RENTAL PROPERTY IN A CHARMING MOUNTAIN-TOP VILLAGE IN PROVENCE
Welcome To "La Paillere"
Our mailing address is : 1 rue Douce 83330 - Le Castellet (France)
Monsieur Roger ROCHE, 192 rue Victor-Reymonenq, 83200 - Toulon
Phone: (011-33) 4 94 22 40 44
Monsieur Roche used to live in the village. He has now moved to Toulon, but still looks after the house. He keeps a spare key to the house (for emergencies) If you have problems with appliances, plumbing, etc. you can ask him to assist you.
It is generally best to leave your car in the residents' parking lot, which is just outside the wall facing South (toward the sea), or along the adjacent uphill ramp. Access to this lot is (often) controlled by the local policeman, and if questioned you should tell him that you are staying in our house. Cars are allowed to enter the village to pick up/drop off loads (e.g. your shopping bags, luggage, etc.). Residents are allowed to park their car inside the village overnight (in only after 6 pm, out by 10 am, but rules sometimes change, and you should check the posted signs).
Opening the front door for the first time may require a bit of trial and error, because it sticks a bit. Opening and closing it requires just the right mix of firmness and gentleness, because of the glass part, which might shatter if you slam it too hard. When opening it, or closing it from inside, please push only the lower (i.e. metal) part of the door (a push with the foot helps). Note that the glass panel has its own hinges, and can be opened while the door itself is closed: this can be useful to ventilate the downstairs area while keeping out wandering dogs (or children).
• TURNING ON UTILITIES & APPLIANCES
Unless they have been left on for you by an immediate predecessor, or turned on by M. Roche (who will do it only if he has been notified of your arrival), your first job will be to turn on the water and electricity. The latter is easy: go to the top of the spiral staircase where the meter and main switch (disjoncteur)
are located, and just throw in the switch (red isoff; green is on). Unless otherwise instructed, you should turn off the electricity when you vacate the house.
The water main (and meter) are located inside a receptacle built into the rear wall of the house (i.e. outside) behind a small cast iron door. Pry it open (it has no key), and reach inside to find the main (next to the meter). As with the electricity, the water should be tightly shut off when you leave the house. Please remember this, as we have once or twice experienced serious water damage as a result of the water being left on while the house was empty.
The third step (usually) is to switch on the refrigerator --the switch being located inside the lower (refrigerator) compartment. Again, unless you had an immediate predecessor, you will find the refrigerator switched off (though not unplugged), and the doors to the upper (freezer) and lower sections open (to avoid mold). Unless you know that another occupant will move in within 2-3 days of your departure, you should switch it off before leaving, and leave both doors open. I suggest that you do this the night before you leave: this will allow the freezer compartment to defrost. The refrigerator is technically "frost free" (but not self-defrosting), and there should normally not be much, if any condensation in the freezer compartment. Whatever little moisture does accumulate after the refrigerator has been switched off can be mopped up, or allowed to drain through a hole (covered by a rubber plug) at the bottom of the freezer section: this lets water to drip into the lower section, and a dish placed under that hole will catch it. When water has drained, simply re-plug the hole.
Your next item of business (again, unless you have pre-arranged for M. Roche to do it for you, or you are moving in directly after another occupant) is to switch on the electric water heater which supplies hot water to all three levels. That water heater (sometimes known in French as a cumulus or a ballon) is located in the corner of the 3d floor bathroom. Flick the switch from off (black dot) to on (red dot).
It takes two hours for it build up a full capacity, but hereafter you will have an ample permanent supply.
The kitchen range is fed from a Butane gas bottle, which is located under the sink (far left) in a space that is normally blocked off by the range. In other words, if and when the bottle needs to be replaced, you have to pull out the range, which is not as hard as it sounds. Be sure to close the valve on top of the bottle before unscrewing the pressure regulator (a necessary prelude to changing the bottle). To unscrew the pressure regulator, you will need a special flat wrench, normally found in the kitchen drawer. Note that all French pressure regulators are unscrewed clockwise and screwed back on counterclockwise ! Be sure to screw it on real tight (you may also want to check that the rubber gasket has not turned brittle).
