Gassin, French Riviera

Gassin is a French commune located near Saint Tropez, in the department of Var in the region Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. The town is known for its village, perched 200 meters above sea level on a rock overlooking the Gulf of Saint-Tropez and offers a view of the bay of Cavalaire and the Maures, valued by its membership in the association Les Plus Beaux Villages of France. The village and its surroundings benefit from double protection of registered sites.

The town has retained important non-urbanized areas, consisting of forests, wine-growing areas or sports facilities such as golf and polo. It has a rich natural heritage framed by two natural areas of ecological, faunistic and floristic interest. The development of Gassin has been, since the second half of the xix th century, strongly influenced by tourism.

The medieval fort
The great invasions which accompanied the fall of the Roman Empire do not seem to have strongly affected the Gassin peninsula which benefits from the natural protection of the Moors. The Gulf coasts, which were neither protected by a fleet nor a surveillance system, enabled pirate incursions and the ruin of coastal habitats. This was the case for Alconis, Saint-Tropez, Samblacis. The chronicler Frédégaire relates this event to the revolt of Mauront de Marseille, allied with Yusuf ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Fihri, against Charles Martel.

The territory was affected by the Saracen presence. According to the columnist Liutprand of Cremona, twenty combatants from Andalusia entered the Peninsula and established a camp there, the Fraxinet. After the invasion of Spain in 711, raids were carried out on Provence as in 728 against the Lérins Islands, in 838 in Marseille or 842 and 869 in Arles, and beyond Toulouse in 721, Nice in 813 or Genoa in 935. The Muslim occupation of Fraxinet lasted several decades until the x th century; identified with Garde-Freinet, the nerve center of Andalusian combatants is located, according to Philippe Sénac, closer to the coast, and therefore to Gassin, in the Peninsula. From there, they carried out attacks across Provence, as far as Piedmont and Switzerland.

One of the caids who led the group of fighters was Nasr ibn-Ahmad, officer of Caliph Abd al-Rahman III. After the abduction of Mayeul, abbot of Cluny, an expedition was organized. The offensive of William I of Provence and Ardouin (count of Turin) put an end to this presence in 972-975 during an offensive which pitted the enemies at the Battle of Tourtour. It was on this occasion that Gibelin de Grimaldi obtained the lands of Grimaud and the surrounding area, including Gassin.

The territory, with its principal occupation site then, the current district Bourrian (Borrianum), is mentioned in the cartulary of the Abbey of Saint-Victor de Marseille in xi th century. There is no mention of any place named Gassin, Garcin or its derivatives. Only in the cartular are names that could be related to Gassin: Arnulfus de Garcino and Aicardus de Garcin, Gaufridi de Garci and Guilelmus Garcinus. In a charter of 1083 emanating from the count of Provence Bertrand II, it is a question of a Petrus Garcinus; in another dated 1100 from a “Garcini burgo”. Gassin appears in his old spelling in the Statutes of the bailiff of Fréjus, in 1235.

The habitat grouped around the Notre-Dame-de-la-Compassion chapel. Despite the presence of a passage Templar in the modern village and whose name dates only from the xx th century, there is no evidence that there existed an institution of this kind. Ancient authors have imagined that the square bell tower of the village church, on the top of the hill overlooking the Gulf of Saint-Tropez, was a Templar lookout. The borough moved to the current site of the village. The dispersed habitat, frequent during antiquity, became scarce due to long periods of insecurity. The current village retains many traces of this past, including the ramparts and the habitat of the old fort. The Porte des Saracens marks the entrance to this sector.

The expulsion of the Saracens did not put an end to the insecurity which continued for several centuries. Raids cause deaths among local populations, while others are enslaved. The kidnapping becomes a source of income for the pirates who sometimes allow the redemption of the captives: several families from Gassin are thus reunited, after sometimes captivity of several years in North Africa. This is the case of one of the two Magnan brothers, kidnapped and detained in Bône.

The detachment of Saint-Tropez
At the end of the Middle Ages, Saint-Tropez was detached from the seigneury of Gassin. A radical reform act is made in 1470 by Jean Cossa allows this city to grow from the xvi th century. This aims in particular to create new economic outlets for the products of the exploitation of the forest and the vineyard.

