Square in SeillansClinging to the southern slopes of the Var, between the Gorges du Verdon, Fréjus and Cannes, Seillans is a picturesque and historic fortified village perché (hilltop village).

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One of the Plus Beaux Villages de France or Most Beautiful Villages of France, it's an enticing maze of narrow cobbled streets, arched passageways, winding stone steps, splashing fountains and leafy nooks and crannies. These are all delightful to wander through and linger in, while you soak up the atmosphere (and enjoy a lunch or a drink on one of its shady café terraces).

Extremely steep, even by the standards of Provence's hilltop villages, most of it is only accessible on foot. Wear comfortable shoes!

The best place to start is at the place du Thouron, a pretty square centred around a 17th century fountain, shaded by ancient plane trees and dotted with the tables of a bar-restaurant, pictured below.

The Tourist Office is in the Maison Waldberg on this square. Here you can pick up a free leaflet with a map and self-guided walking tour of the village which you can easily do in an hour or two.

The upper floors of the Maison Waldberg itself house a permanent exhibition (for which there is a small entrance charge) of around 100 original lithographs by the surrealist artist Max Ernst, plus an example of the famous "lit-cage" ("bed-cage") which he designed while based in Seillans.

Place du Thouron SeillansErnst spent the last 12 years of his life in Seillans until he died in 1976, and his widow, Dorothea Tanning, offered 70-odd of his works to the village (further pieces were purchased later by the community).

An open-air sculpture by Ernst can be seen in Seillans too: Le Génie de la Bastille (The Genius of the Bastille), a slightly mocking tribute to the monument on the place de la Bastille in Paris. Ernst's version sits on Seillans' place de la République, where he liked to play pétanque with the locals. Pictured top left, this large square at the top of the village has great views over the surrounding countryside.

Also in the Maison Waldberg is a permanent exhibition devoted to the Franco-Polish artist Stan Appenzeller, who lived in Seillans from 1956 until his death in 1980. The village owns over 800 of his works which are displayed on a regularly rotating basis.

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The self-guided walk begins at the route de la Parfumerie, which commemorates a remarkable woman: the Viscountess de Savigny de Moncorps. In the late 19th century the Viscountess, who owned an estate in Seillans, watched the village devastated by two epidemics.

SeillansCholera had killed off many of its inhabitants, including the Viscountess' own husband. And, as elsewhere in France, phylloxera had wrecked the vineyards which were the source of its economy.

The Viscountess had an idea, inspired by the perfumeries of nearby Grasse: in 1881 she bought 140,000 jasmine plants, 100,000 rose bushes, lavender, mint and more, devising an award-winning system of irrigation and manufacturing her own Parfum de Seillans as well as creams and cosmetics.

She was also a redoubtable hostess whose guests included Queen Victoria and Guy de Maupassant, and was active in the First World War, during which she transformed the perfumery into a hospital. In more recent years the flowers for the fragrances were harvested elsewhere but the perfumery itself remained operational right up to 2010.

The Tourist Office's self-guided tour continues past La Dolce Vita, Max Ernst's first house in Seillans, and the quirky Hôtel des Deux Rocs (Hotel of the Two Rocks), a mansion built in the 17th century by the splendidly named Sir Scipion de la Flotte d'Agoult.

Full of character, odd angles and intriguing period fixtures, today it's the village's most popular hotel-restaurant with a terrace on yet another of Seillans' charming squares. Book a room at the Hôtel des Deux Rocs in Seillans.

The hotel is next to the Porte Sarrasine, a gate named, not after the Saracens but after its type of downward-hanging portcullis. The mediaeval houses on this square collapsed in the 1960s, exposing those Two Rocks for the first time.

From here steps lead up to the Château, a looming edifice dating back to before the 11th century. The site was occupied by successive waves of inhabitants: Celtic-Ligurians, Romans and, eventually, monks from Saint Victor Abbey in Marseille.

You pass by the adjacent 12th century Church of Saint Léger, and back down again to the rue du Valat, which traces the line of the former moat. Above an archway, French flags proudly flutter above the village's surprisingly grand town hall.

Water trough in SeillansSeillans may be a fortified village, but its ramparts are actually formed by the houses: three narrow streets of them rising in steep tiers. The tour winds along these alleys, through the butchers' quarter, past former communal ovens and a washing trough, and an area once used as a sheepfold.

In a wooded grove a little outside the village, the 12th century Notre-Dame de l'Ormeau chapel contains many treasures, some dating back to Roman times.

