Var (83870) Population: 1,340 Altitude: 350 m
Signes is an interesting little village in the forested valleys southeast of the Sainte Baume mountains. It's about a 35 minute drive up a lovely road from Hyères, and probably about the same from Marseille. We spent a couple of hours wandering through the village streets, but you'll need the rest of the day if you want to go for a walk in the area, visit the old mills near the Raby waterfall or the ruins of abandoned village or chateaux nearby.
The approach to the village isn't picturesque, as the village isn't perched, but tucked back against the base of the hills. The old village is laid out in a long narrow arc around the hill, with a seemingly even older section back at the right-hand end, in a narrow wedge along the Raby stream [photo-1].
There are a few shops in the village, including boulangerie and pharmacie, a couple of places to eat and two cafés; we found the café on the Place du Marché sympa. A tiny Alimentation was packed inside, much busier than the larger chain grocery store beside [photo-4]. There is a Maison de Tourisme in the village (at the west end), but this isn't a touristique place. The only souvenirs you'll find are at the Maison de Tourism, where you can also buy the local wines.
Signes has a lot of narrow little streets to investigate, with old houses, arched passages and several old fountains. One fountain dates from 1570, probably this one [photo-5], and another is 18th century. The village is also know for its many very ancient huge platan trees. The one by the fountain on the Place de Marché is an official national monument, dating from 1767, and the one on the Place St-Jean must be just about as old [photo-6]. There are a lot of picturesque old wooden doors in the village and some nice old shop fronts [photo-1].
The 15th-c Tour de l'Horloge on the Place du Marché [photo-4] is topped by a "cosmogonique" campanile, a bit too high for a good look or a photo. The arched passage through the base of the tower [photo-8] has a plaque announcing "built in 1444, horloge installed 1547, renovated 1787 and 1984."
The main road runs along the village, and on the south side of the road are some more modern houses and open fields of farmland. Over here also is the 13th-century romanesque-gothic St-Pierre church [photo-10], rebuilt in the 17th century, sharing its space with the local fire department.
Signes is known for its mineral-water Source Beaupré, that's bottled at the junction a couple of kilometers east of the village.
Louis Lumière is renowned as the inventor of the cinema. A house facing the Place du Marché was marked as housing his scientific equipment from 1942-44, to protect them during the German occupation of Provence.
• GPS: 43.290591, 5.863996
IGN (1/25,000) #3345 OT "Signes, Tourves, Massif Sainte-Baume"
Didier Richard (1/50,000) #24 "Collines Provençales"
Signes is a good place for hiking. The Grande Randonée trails GR9 and GR99 go through the villages (marked on the corner of the Chapel St Jean), as well as a trail called Excursionnistes Toulonnais (ET).
Southeast, the GR9 goes through the forested hills (up to 640 m altitude) to Belgentier, where it joins the GR51. The GR99 takes a slightly more southerly route through the hills, then turns south to Toulon. The variety of trails in the southeast and south allow loop hikes, minimum of about 10 km.
North, the GR9 goes up the valley of the Raby, then turns west to go along the top ridge of the Sainte Baume. The GR99 goes a bit more easterly, up past Mazaugues and across the autoroute between Tourves and Brignoles to Bras and points north.
We found two small restaurant-pizzerias in the village:
La Marmite de Mathilde, and
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).
- Schedules for the Var bus lines are on the VarLib Horaires-Ligne page (http://www.varlib.fr/horaires_ligne/?rub_code=6") - type the line number in the Numéro ... ligne box to access the bus schedule PDF link. (Type a couple of digits in the box to get a list of route numbers.)