In modern era
The cadastre of 1516 shows a fortified village built around a single street (the current rue de la Tasco) and including the castle and a church, surrounded by a suburb. The castle then gave way to the church, completed in 1578, a tank, and a name: rue du Fort. The tank was of vital importance for the water supply on this rocky outcrop.

The town hall occupies the place which is still hers today. The fortified enclosure extends to the old suburb. The village continued to grow with, in particular, appearing on the cadastre of 1728, the hospital to the north and the forge to the south. The fortified enclosure then has two entrances, one to the north, by the New Portal, the other to the west with the Grand Portal. The kilometers of coastline, to the northeast in the Gulf of Saint-Tropez and to the southwest between Cavalaire and Cap Lardier require monitoring. Nicolas-François Milet de Monville, director of the fortifications of Provence, notes in a memoir that the coast towards Cavalaire only allows the anchorage of small buildings, in summer. In 1752, a battery with four guns protects this part. Towards Cape Lardier, the inaccessibility of the coast makes any protection useless then. The citadel of Saint-Tropez protects the entrance to Golfe.

In the xix th century, the town castral has almost reached its current composition. The town will experience a significant increase in population between 1821 and 1856 (from 491 to 833 inhabitants). The village has two ovens, two oil mills (five others are in the rest of the town) and seven cork factories (with an eighth outside the village). It experienced a second phase of demographic expansion which was not stopped by the war, the population going from 899 inhabitants in 1896 to 2,314 thirty years later.

The dispersed habitat is more important there than among the neighboring villages, reaching 69% according to the cadastral census of 1841 (10% in Saint-Tropez, 13% in Cogolin and 45% in Grimaud for example) figures explained by the extent of its territory then. The economy comes out of the agricultural sector for 80%.

In contemporary era
The end of the xix th century saw the development of winter tourism on the French Riviera. With Nice and Hyères, the peninsula of Saint-Tropez becomes popular with the wealthy populations of France and Europe. Tourism is causing a rupture between traditional rural society on the one hand and new urban units which are growing rapidly. Unlike the village of Gassin, its seaside hamlets, Cavalaire and La Croix, are developing rapidly thanks to tourism. The agricultural sector, very strong in Gassin, faces competition from the tertiary sector in the two hamlets. There are already fewer employees in agriculture at La Croix than in services and administration. The two hamlets are also distinguished by the inhabitants who were born outside Gassin: 65% in Gassin, 82% in La Croix in 1926.

The town benefits from the economic benefits of tourism and tries to adapt to it. By deliberation ofMarch 16, 1913, the town requests to be classified as a health resort. If the geographic and meteorological conditions are praised, the weakness of the hygienic conditions is considered as prohibitive by the commission charged with studying the file. The rapporteur, on the contrary, praises the qualities of Cavalaire and La Croix. Residents are demonstrating to claim their independence, denouncing in particular the misuse of taxes, the unwillingness of the municipal council and the opposition between the two entities. After four years of tension and negotiations, Cavalaire was set up as a commune onAugust 5, 1929.

Under the same conditions, the hamlet of La Croix-Valmer is separated from Gassin on April 6, 1934. Gassin then lost 650 then 2,000 hectares, more than two thirds of its inhabitants, and was cut off from particularly tourist sectors such as Cavalaire Bay and part of the Trois Caps sector. This loss is in addition to the sale of a large coastal strip to Cogolin previously.

Tourism development is facilitated by the arrival of the train at the end of xix th century in the Gulf of St. Tropez. The end of the opening up of the territory was marked by the putting into operation of the railway between La Foux and Hyères in 1890. This section made it possible to link Hyères to Saint-Raphaël by tracks located mainly on the seaside. 54 kilometers long, it was punctuated by four stops on the territory of Gassin, three stations and one stop: Cavalaire, La Croix (with a simple stop), Gassin and La Foux.

From the 1980s, the municipality developed a policy of promotion and tourist reception. Significant development work was carried out: paving of the streets, development of the village entrance, orientation table, creation of golf, polo, etc. The extension of the village, carried out from 1989 to 1998 by François Spoerry – the architect who designed Port Grimaud – and his assistant Xavier Bohl, won the European architecture prize Philippe-Rotthier. François Spoerry is also the author of the initial Gassin golf project which was modified under pressure from several associations and after numerous appeals.