We always keep a reserve bottle of Butane under the spiral staircase (behind a white beaverboard panel, in a small storage space where you will also find brooms and some household products). If you end up having to change the Butane bottle, we ask that you get a new one, so that there will always be a spare on hand. Bottles are sold at various locations, such as the gas station at the "Super Casino" in Les Lecques, or at Le Beausset. You are expected to trade in an empty bottle when buying a new one. There are a couple of screw-on carrying handles (under the sink) that make it easier to pick up the Butane bottles.
Note that the top valve (as distinct from the pressure regulator) can be turned off and on simply by reaching under the sink. You may leave it permanently open while in the house, but we recommend that you close it, for safety's sake, if you are leaving the house for more than a couple of hours (and, needless to say, when you vacate the house). If you have problems with any of this, you can ask M. Roche, or any of the neighbors for assistance, since everyone in Le Castellet uses bottled gas.
• WATER HEATER
Hot water for all three floors (kitchen and both bathrooms) is supplied by an electric water heater (colloquially known in French as a cumulus) which is located in the 3d floor bathroom, and calls for no particular maintenance. The switch that controls it is located directly under the tank, and it normally (but not always) left on at all times: thus, you will want to make sure that it is on when you arrive. If it is not, switch it on (see above). Switching off the electricity as you leave the house will automatically turn off the water heater. The heater's capacity is quite ample, but not unlimited: it should be quite sufficient for all normal needs. Be warned that the hot water is indeed quite hot (over 80 C) and can scald an unwary child (or adult). The Butane water heater in the kitchen is still functional, but now serves only as a substitute system in case of power failure. For it to be put in service, a rather complicated switching of valves is required, and you should not attempt it: in the highly unlikely event of a prolonged power failure, ask M. Roche to show you how to use the alternative system.
The range is not self-igniting (no pilot). The burners are ignited with a match, or with a spark-producing Piezo-lighter (normally left near the range). A match is the only way to light the oven and broiler: for the oven, lift the small metal flap at the bottom of the oven, and extend the lighted match into the cavity after waiting five seconds for the gas to reach its way to the oven; for the broiler, simply bring the lighted match (same 5" wait) close to the roof of the oven, where the burners are. If you use the broiler, the manufacturer recommends that the over door be kept slightly ajar, by use of a curved galvanized iron accessory found in the range's bottom drawer.
The toilets are standard, but the one on the 2d floor is an older model, which means it should be flushed with a single, gentle pull, holding down the cord for a count of five. Neither toilet is equipped to deal with tampons, "disposable" diapers, or other similar "foreign matter".
There are quite a few self-operated laundromats, as well as commercial laundry services, at Le Beausset, St. Cyr, etc., and they also do dry cleaning. For small jobs, there is a portable "Mini-Wash" on the 3rd floor, in or near the shower stall, and you are welcome to use it. It has a relatively small capacity, but the cycle is short, and it does a good job. The machine should be placed inside the shower stall (or inside the 2d floor bathtub, if you prefer) for draining convenience. Fill the machine with hot, warm or cold water (using the shower hose) , but no higher than the maximum level notch inside the vat. Set the timer by turning the knob in the direction shown by the arrow. Normal cycle is five minutes, but you can re-set the timer for further wash or rinse cycles, as needed. We find that a 5-minute wash cycle and another 5-minute rinse cycle is quite sufficient. Between the wash and the rinse cycle, the vat should be drained by unhooking and lowering the rubber hose attachment. When you leave , make sure there are no lint particles or fibers caught in the agitator, and no water left at the bottom of the vat. This little Dutch-made machine is good for towels, shirts, underwear, etc., but it can only handle one bedsheet at a time, so you may prefer to bring these down to a laundromat, or laverie, where they will, if needed, wash, dry and fold on a same-day basis.
Clothes washed in the house dry beautifully on the terrace clotheslines, and there is a steam iron in the cabinet of the 3d floor bathroom. No ironing stand, however: we use the small wood deck in the 3d floor "sunroom", covered with an old blanket (found in the highboy of the 3d floor bedroom).
It does not work well because of long disuse and dampness. We accordingly ask you not to use it for firewood (chances are you won't want to in the warm months, anyway), but use it by all means for the little hibachi located either in the fireplace itself, or in the storage space below it. Charcoal, lighting cubes and the like are sold in any hardware store.
In addition to brooms, buckets,etc. under the spiral staircase, or under the sink, there is a small upright vacuum cleaner in the master bedroom closet (we hardly ever use it since there is no carpeting).
