March 2005
In this Issue:
On the Mimosa Trail
The Mimosa Trail, France
Bormes-les-Mimosas
In the 12th century, Bormes was a small coastal village in Provence . . .
Around the World by Gardens
On the way to St Tropez, the Domaine du Rayol . . .
The Countless Steps of the Pateck Staircase

One of the most striking features of the Domaine du Rayol is no doubt the monumental Pateck staircase . . .

The Golden Ledge... from St Raphaël to Cannes
As soon as you leave Ste Maxime, the road dips between the rocks . . .
Tanneron and Mimosa Cultivation
In February, the Massif de Tanneron begins to look like an array of golden mountains . . .
Bormes-les-Mimosa - France!

The Mimosa Trail, France onjour!
For this month’s topic, we have selected the "mimosa trail", an unusual itinerary in the south of France. This 80-mile route runs from Bormes-les-Mimosas (a well-known area for this beautiful yellow-flowered tree from the Acacia family), to Grasse (the world capital of perfume), crossing 8 famous stopover cities: Bormes-les-Mimosas, Le Rayol-Canadel, Ste Maxime, St Raphaël, Mandelieu la Napoule, Tanneron, Pégomas et Grasse! But before continuing, please remember that you can access and read all the newsletters already published at http://www.francemonthly.com/
The Golden Charm of the French Riviera
Winters are mild on the French Riviera, with temperatures rarely dipping below freezing. When they do, the elder "niçois" (residents of Nice) recount memories of snowy times past as if they were legends...
Mimosa - France
  Mimosa in Full Bloom
(Click photo to enlarge)
and not one of them can remember such cold or snow accumulations ever happening before in Nice! Today, snow flakes are very quickly replaced with little golden pearls that multiply in the trees bordering the roads. Winter makes a gracious exit and a new season begins: the mimosa season. Its arrival marks at once the end of winter and the start of spring, but also the beginning of an intermediary season that stretches from January to March. Such an inter-season only occurs in this specific region of the south of France. Similar to an Indian summer, it is a mild spell that presents dream landscapes and ideal walking conditions, under blue skies and along an emerald green Mediterranean ocean. The mimosas are in full bloom, and tourists from all over the world come to enjoy the deserted beaches during this time when nature reigns supreme, in all its golden glory.
A Sun from Australia

Mimosas are an Acacia species that came straight from Australia. It was imported to the French Riviera in the 18th century by the famous British explorer, Captain James Cook. It quickly became the flower of choice for the British aristocracy in the decoration of their secondary residences in Cannes. This is how this little twig of sunshine took over the region. The sunny and mild Mediterranean climate encouraged the proliferation of this plant that took to the area so naturally. Today, there are more than 1,200 varieties of mimosas, 700 of which are originally from Australia. Some mimosas bloom several times a year, such as the Retinoid Acacia, also known as "Four-Season Mimosa". Mediterranean perfumers were quick to appreciate the mimosa’s suave and delicate fragrances. Its abundance also made it a good selection for the development of perfumes. The smell of mimosa is entrancing and persistent. Amazed visitors often wonder whether the subtle mimosa perfume that hangs so delightfully in the streets might not in fact be artificially sprayed at night... The golden and luminous mimosa is a surprise gift from nature; its scent envelops anyone lucky enough to come anywhere near it.

Scallops au Gratin - France
Recipe for March 2005  
Scallops au Gratin
A delicious Dish
Preparation and cooking time: 40 minutes
8 servings
Click here to read the "Scallops au Gratin" recipe in English.
Click here to read the "Scallops au Gratin" recipe in French.
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Bormes-les-Mimosas: The First Stop of the Flower Tour
  In the 12th century, Bormes was a small coastal village in Provence, nestled against the Massif des Maures. Today, it has lost none of its picturesque old world charm and remains a popular winter tourist destination.
Bormes-les-Mimosa, France
Bormes-les-Mimosa
(Click photo to enlarge)

 
It is a beautiful and secret place that invites you to enjoy many wonderful walks. There are sunny little streets, small and cozy shaded beaches, and exceptional panoramas across a wonderful 10-mile long coastline of fine sand, broken by secluded inlets, with views of the Island of Levant and the open sea. Spread out over almost 10,000 hectares, more than three-fourths of the town’s land area remain unspoiled, offering the visitor protected beaches, gardens and forests. The remaining fourth is occupied by charming old stone houses with tiled roofs that are built right out of the rocks. The abundance of mimosas is such that the old village was rebaptised Bormes-les-Mimosas in 1968. The golden flower then naturally became the town’s symbol. Bormes-les-Mimosas is also home to Fort Brégançon, the French Presidents’ summer residence. President Nixon, Prince Charles and Lady Diana, and the Spanish royal couple are among the prestigious guests who have been welcomed in this casual setting.
 
