Bargème is a medieval village in Provence that has been classified as one of the most beautiful villages in France, and rightly so. Perched high on a hilltop in the Var department, this magnificent, medieval village offers visitors a glimpse into an amazing time in this country’s history. Resting at an altitude of 1096 meters, it is the highest village in the Var and has the most magnificent 360 degree view of the Provençal countryside. If you are a lover of old, stone architecture and medieval heritage, then this French classified site will undoubtedly astound you.
The history of Bargème
Located less than 20km from the Gorges du Verdon, the first account of this village is from the 13th century. As always, French history is riddled with tyranny, treachery and violence and the history surrounding Bargème and its castle proves to be no different.
Historical records says that a woman named Douceline, who was the only daughter of Fulks, married Isnard II of Agoult in 1220. She then purchased for him the lordship of Bargème, which meant he held power over the entire territory. This lordship was then passed onto their eldest son Fulks of Agoult of Pontevès. It’s interesting to note that the lords did not own the land, but it was granted to them by the king and the administrative courts. It was during the 13th century that the castle was constructed.
During the sixteenth century, the lordship of Bargème was in the hands of one Jean-Basptiste de Pontevès, Lord of Callas. During the wars of religion, it was he who occupied the castle (1505-1579). He was also a lieutenant for the king in Provence and a tyrannical old guy who did not hesitate to take the property of his subjects whenever he felt like it. In 1578 he was put on trial by the inhabitants of Callas and at that point asked his cousin, Hubert de Garde de Vins, to get revenge on the people of Callas. The men of de Garde de Vins, plundered the village and took several inhabitants as hostages and killed many others. Jean-Baptiste de Pontevès and his son threatened to kill the entire population of the village if they did not back down from the trial. Under duress, the inhabitants signed an agreement stating that Jean-Basptiste de Pontevès was the rightful lord of Bargème and all its holdings. In April 1579, the inhabitants of Callas, assisted by a resident named Jacques Sossy, a lieutenant of a Huguenot branch, broke into the castle and killed Pierre de Pontevès, then imprisoned Jean-Baptiste de Pontevès, his wife and his son Balthazar.
They locked Jean-Baptiste de Pontevès in a tower and stole his money. He was held prisoner for 45 days, and on the morning of May 24, 1579, he was taken out into the street and shot. A few months later, two of his other sons, Joseph and Jean-Baptiste, were killed in Bargème. In 1581, Balthazar de Pontevès took possession of the castle, but he was also a tyrant and violent like his father and one night, during an altercation, some men killed him in the common room of the village.
In 1595, Antoine de Pontevès returned to the castle. Due to the past history between the Pontevès and the village, the villagers had a terrible hatred for the Pontevès family and he also became a victim of his circumstances. He was stabbed to death at the foot of the church altar during Mass.
The property then passed to a younger son, Fulks of Pontevès, who successively took the titles of Viscount and then Marquis de Bargème. He, however, was accused of having been the instigator of crimes committed by a nephew and was sentenced to death. That sentence was absolved by the Privy Council of the King. It was towards the end of the 36 year period of the religious wars in France when the castle began to be demolished.
In 1818, Victorine de Pontevès-Bargème, the heir to the land and the castle ruins, married Elzéar Louis Zozime, Count and Duc de Sabran. They had no children so they decided to adopt the nephews of Victorine, Marc Edouard and Joseph Leonides de Pontevès. The castle was passed down over the years to their heirs and was kept in the family until 2008. At this point, the owners decided to put the castle up for sale and it was purchased on 17 January 2008 by the community of Bargème.
The little village of Bargème
The land area of Bargème covers around 2795 hectares, but the village itself is quite tiny and there are only around 185 full time residents. With its ramparts, two fortified gates, the Tower of Guard, the Porte du Levant, and the ruins of its castle, Bargème remains one of the most intact, old, feudal villages of Provence and this is what gives it its immense charm.