The house is wired for telephone service, but the line Is not active. You can have the line activated by calling France-Telecom, but it is a rather cumbersome and costly process. A cell phone (preferably with world-wide range) is probably the most convenient solution, short of using public pay phones.
The only place to go for placing a phone call is the village's single cabine publique (alongside the Post Office) from which, with the appropriate telephone card, or Telecarte (no coins accepted) you can call any place in the world directly. If you have a telephone credit card (AT&T) you can use the "USA-Direct" system to place all calls to the US. Ask your AT&T operator to give you the number to dial from France (they keep changing it). With this service you will be immediately put in touch with a (recorded or live) US operator, who will place your call and bill it to your account (the rates are more or less the same: in fact, we have found that calling the US directly with a Telecarte may be cheaper.
It is possible to make collect calls (PCV in French) from some P.O.'s (e.g. at Le Beausset), or from any cabine, but this may take time, and you may have to wait for the operator to call you back. You can also arrange to receive a call at the P.O. at a specified time. This service, however, is no longer available at our village Post Office, and for real emergencies, you may ask M. Roche to receive a message for you. Since he has been in the cell-phone business, he may also be able to work out a deal for the short-term rental of a portable unit, but you would have to work out the details with him (in French).
• GARBAGE PICKUP
During the Summer, garbage is normally picked up five times a week (M-W-F in the off season). Schedules sometimes change, and if in doubt you can check with a neighbor, the postmistress, or the Mairie. Pickup is early in the a.m., and garbage should accordingly be taken out the night before (tightly closed lid on the garbage pail, or firmly tied garbage bags, on account of stray cats and dogs). The nearest collection point is at the back of our house, under the lamp post.
• ADDITIONAL RESIDENT PARKING
In addition to the resident parking lot on the South side (see above) there is additional parking space for residents behind the Chateau (North side), as well as on the ramp (known as Montee Saint Eloi) which runs alongside the village wall, leading to the wider of the two village gates (Le Portalon). There are about 20 spaces along that ramp. There is also additional resident parking space on a small, unsurfaced lot to the left of the road leading out of the village. Note that, depending on the size of your car, driving into the village can be through either the lower gate (Le Portail), which is nearest to our house, or through the wider upper gate (the above-mentioned Portalon), which involves winding your way (cautiously) through the whole village (all of 400 yards, actually !).
The easiest source of help (or advice) is M. Roche (see above) who can actually --if his schedule allows-- fix most everything. In a pinch, you can turn to our next-door neighbor for information. Another helpful person (who actually lives outside the village proper) is Mme.Jeanne Berenger, who runs a very nice boutique close to the village church. Other good sources of information are the baker, the postmistress, the owner of the Mamydion souvenir shop, the owner and/or waiters at La Souco and Castel-Lumiere.
• FOOD SHOPPING
The only (non-restaurant) food source in the village is the local bakery (appropriately named La Femme du Boulanger, after the 1938 Pagnol film of that title that was shot in the village). Every other year, it seems, a small epicerie tries to create a niche for itself: 2000 was an "off" year, but maybe next year? Since 1997, a confiserie making luscious marzipan and chocolate confectioneries has opened for business, with a small restaurant on the side.
For most food, and non-food needs, you will probably need to go down the hill to Le Beausset (two supermarkets --of the Champion and Casino chains-- and plenty of other smaller stores, not to mention the extensive, colorful open-air market every Friday morning). La Cadiere (the village on the hill facing Le Castellet) also has good little stores, and (in the valley, close to the autoroute access ramp) an excellent source of local wine, which you can buy in 1-litre bottles, or 5-litre plastic jugs (we keep one of those under the sink) : this is the Cooperative Vinicole . The rose and the white are especially good.
A little further afield, there is a conveniently located, medium-sized supermarket (Supermarche Casino) just near the St. Cyr/Les Lecques exit of the autoroute (and thus close to the beach). There are huge hypermarches --combinations of food supermarket, drug store, liquor store and department store-- off the autoroute at Ollioules (Continent) and at La Seyne (Auchan) that are actually part of large shopping malls. In Toulon, apart from the Mayol shopping mall(which includes a Carrefour "hypermarket"), there is a colorful open-air market every weekday morning on the Cours Lafayette (leading down to the harbor). Huge shopping centers are also found at Aubagne and East of Toulon.
