of little back alleys, you pass the Tour de l'Horloge, a 16th century campanile with a typical wrought ironwork spire.
Rearing up dramatically from the rock, the 16th century Église Saint Andre with its octagonal tower dominates the village. The church is unexpectedly large and richly decorated with stained glass windows, a carved wooden pulpit, an 18th century polychrome marble altar and modern, enamel stations of the cross.
At the top of La Cadière d'Azur on the place Sainte Magdeleine is an orientation table from where you can enjoy panoramic views, though the one to the north is slightly blighted by the nearby motorway and constant hum of traffic.
On the north face of the village is a large and well-stocked local history museum, La Maison du Terroir et du Patrimoine, housed in the 16th century former Notre Dame de la Pitié church. It has restricted opening hours outside the middle of summer and was closed when we visited. But it looks interesting, and entrance is free.
This part of Provence was under water millions of years ago, attracting vast colonies of molluscs. They eventually formed giant reefs, on which villages such as La Cadière d'Azur were built, and their fossils are still visible in the stone. Geology enthusiasts can take a guided tour to discover them: enquire at the museum.
The museum has displays on these molluscs, dry-stone building techniques and early irrigation systems, among other things, as well as temporary exhibitions on subjects such as mediaeval building techniques or the work of local photographers. La Maison du Terroir et du Patrimoine, 155 avenue Jansoulin 83740 La Cadière d'Azur.
In the hamlet of Saint Côme, 4 km / 2.5 miles south-west of the village, you can visit a mill producing olive oil, once the main stay of the economy in La Cadière d'Azur. The visit is free as are olive oil tastings. Le Moulin de Saint Côme, D266, 83740 La Cadière d'Azur. Read our full guide to the olive oils of Provence.
If you are keen on wine and are arriving by car, you'll really be spoiled for choice for vineyards to visit in the surrounding area. La Cadière d'Azur is perfectly positioned to tour them, and has dozens within a short drive. Pictured: the Domaine Bunan.
Just off the motorway at junction 11 (the exit for the village), you'll also find a wine co-op, La Cadiérenne, where you can buy the produce of over three hundred wine-makers. Click here to read our full guide to the wines of Bandol, plus visits to two of its vineyards.
And don't worry if the famously mighty, meaty red wines of Bandol aren't to your personal taste: the local vintners also produce plenty of easy-drinking Côtes de Provence rosé.
One Sunday in late August in La Cadière d'Azur is dedicated to the Fête des Vendanges (the wine harvest festival). It features folk dancing, a procession of decorated horse-drawn carts with the new haul of grapes and of course, plenty of opportunities to taste wines and food produce.
The Tourist Office is at the bottom of the village on the south slope: place Charles de Gaulle, 83740 La Cadière d'Azur. Tel: (+33) 4 94 90 12 56. Website for the Tourist Office of La Cadière d'Azur
Like most provençal hill villages, the streets in La Cadière d'Azur are steep and cobbled, so come ready to climb a bit, and wear flat, comfortable shoes.
How to get to and from La Cadière d'Azur
By car: La Cadière d'Azur is located 21 km / 13 miles north-west of Toulon, 12 km / 7.5 miles north of Bandol and 22 km / 13.5 miles north-east of La Ciotat. It's very close to exit 11 on the A50 motorway.
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By bus: Bus no.8001 runs between Le Beausset, Le Castellet, La Cadière d'Azur, Bandol, Saint Cyr sur Mer and La Ciotat. Bus no.8808 runs between Toulon, La Cadière d'Azur, Le Castellet and Signes.
These services are operated by a company called Varlib. Type in the number of your chosen route in the box marked "numéro ou nom de ligne" to view the current bus timetables.
On foot: the Grande Randonnée long-distance hiking path GR51 (known as Balcons de la Méditerranée) from Menton to Marseille goes through La Cadière d'Azur. The IGN 3245 is the best map. Click here to buy it.
Where to stay and where to eat and drink: Just beyond the place Jean Jaurès, the Hostellerie Bérard at 6 avenue Gabriel Péri is unarguably the swankiest place in town (if also the most expensive). Patched together from several mediaeval houses and dwellings, including an eleventh century convent, it has been in the same family for decades.
It has a spa, classily decorated with an ancient Roman theme, and a gastronomic restaurant which has held a Michelin star since 2006.
The hotel has a little brasserie too, pictured, for informal dining (merci, Delphine!) It's called Le Bistrot de Jef ("Jef" being Jean-Francois Bérard, who is also one of the co-chefs at the main restaurant) and has impressive views across the valley and slightly over-attentive waiting staff.
We sampled the artichokes à la barigoule with grilled squid - a classic provençal recipe, with a twist - and asparagus risotto, both good. Coffee came with enormous violet-coloured and -flavoured meringues which we thought a bit strange but which went down an absolute storm with other diners.
Photo credits (from top): © SergeD for Wikimedia Commons, SJ for Marvellous Provence (three images), Hostellerie Bérard.