•Var (83890) • Population: 1,795 • Altitude: 258 m
An interesting little town of the Cental Var with a number of attractions for visitors, including its own Robin Hood style hero/villain character and a lovely little lake beside the town center.
This seemed at first impression to be an average little Provencal-Var village, with a few nice touches for the visitor, the best being the lake right at the village. The more we wandered the village streets, though, the more interesting it became. It turns out that there are a good number of streets to wander, and very many of the buildings are nicely restored in bright Provençal colors with contrasting shutters and other trim.
The lake just at the village, unusual for the region, is pretty and adds freshness during the summer. There are a few pedalos available for rental a the Camping du Lac, but no beach and no swimming.
Gaspard de Besse
The local Robin Hood, Gaspard de Besse, is a folk hero from the 19th century [1757 - 1781]. Born and raised in Besse-sur-Issole, Gaspard Bouis became famous for robbing from the rich round and about (a logical choice), but met an early and gruesome end after being caught and convicted by the court in Aix-en-Provence .
There are several informative plaques and notices about Gaspard de Besse in the village. The house where he was born is clearly marked [Photo-07], and we found an ancient carved stone head of Gaspard on a wall by the vaulted passage beneath the Tour d'Horloge [Photo-09].
Gaspard aided a prison escapee, and took to the bush with him, becoming his accomplice in crime. They robbed people, but not anybody who helped them. The small band with Gaspard emigrated to the canyons of Ollioules, west of Toulon, about 50 km southwest of Besse-sur-Issole. It was a busy place for banditry and their exploits became known from Marseille to Nice.
In 1779 Gaspard was arrested in the Maures (the mountains stretching between Toulon and Fréjus). Within a year he managed to escape, helped by the daughter of the a jailer of the Draguignan prison. A column of galley slaves escaped with him, and they and some of their gards joined Gaspard in his band.
While visiting a friend in La Valette-du-Var, Gaspard was recognize and arrested. He hadn't killed anybody during his years of robbing wealthy travelers and tax agents and helping out the poor, but ridicule was taken as seriously as murder, apparently, and Gaspard went to the gallows in 1781 at the age of 25.
The separate Besse-sur-Issole Fountains page has a collection of photos of many of the fountains in the village.
Besse has the ordinary village commerce, including three boulangeries (bakeries), some small produce and grocery shops, and a couple of terrace cafés.
Books-magazines-maps are availabe from the typical village journal-papeterie shop. They also have a good selection of historical books about Provence and Provencal subjects, by a local publisher (www.editions-lacour.com); all in French.
Roman Medieval Bridge
A very prettly little humpbacked stone bridge crosses the Issole about 800 m southeast of the village. The bridge is often called Roman, but is actually Medieval.
It's a boring walk out from the village, across the fields, or a quick drive. There's a small shady picnic area just beside the stream and the bridge.
History of Besse-sur-Issole
First record, 1030 Bersa
Celto-Ligurian: An oppidum was located on the end of the high ridge of Saint Quinis, about 2.5 km northwest of the village.
Gallo-Roman: Five km southwest of Besse-sur-Issole is the 500-metre diameter circle of an ancient lake, drained by the Romans.
Medieval: Besse-sur-Issole was a religious fief of the collegial of Pignans, the then of the Jesuits of Toulon.
Wednesday is market day in Besse-sur-Issole. There used to be a monthly brocante but that's stopped recently (summer 2001).
Department 83, Var Buses
See Beyond's Var Department Bus Schedules for downloading the Var bus-lines map [Plan du Reseau] and bus-line schedules [Horaires] (link for PDF files).
• Latitude, Longitude: 43.348839, 6.177294
IGN (1/25,000) #3445 OT "Cuers, Pierrefeu-du-Var, Collobrières"
IGN (1/25,000) #3444 OT "Brignoles Le Luc"
Four km southwest of Besse-sur-Issole, a loop hike goes northeast from Naple (a hamlet beside the village of Ste-Anastasie-sur-Issole) up to the St-Quinis ridge. At the high point of the northeast end, the trail goes to the St-Quinis chapel and grotto, and has a terrific view in all directions.
The GR9 (Grande Randonnée) passes through Carnoules, 5 km south of Besse-sur-Issole.