As you pass through the old gate, you come to the one and only main street in the village. On either side is a couple of snack places and restaurants. As you head straight through the village, take the fork in the road on the left that leads slightly upward to a rocky stair case. Here you will see the church of Saint Nicolas. You may enter in the side door, but the area to stand in is quiet small so you might have to take turns. Once inside, the main part of the church is sealed off so you can only gaze at it through rod iron bars.
As you make your way around the outside of the church venture out to the cliff’s edge and you will witness some of the most beautiful scenery in Provence. It will take your breath away. This is where I bring my picnic lunch and just get taken away by how beautiful the landscape is. From the old buildings to the valleys to the majestic mountain side, I became whole-heartedly jealous of the residents of this place! The photography opportunities are endless.
As you make your way back towards the church, take the path to the right and follow it along, passing underneath the small archway. Here you will find the ruins of the chateau.
The ruins of Le château Sabran-de-Pontevès
You may go all around the chateau and in and out of the ruins. There is one area that is gated and each time we’ve been here, the gate has been locked so I’m not sure if the very center of the chateau is ever accessible. However, if you travel around the left side of the chateau, on the small road that is just between it and the houses, you will find yourself at the back side and can climb up the little path. This will give you an impressive view of both the chateau and landscape is one sweeping scene. I walked all up and down this area. There are no gates or guards and no one to tell you cannot do otherwise so go for it. The photos you will get will be worth it.
Just next to the chateau we found a group of residents out that day playing pétanque. What a sight to see! This grand chateau in ruins, still there telling it’s life story, and just next to it modern day cars and people playing pétanque!
This is also the side of the castle that looks the most intact. The side that faces the archway you go under seems to be more in ruins and showing the tell-tale signs of its demolition. In its heyday, the castle must have been pretty impressive and the views out the window…..wow!
The Cemetery of Bargème
I have a fascination with the cemeteries in France. I think they are amazing and the cemetery of Bargème is no exception. Though quite small, it is beautifully kept and overlooks the mountains and the valley below. Take some time out and stroll through the few rows of headstones and monuments there and take in the wonderful view.
Surrounding area of Bargème
When exiting the cemetery, take a left turn and head back around to the front of the church Saint Nicolas. Instead of going back through the village, take a quick left and descend down the little trail. This will lead you through some old ruins of the ancient village and also the newer homes, both of which had (and have) an excellent view. You can venture off of the path a bit and walk around some of the ruins. There are a few that are accessible, and some not so much.
As you wonder along the path it will lead you back to the main street of the center of the village.
Besides the castle, church Saint Nicolas and the cemetery, there are many other small chapels located within a few kilometers of the village. If you are up for hiking and love old ruins and historical things, then by all means, hunt around for more treasures to see!
- The Chapel Notre-Dame des Sept Douleurs– This tiny chapel, located not far from the castle, was built in 1607 and restored in 2009. It is classified as a historical monument
- The Chapel of St. Petronille– Located 2 kilometers south of the village, it was built in the 17th century and was name for a martyred woman.
- The Chapel Saint Laurent– Located 2 miles northwest of the village. It overlooks a cluster of homes called St. Lawrence. About 1 kilometer from here, there is a trail that leads to the ruins of the ancient mill of Bargeme.
- The chapel of St. Anthoine– This chapel is listed as an historical monument because it is one of the oldest in the Var department.
The best time to visit Bargème
The best time to visit is the springtime. This is when the surrounding valley is at its best. The trees have their leaves and the grassy fields are green and lush. It is also the best time weather wise, not too hot and not too cold. This is also the season when you can enjoy the wonderful weather, but the tourist season has not started, yet.
During summer, Bargème has its usual exhibitions and festivals and if you are one for lively entertainment then you would want to make a trip here at that time. It does get crowded a certain times in the summer for those who come to Provence often and claim it as one of their favorite destinations. The bonus for seeing the village in the summer is that the few art galleries, painting workshops and exhibitions are open. This is also the season when Provence is very hot and humid so bring your sunscreen and lots of water!
I would advise against going if the Mistrals are blowing. Since this village is perched on a hill, the wind and gusts can be quite fierce and your visit will end up being not so wonderful! Wait for a nice, calm day before heading out to this destination.
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