Var (83470) Population: 9,594
St-Maximin-la-Ste-Baume is a small town in the central Var department, with the 13th-century Basilique Ste-Marie-Madeleine, the adjacent 18th-century town hall (Hotel de Ville), and the magnificent 14th-century Royal Convent with its central cloister.
St-Maximin is a busy town, with pedestrian shopping streets, markets, terrace cafés and a great selection of restaurants. Sites include narrow Medieval streets, brightly colored old houses and a Medieval Jewish quarter. Market day Wed, 2nd Sun, 4th Sun.
The center of town is the Place Malherbe, a square full of terrace café-restaurants, and with an 18th-century fountain topped with an obelisque. The main road through town, the N7, makes a jog here, from the Avenue Albert 1er to the Bvd Jean Jaurès.
Two streets head east from this square through the Medieval old town: Rue du Générale de Gaulle and Rue de la République, both pedestrian streets and both full of shops. At the far end of Rue du Générale de Gaulle you can see the front of the Basilique Ste-Marie-Madeleine.
Apart from the shopping streets, the other streets of St Maximin are worth wandering. You'll discover colorful Medieval houses, ancient stone doorways, small shady squares, bright shutters and little fountains.
History of Saint Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume
Prehistoric: The plains of Saint-Maximin were frequented by man for 40,000 years, and with many important habitations in the Bronze Age.
Celto-Ligurian: A Celto-Ligurian oppidum here eventually became the site of Gallo-Roman town.
Gallo-Roman: The Roman Aurelian Way (Voie Aurélienne) passed along the plain, and many agricultural Roman villas were locatd here. The remains of the Roman Villa Lata were discovered beneath the Place Malherbe, the central square of Saint Maximin. In Medieval times, the Rue Cobert was built to lead from the Aurelian Way in to the Basilique.
Medieval: Berenguer Ramon I, Count of Provence, established Saint Maximin as a town in the 12th century and fortified it with encircling walls and a moat. Raymond IV Berenger died in 1246 and Provence passed to Charles d'Anjou, brother of Louis IX of France.
• GPS: 43.453204, 5.860396
IGN (1/25,000) #3344 OT "St-Maximim - Barjols"
There's no easy hiking directly from St Maximin, since the town is surrounded by a spread-out residential area, farm lands and vineyards.
Southwest of the town are some rugged hills, including Mont Aurélien. We didn't find any marked trails here, but there are forestry roads and other tracks that could be explored.
With really big choice of restaurants to choose from, we would suggest a very special dining experience at the restaurant of the Royal Convent Hotel. Reasonable prices with menus at 25, 30 and 39 euros (2012), lunch or dinner, in a wonderful 13th-century dining room or sitting beneath the trees of the Cloister.
Contributed by Jill H. Feb 2016
I tended to eat at two places: Le Brasserie Le Malherbe, which is at Place de Malherbe. The atmosphere is casual, the service is speedy, and the cost is cheaper than Royal Couvent. It's fantastic for people watching, the owners (family run business) are friendly and welcoming - they actually became almost like a home away from home for me. The food is outstanding. The chef is French and English and it was some of the best food I had in France.
The second place is Snack la Fougassine (6 Place de Martin Bidoure at General Charles de Gaulle a stone's throw from the basilica as well as from Place Malherbe). I found it by accident before I realized, as I now do, that a hole in the wall in Provence can be a hidden jewel. The food is excellent and the chef is one that really enjoys the art of food. I always had a great time there. The price is remarkable considering the quality of food, which is always high. Ambiance - not much to speak of - but sitting outside getting to see the locals walk by and local life was great.
Transportation Saint Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume
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.)
Marseille - Brignoles Bus
- VarLib line 4001 has several buses a day, between Marseille and Brignoles, trip time about 1h45. Stops: Marseille, Auriol, Saint Azcharie, Nans-les-Pins, Rougiers, Saint Maximin, Tourves, Brignoles.
Link to list of schedules, select line 4001 and click the PDF icon.
Contributed by Jill H. Feb 2016
I just returned from sabbatical where I spent four months in France, most of the time I stayed at the Couvent Royal in St. Maximin. [...] Hiking. The reason for my sabbatical was to study the legend of Mary Magdalene (her relics are in the basilica attached the the Couvent Royal). Many tour buses full of Americans came through and they often missed an excellent opportunity to take the pleasant hike up La St. Baume on the trail of Mary Magdalene, which leads to the Grotto of Mary Magdalene as well as a small Chapelle du St. Pilon, which has a panoramic view. I took a morning hike alone up there along with a croissant, a few pieces of salami and an apple and sat on a rock enjoying the high flying birds and the magnificent view of Mt. Aurelien, Ste. Victoire while I ate my breakfast. What a reward - to see all the way to Marseilles and get a sense of the topography of the Var region. Also, the play of light and dark within the woods makes for a lovely and leisurely walk.