Most, if not all, banking needs can be met in Le Beausset, at the local branches of the Credit Lyonnais, B.N.P. , or Credit Agricole. Check for opening days and business hours. Branches of these same banks in Toulon have some more services, and longer business hours. The exchange rate for foreign currencies varies slightly from bank to bank, and you may want to shop around for the day's best rate. Quite a few money transactions (but not currency exchange) can actually be carried out at the Post Office (money orders). ATMs are now widely available throughout France, and will accept your bank or credit cards.
There are five or six restaurants at Le Castellet, of which the best is probably Le Castel Lumiere, just down our street (you can actually look down into their garden terrace from the 3d floor). Next come L'Auberge Saint-Eloi, together with La Farigoule, and (for snacks) La Souco (across from the post office). Specialty places are La Creperie du Roi d'Ys, the pizzeria-cum-creperie on the way up from Le Portail, a pocket-size place (La Terrasse) which serves good, inexpensive food, and a relatively recent Bulgarian arrival (in the old schoolhouse, Place de l'Ormeau). There are several restaurants at La Cadiere (notably the pricey Hostellerie Berard) and Le Beausset (two good ones on Boulevard Chanzy). One that we would recommend is actually outside Le Beausset, in the hills alongside the road from Le Beausset to Toulon (RN 8). It is called La Miquelette, and you will see a sign pointing the way to it on the right-hand side of Rte. 8, approximately 1 km. after Le Beausset.
Toulon and Marseille, of course, have many seafood restaurants alongside the waterfront (the Vieux Port in Marseille). Bandol, Sanary, Cassis, Saint-Mandrier and even La Ciotat have many good small places. At La Ciotat, a distinctly non-touristic, former shipbuilding town with a great deal of charm, you could try La Fresque (place Emile-Zola, overlooking the harbor).
Closest and most pleasant (though, like all beaches, somewhat crowded in August) is Les Lecques, a sand beach with clean, shallow waters, ideal for kids (but also for windsurfing). The fastest way to get there is by going down the Chateau-Vieux road to the autoroute exit, and to take the autoroute to the St. Cyr/Les Lecques exit (a toll-free stretch), but you can also follow the "old road" that runs through vineyards, passing some of the best-known domaines of the Bandol area along the way.
Shady and rocky beaches are in the calanques (small-scale fjords), of which the best known are outside Cassis, but the nearest is Port d'Alon, a small private beach (admission fee charged until 5 pm), one mile off RN 559, between St. Cyr and Bandol. Topless bathing is allowed everywhere, but the only true nudiste beach is at La Galere (also known as Le Sous-Marin) near Port d'Alon (ask for directions). Bandol, Sanary, Cassis, Six-Fours, Le Brusc, La Ciotat, etc. all have public beaches (of these coastal tourist spots, our favorite is Sanary).
• CLIFFS AND HEIGHTS
The tallest cliffs in France are found between La Ciotat and Cassis. There is a dramatic, but otherwise quite passable road along the clifftops, with plenty of rest areas for vues panoramiques that are truly breathtaking. From La Ciotat, follow the signs reading Circuit des Cretes, or ask for directions.
Other notable heights in the vicinity are the Gros Cerveau (the road leading to it starts from the center of Ollioules), the castle at Evenos (road starts off RN 8 at Sainte-Anne d'Evenos, between Le Beausset and Ollioules), the Bau de Quatre Heures, the Mont Caume, and the Mont Faron (both overlooking Toulon). The view from any of these is spectacular, especially on a clear day. More modest hilltops are Le Beausset-Vieux (the road to it starts from just outside Le Beausset, between the school and the soccer field), the South-facing rock formation on which La Cadiere sits, or the hilltop Fort de Six-Fours, with an adjacent early Christian basilica.
There are a number of islands just off the coast. Bendor (just off Bandol) is owned by the Ricard company (of pastis fame), and is used for symposiums, art exhibits, or just plain sightseeing. Small, pleasant beach. Windsurfing and skindiving. Fair to good eating places.
Les Embiez : can be reached from Bandol, or from Le Brusc (lower ferry fare).
L'Ile Verte : reached from La Ciotat.
Iles d'Hyeres : reached from Hyeres, or (for the easternmost two) from Le Lavandou.