 
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Around the World by Gardens
 
  On the way to St Tropez, the Domaine du Rayol is the 2nd stop of the mimosa trail. It is nestled in a green setting, framed to the north by the Massif des Maures and to the south by a rocky coastline made up of capes, inlets and bays.
The Domaine du Rayol - France
The Domaine du Rayol
(Click photo to enlarge)
The site’s lush vegetation is extremely varied, even if mimosas do predominate. In 1989, landscape architect Gilles Clément developed this large property. He put the mild local climate to good use, creating individual gardens that reflect the 5 continents that inspired them - Oceania, Europe, Africa, America and Asia. You can walk around the world at the Domaine du Rayol: from the Canary Islands garden to the Australian one showcasing huge cacti, or from the New-Zealand garden to the Mediterranean one filled with pine and palm trees, by way of the South-African, Mexican, Chilean and Chinese gardens. One can only feel like Phileas Fogg, the hero of Jules Vernes’ famous novel. A single day here may well not be enough to fully take in the richness of the place.
 
 
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The Countless Steps of the Pateck Staircase
 
  One of the most striking features of the Domaine du Rayol is no doubt the monumental Pateck staircase that crosses the garden on its way to the sea. It was built between 1925 and 1927, and originally led up to the Rocher du Drapeau (Flag Rock), over which flew the French flag. These stairs allowed the strolling residents easier access to the beaches at a time when there weren’t many roads.
St Raphaël, France
St Raphaël
(Click photo to enlarge)
Today, only the Center Stair remains. It is so long and imposing that the locals say it could easily link Heaven to Hell. Oddly enough, its exact number of steps is a mystery. Legend has it that the sheer beauty of the perspective allowed by the slope of the stairs makes any mental concentration utterly impossible. Nature has its way as you climb these steps, and your eyes eventually wander off from counting them to admire the majestic view. At the top, a large pergola frames an idyllic panorama for languid lovers to enjoy. In 1989, the Patek pergola and stairs were added to the list of Historic Monuments as Art Nouveau masterpieces.
 
 
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  The Golden Ledge... from St Raphaël to Cannes  
  The Golden Ledge that connects the city of St Raphaël to the city of Cannes, is one of the most outstanding drives on the mimosa trail. As soon as you leave Ste Maxime, the road dips between the rocks and runs alongside the ocean for about 17 miles. It overhangs the red coves of Antheor and the rocky inlets of Le Trayas where vacationers like to find refuge. As lovers hide in the nooks and crannies of the little bays which resemble nests of red porphyry, the local children have fun diving into the bluish water from the top of volcanic reefs. Colors sparkle everywhere. As for hikers, they set out to conquer the slopes of Le Trayas, armed with their cameras. From the Antheor beach where the Allies landed in 1944, one can see the 1,181-foot high Cap Roux peak, a remnant of the volcano’s cone that ejected the red porphyry lava flows. Along this jagged coastline, the sun shimmers with golden reflections on a clear pastel blue ocean. Here, you are overcome by the blissful feeling of being very far removed from everything. With little notice, one leaves the departement of Var and enters that of Les Alpes Maritimes for the last stops of a perfumed journey.
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  Tanneron and Mimosa Cultivation  
  In February, the Massif de Tanneron begins to look like an array of golden mountains, as if an enormous glowing yellow coat were almost uniformly covering the largest mimosa forest in Europe.
Tanneron, France
Mimosa Cultivation in Tanneron
(Click photo to enlarge)
Thousands of tons of flowers have been grown there for many years, then cut and exported all over the world. As early as 1946, about a dozen daily truckloads of mimosa flowers left for London, to embellish the residences of the most avid mimosa lovers. Unfortunately, the terrible winter of 1956 brought frost that destroyed the majority of the mimosa plantations. It took several years for the Massif de Tanneron to fully recover and once again display mimosa in bloom, earning back its status of "Yellow Forest". The famous community of Tanneron is actually made up of 22 hamlets. Martin Gray, the well-known author of "For Those I Loved", owns a residence there. If you choose to take the "Golden Road" from Mandelieu to get to Tanneron, you can also visit the "forceries". These are workshops where green mimosa is made to bloom in a couple of days before being exported. Mimosas are indeed very fragile flowers, and maintaining their bloom after they’ve been cut is a difficult task that requires very specialized know-how and techniques.
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  Mimosas and the Wizard of Oz  
  The mimosa trail ends in Grasse, the world capital of perfume. Do keep in mind that a newsletter dedicated to this charming town is coming soon. Following the mimosa trail is an exceptional 2- or 3-day escapade that will revitalize you with good clean Provencal air as you go along the coastline admiring the emerald green water and the rocky inlets of the Mediterranean ocean. This magic route is a feast for all the senses. Your eyes will delight in so many brightly colored Fauvist scenes, while the subtile yet sensuous perfume of mimosa flowers, wonderfully intertwined with the scent of pine trees, will accompany you for miles and miles. Traveling this road with the wind in your hair will bring back childhood memories of The Wizard of Oz. You will find yourself walking in Dorothy’s footsteps down the Yellow Brick Road.
 
 
 
 
 
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