Its jewel is a superb baroque 16th century altarpiece carved out of a single piece of richly painted walnut wood and depicting scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary and a Tree of Jesse. This chapel can only visited on an accompanied guided tour, which, like tours of the château, takes place on Thursday mornings throughout the year (and more often in summer).

ALSO OF INTEREST

A little out of the immediate centre, La Bouchonnerie is a former cork factory which was transformed a couple of years ago into a centre for arts and crafts workshops. The village itself is also plentifully supplied with galleries and other such shops.

There's a small farmers' market in Seillans on Wednesday mornings.

Cosi Fan Tutti at Musique Cordiale in SeillansThe annual Musique Cordiale festival features classical and jazz concerts - many of them free - in the village and the surrounding area and is held in the first part of August.

As its name suggests, the atmosphere of the festival is informal, congenial and inclusive, with many locals and their friends taking part to produce music of a high standard.

Pictured: Così fan Tutte in Seillans at the 2010 festival. Photograph by Farsee50 for Wikimedia Commons. Website for the Musique Cordiale festival in Seillans

The long-established Marché des potiers (Pottery Market) takes place each year on 15 August on the place de la République. Website for the Pottery Market in Seillans

Seillans forms part of the Pays de Fayence circuit, a cluster of villages in the area which are being marketed under that name and have their own joint tourist website.

A good starting point for exploring this area by car or bicycle, Seillans is the most western village in the group; the others are Mons, Tanneron, Montauroux, Callian, Saint Paul en Forêt, Bagnols en Forêt, Tourrettes and Fayence itself.

HOW TO GET TO AND FROM SEILLANS

By car: Leave the A8 (the Autoroute du Soleil) at junction 36 signposted Saint Tropez. 500 metres / 550 yards after the toll booths go straight ahead along the N555 towards Draguingnan. After a further 500 metres / 550 yards, turn right on to the DN7 towards Fréjus.

At the next roundabout turn left, still towards Fréjus on the D25, then turn left again towards Callas. Continue through Callas to Bargemon. Turn right on to the D19 into Seillans.

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By rail: The closest station is Les Arcs-Draguignan, about 29 km / 18 miles away. A list of local taxis can be found on the Pays de Fayence tourist website, or you can pre-book a holiday taxi online here. If the timing works out, you can also catch a local bus from the station (see below).

By bus: As always with Provence's villages perchés, public transport is tricky. Seillans is served - if not very regularly - by some regional bus routes linking it to the closest major resorts.

No.3001 runs between Grasse and Sellans. No.3002 runs between Cannes and Seillans. No.3201 runs between Draguignan and Seillans. No.3601 runs between Saint Raphaël and Seillans. All these routes also serve some of the other villages on the Pays de Fayence circuit.

The current bus timetables to Seillans are available on the website of Varlib, the regional bus company. To read them, type the route number you want into the box marked "Ligne". Then scroll down the page and choose your direction of travel.

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PRACTICAL INFORMATION

The Office de Tourisme (Tourist Office) is on the place du Thouron, 83440 Seillans. Tel (+33) 4 94 76 85 91. Website for Seillans Town Hall and Tourist Office

Road in SeillansWhere to eat and drink: The Hôtel des Deux Rocs, Seillans' top hotel, has its own gastronomic restaurant. 1 place Font d'Amont, 83440 Seillans. Tel: (+33) 4 94 76 87 32 Website for the Hôtel des Deux Rocs restaurant

La Gloire de mon Père (My Father's Glory) is a nod at Marcel Pagnol's celebrated memoir, of course. But there's also a more personal story behind it. The premises were originally the village bakery for many years.

When the owners retired, their son, Éric Brunel, took the place over, relaunching it as a restaurant and naming it in his father's honour. Opposite the Tourist Office, it's an ideal meeting point. Place du Thouron, 83440 Seillans. Tel: (+33) 4 94 60 18 65 Website for La Gloire de mon Père

At the foot of the village near La Bouchonnerie, Chez Hugo is a popular favourite. Rue de l'Hospice, 83440 Seillans. Tel: (+33) 4 94 85 54 70 Website for Chez Hugo

A relatively new arrival in Seillans is the Institut Gastonomie Riviera. Based in a former silk farm, it's an upscale catering service and a cooking school for professionals and amateurs, including children, with courses throughout the year. 12 ancien chemin de Fayence, 83440 Seillans. Tel: (+33) 4 94 84 30 18. Website for the Institut Gastronomie Riviera

Photograph above by Loïs Ressort for Wikimedia Commons.

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