• FURTHER AFIELD
See your Michelin "Provence" or "Cote d'Azur" guidebook. Among the less obvious places, we would recommend are : La Sainte-Baume (plus a side trip to the crypt of the church at Saint-Maximin), the Abbaye du Thoronet, the Haut-Var villages of Cotignac, Tavernes, Tourtour, Fox-Amphoux, etc. --and, of course, the truly spectacular Gorges du Verdon-- a full day's excursion, especially if you stop at Aiguines and/or at Moustiers-Sainte Marie.
All major centers in Provence (Aix, Arles, Avignon, Les Baux, Tarascon, St.Remy, and even Nimes or Aigues-Mortes) are easily reached in the course of a day trip. If you go to Avignon for the theatre festival, be sure to make advance reservations. In that same city, you may want to see the delightful Petit Palais museum, and (across the Rhone), the Chartreuse and castle at Villeneuve-les-Avignon.
The Year in Provence country (i.e. the Luberon) can be reached most quickly by taking the autoroute to Cavaillon (or Avignon), and proceeding on the road to Apt. Apart from Peter Mayle's Menerbes and adjacent spots, you should look up Gordes (and the nearby Abbaye de Senanque), Roussillon (Lawrence Wylie's "Village in the Vaucluse", and Samuel Becket's wartime hideout), Lacoste (of de Sade fame), Bonnieux, or the Eastern part of the Luberon (Simiane-la-Rotonde, St.Michel de l'Observatoire, Reillane, Banon, Forcalqueret, etc.), from which you can reach Manosque, and return directly to Aix by the Grenoble-Aix autoroute. The Southern Luberon (Ansouis, La Tour d'Aygues, Cucuron, Lourmarin, where Albert Camus is buried) is slightly less well-known, but charming and easily reached from Aix.
A bit to the North are Venasque, l'Isle-sur-Sorgues, Fontaine de Vaucluse, Vaison la Romaine, and Pernes-les-Fontaines. For local (urban) color --aside from Aix-- don't forget the waterfronts in Marseille and Toulon. The "French Riviera" proper (E. of Hyeres to the Italian border) is too well known to require mention, but you may want to explore its rugged back country (Les Maures and L'Esterel), which can be reached through the "back door" without having to use the congested coastal route.
• CLOSER AT HAND
The only place close enough to walk with small children is "Les Abeilles", on the N. side of the village, beyond the tourist parking lot (ca.1 km.). Good for a picnic (but you will need a car) are La Chartreuse de Montrieux (cool and shady, off the road between Signes and Montrieux), or a number of spots along the roads connecting Le Camp du Castellet, the "Col de l'Ange" and Roquefort-La Bedoule.
Pleasant nearby villages: Most obviously, Le Beausset and La Cadiere (have a pastis in front of the Mairie and watch the locals go by!), but also Signes, Cuges-les-Pins (both used as locations for Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources), Montrieux, Evenos, Ollioules (with its flower exchange and auction hall), Ceyreste, etc. --all within a 10-mile radius. An unobvious but charming little harbor town (close to a French navy base) is Saint-Mandrier, on a peninsula facing Toulon Bay. It can be reached by road from La Seyne via Les Sablettes, or by ferryboat shuttle from Toulon's waterfront (you can also leave your car in Saint-Mandrier, and take the ferry to explore Toulon with no parking headaches)
For kids: There is an amusement park called OK Corral (!) on RN 8 between Le Camp du Castellet and Aubagne. An open-air, Coney Island-type carnival is located at La Seyne (Les Sablettes), and there is an Aqualand site at Les Lecques (next to the supermarket).Sports car and motorcycle races are held irregularly at the "Circuit Paul Ricard" (halfway between Le Castellet and Signes). Fairs and parades
are common throughout the year (especially during the Summer). The celebration of St. Eloi at Le Beausset (early July) is quite colorful, and other villages have similar fetes locales.
If you need to be reached from home for urgent/emergency matters, a message can be left for you with Roger Roche, but please make sure that this is reserved for real emergencies, and be warned also that the person picking up the phone may not be able to speak or understand English. The number is :
- Roger Roche (see above): (011-33) 4 94 22 40 44
Messages from overseas correspondents can also be received for you at some post offices during their opening hours. Inquire from the postmistress (Madame Acqua, who does not speak English) about the places at which such messages can be received.
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