One of the hikes I take most often is to the little chapel of Saint Probace which is located on a hill just above the village of Tourves. I pretty much go here about once a month (except summer); although in the spring and fall I go a couple of times a month since, in my opinion, those are the two prettiest seasons to be hiking around in Provence.
The History and Legend of Saint Probace
The history, or legend, of Saint Probace states that during the 1st century he came to evangelize Provence. It was in the village of Tourves where he resided for the remainder of his life to live in penance and devote his life to prayer. He chose the hills above Tourves to make his home. This “hermit” home sits on a rocky hill just south of Tourves and at the edge of the Gorge du Caramy and it is here that Saint Probace died. It is assumed that the biblical reference in Romans 16:14 to Patrobas was in actuality, Saint Probace.
13.Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me as well. 14.Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers with them. 15.Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the saints with them.…
An original chapel was on this site and it is said that the bones of Saint Probace were found here when construction work was done. These relics were removed and now reside in the church located in the center of town in Tourves.
During the centuries that followed the death of Saint Probace, the primitive building was remodeled (probably even accompanied by a second chapel) and maintained by a community of hermits who were taken care of by the villagers. In 1643, a new, larger chapel was built in the same place. It was entrusted by the Pope to a community of men and women which were established by the Abbot of Ollioules and was maintained by them until the 18th century.
Unfortunately, I’ve never been inside the chapel. There are still a couple of hermits that live there today and maintain it. Apparently, there is a carved alter made of gold and some relics of Saint Probace, but this is not known for sure.
Festivals for Saint Probace
The community has a tradition of keeping his memory alive by dedicating three different, well-attended, celebrations each year.
- Easter Monday: pilgrimage to the chapel
- August 25 which is the day of his feast: there is also a pilgrimage to the chapel
- Last Sunday in August: candlelight festival in town with a procession in the village and adoration of the relics.
The area around Saint Probace and Tourves is known for having a lot of rainfall each year. In years of drought, the villagers take the statue of Saint Probace down from the chapel and keep it in the main church. When the rain returns, the villagers take the statue back to the chapel. As you can see, Provence is heavily steeped in religious traditions.
How to get to Saint Probace
The chapel is located at the top of a small and clearly visible hill and can be easily seen from the main route N7. It is only accessible on foot. The easiest way to get there is to park your car in the parking lot in the center of town just next to the small elementary school (once you are in Tourves, just follow the signs for Centre Ville and then follow the signs for Parking). From there, you will walk due south through the town until you come upon a tunnel that looks like an old army barrack made of aluminum (at least that’s what it looks like to me).
Once through the tunnel, take the street to the left and continue walking through a country housing track. You will stay on this main road for about 10 minutes, but don’t venture off the main road just keep following it until the houses become sparse. Eventually, you will see an oratory with a cross and behind it is the start of a dirt and stony path. From here, you are on your way and it’s nothing but up and up. This part of the hike is about a kilometer or more. Stop and look back every so often because the view of the valley and the city of Tourves is wonderful. As you ascend, you will see more of it.
Even avid hikers need to take a bit of a break during this part of the hike. It is the most arduous part, though not impossible for those who don’t hike often. You will just need to stop and rest more often and always remember to drink water. This is definitely important if you are hiking here during the summer months. I personally don’t recommend that because the heat and humidity is usually unbearable and it will make you feel pretty sick if you try this climb and you’re not used to it. Like I said earlier, spring and fall, and that is not just because of the beautiful colors!
The view at the Chapel Saint Probace
As with the other posts I’ve written, when I hike one of the perks is the view, and from Saint Probace you’ve got an exceptional one. From above, the view extends over the plains of Saint-Maximin, the Haut-Var, the white rocks of the Verdon, Sainte Victoire, Sainte Baume, and La Loube. You can basically get a 360 degree view from here.
It’s at this point I always decide to have my picnic lunch. There is a nice place to sit in the shade just next to the front door of the chapel. It’s usually never crowded here except on the rare occasion that a hiking group or running marathon is coming through. For the most part, I’ve only encountered a few people when I’ve been here and most often my husband, daughter and I are the only ones.
You will definitely want to stay awhile because having lunch with a view like this really takes your breath away. Plus, after that steep climb, you’ll need to get that breath back!
The one thing that is asked when you are here, besides the rule of “take all your trash with you”, is to please be quiet at all times. I don’t mean complete silence, just low and calm voices. You must remember that hermits still live here and it’s out of respect for them that you should keep voices at a minimum. Plus, the sound carries so that’s even more a reason to have hushed tones.
You may venture around the back of the chapel for just a little ways. There is a gate which marks the point of the hermits’ property—you can not cross it. You will see a sign reminding people of silence. Here you get to peak into the yard of the resident hermits.
On a couple of occasions I was lucky enough to see a monk out tending to his goats. The first time this happened I probably had a shocked look on my face because I never expect for them to be out, but it was a really neat experience. If this happens just smile and continue on with what you are doing. They’ve never said anything to me so I venture to guess they might have a vow of silence, but I’m not sure.
The hike back to the village of Tourves
After a good look around, and a full belly, you’ll want to take the back way down the hill towards town. This is for two reasons, it’s an easier hike when going back and you get to see a different view which is of the Gorge du Caramy.
Going in this direction you will pass by the large white cross. I love this part of the hike as much as the steep climb to the chapel. The trees and the hills are just amazing and it truly feels like you’re the only one in the world. As you make your way, just before you descend, take a look back towards the chapel and you’ll get to see it and the view from a different angle. This is also another great photo opportunity.
Once you head down, be sure to stay on the wide dirt and rock path. There are many different hiking trails that are around here, but the main path will take you back to town.
Once you near the bottom, take a look to your right and go see the ruins of an old house that is there. I always wonder who the lucky person was who lived here. They were so close to a town, but yet, all in world of their own. You can look around the house both inside and outside. There are no signs that say to keep off the property.
When you are ready to leave, go out to the main trail you were on and turn right, just at the end of the path there will be a wooden sign and you need to take the trail to the right. The trail to left leads you deeper into the Gorge du Caramy.
Following the trail to the right, it will eventually lead you back to the sparse country houses. Just continue on it and you will again come to the tunnel that looks like an old army barrack and from there it’s back to the parking lot.
The entire hike is about 5 kilometers, give or take. So you get a nice afternoon of exercise with the added bonus of a view and seeing a historical monument. I’d say that makes for a nice time!
How was your trip?
The location map, along with my Google Local Guide review, is here.
I would love to hear how your adventure went so please let me know by leaving me a comment below.