Like many towns in the south of the Var and the peninsula of Saint-Tropez, Gassin’s economy is strongly geared towards summer tourism. Tourism in Gassin was first of all winter tourism, centered on the hamlets of Cavalaire and La Croix and in particular the arrival of wealthy owners from Lyon. The panoramic view from the village to the surroundings has accompanied the development of tourism. Gassin also benefited from its position as a neighbor of Saint-Tropez when the latter acquired world fame. The municipality created in 2016 a municipal tourist office, the last before the entry into force of the NOTRe law to improve tourist reception and better quantify the impact of tourism. The municipality obtains for the first time its classification as a tourist resort on December 17, 2019by ministerial decree. This is the 433 th resort classified in France since the reform.

“Gassin, a station from which a car road climbs to the right, through wood, at the top of a promontory (from the church terrace, admirable panorama)”, wrote Paul Joanne in 1902 in a guide to winter resorts in the Mediterranean.

A tourist development project by Henri Prost for the Syndicate of Communes of the Var Coast stated on a map, about Gassin: “Remarkable viewpoint over the Gulf of Saint-Tropez”. In a written document, he detailed the assets of the commune which then included the sectors of Cavalaire and La Croix, erected as communes respectively in 1929 and 1934. The development of the town of Gassin is one of the most important from the tourism point of view.

Its territory includes the bay of Cavalaire and a large part of this wild peninsula formed by Gassisn-Saint-Tropez and Ramatuelle. The facilities of these three municipalities are closely linked. The seafront is not the only one to consider; the picturesque nature of this region requires secondary routes allowing numerous excursions to remarkable viewpoints. The agglomerations of Gassin and Ramatuelle, very distant from the seafront, are charming attractions in themselves by their picturesque and the panoramas that one discovers from their elevated situations. The agglomeration of Gassin, very distant from the seafront, is characterized by a picturesque silhouette looming at the highest summit of a hill (hill 195). In this small town, a terrace to the east of the church overlooks the Gulf of Saint-Tropez, the panorama extends beyond the Estérel; it is one of the points of tourist attraction similar to that which we point out on the other hand to Ramatuelle.

At 1 st January 2016, the hotel capacity was 249 rooms distributed among ten hotels including five five-star hotels., a four-star hotel, two three-star hotels, a two-star hotel and an unclassified hotel. the municipality also has two campsites with a total capacity of 716 places. Gassin is also famous for its restaurants, especially those in the Place deï Barri. Several restaurants in the town are awarded by the main national culinary guides: the restaurant at Villa Belrose has retained a Michelin star for twenty years. Bello Visto and La Verdoyante obtained a Bib Gourmand in the mid-2010s.

Local culture and heritage
Gassin is protected under the sites listed twice: “Gassin and its surroundings” and “Presqu’île de Saint-Tropez”. The report of the Departmental Commission for sites, perspectives and landscape in the Var du 1 st March 1963 detailed the reasons for this classification:

“A veritable lookout on its promontory, Gassin has a circular rampart, a very beautiful belvedere from which we discover a very wide panorama over Grimaud, Sainte-Maxime, the Gulf of Saint-Tropez, Cavalaire Bay, the Port Islands -Cros and Levant, with the Alps in the background ”.

Inventory of historic monuments
The town has no monument listed in the inventory of historic monuments but 31 places and monuments listed in the general inventory of cultural heritage. In addition, it has 10 objects listed in the inventory of historic monuments.

The ten objects listed in the inventory of historic monuments are located in the parish church of Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption:

the xix th century painting representing “Blessed Marguerite-Marie Alacoque”;
statue of the Virgin and Child, dated the xvii th and xviii th centuries;
statue of the Virgin, dated xviii th century;
bust-reliquary of Saint Laurent, dated xvii th century;
Table: St. Francis de Sales between St. Louis de Gonzague, St. Sebastian and St. Lucy, dated xviii th century;
Table: Virgin of the Rosary with St. Dominic, St. Catherine of Siena and St. Lucy, dated xvi th century. This Gift of the Rosary (1587) is attributed to Coriolano Malagavazzo by Patrick Varrot;
Table: Virgin and Child with St. John the Baptist and St. Lawrence, dated xvi th century;
bell dated 18th century
holy water font, dated xvi th century
Christ statue, dated xvi th century

General inventory of cultural heritage
The inventory quotes in particular in the following order:

Saint Joseph’s Oratory
the cemetery. It was built from 1881 at the northern entrance to the village. Previously, Gassin housed two cemeteries: one near the Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption church, the other near the Saint-Sébastien chapel;
the monument dedicated to Saint Joseph. Erected in 1876 on a rock, it was isolated at the time in the garrigue and the reasons for its construction are not known. It contains the names of 16 people, possibly the donors who allowed its construction. Fifteen years later, the cemetery was created in the immediate vicinity of monument;
the house acquired by the municipality in 1996 in Caruby, housing the open-air center and official accommodation
the town hall-school . It was built above the common oven in 1584;
the house of the Domaine de Manouyie
the presbytery. Dated xvii th century, it now houses the Brazilian Doce Mãe de Deus community;
the house acquired by the municipality in 1936, housing the Foyer des Campagnes. The town organizes various activities there, notably in summer exhibitions of paintings. The entrance frame bears the date 1552;
the house acquired by the municipality in 1905, housed the post officefrom 1905 to 2016. The latter gave way to a Relais La Poste in 2016, located in a business in the new village. The building dates from the xix th century;
the well on rue du Puits. The two well preserved in the village were built in the xvii th century. They are both covered with an ogival shape;
the well on rue Saint-Jean-Baptiste. It has a depth of about fourteen meters;
the remains of a medieval tower rue de la Tasco;
the Tuilière farm;
the Brûlat mill;
the Notre-Dame-de-la-Compassion, sometimes called the Our Lady of the Consolation. Located in a small park under the village, the chapel served as a parish until the erection of the present church in the village. It dates from 1090. Formerly surrounded by a cemetery, it has a threshold stone from the ancient mortuary stele of a sailor who belonged to the fleet of Forum Julii. The chapel, considered as the primitive parish of Gassin, is still used for the mass given during the village festival;
the borough of Bourrian;
the Naval Group torpedo plant;
the memorial of the 1914-1918 war. It was produced by Henri-Paul Nénot, member of the Institut de France and buried in the Gassin cemetery, in a mausoleum designed by him;
the residence of the domain of Barbeyrolles;
the farm at a place called Saint-Martin;
the mill at a place called Saint-Martin ;
the farm at a place called Riboty;
the farm at a place called Moulin-d’Eau ;
the farm at a place called Doctor-Champagne;
the sheepfold at a place called Gourbenet;
the castle locality Château Bertaud or Château de Bertaud;
the farm at a place called Carteyron;
Saint-Julien chapel at a place called Cambon. Romanesque chapel, it was integrated into a private building;
the parish church of Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption (sometimes mistakenly called Saint-Laurent church by confusion with the village patron saint). Completed in 1557 or 1558, it was consecrated in 1582. The bell tower was an old watchtower. The battlements of this bell tower were destroyed during the French Revolution. The church is built on the rock around a rectangular nave with two spans of vaults resting on four pillars;
entrance to the medieval village, the Porte des Saracens
120 buildings from the 2nd quarter of the 15th century to the 2nd half of the 16th century.

Other places and monuments
The town is proud to have “the smallest street in the world”, the Androuno, name which means lane in Provençal. Similar streets existed in many villages in Provence. This alley, which does not allow the passage of a man from the front, is a local curiosity. At the narrowest, it measures only 29 centimeters.

The Saint-Laurent chapel is located in the eponymous district of Gassin. Today in ruins, it sheltered until 1778 the relics of Saint-Laurent.

The Saint-Sébastien chapel, known as the White Penitents chapel, was located at the well in rue Saint-Jean-Baptiste. There was a cemetery next to it. The penitents of Gassin were the subject of episcopal censorship in 1754.

The town has a blockhouse type R680 in the Foux district. This bunker was built during the Second World War by the German army in order to prevent an Allied landing as part of the Mediterranean Wall (the landing of Provence took place in part in this sector: the Alpha force at the level de Cavalaire-sur-Mer and La Croix-Valmer, and the Delta force at Sainte-Maxime). Located on private land, it was the subject of an agreement between its private owner and the town hall to allow a local section of the French Souvenir to take care of the premises.

Covering nearly 2,500 m 2, the private garden of Marie-Thérèse L’Hardy-Halos, accessible free of charge, offers several hundred Mediterranean and Provençal plant species. Created by Germaine L’Hardy-Denonain in 1973, it received the official label ” remarkable garden ” from the Ministry of Culture in 2009. It is one of the places that participate in the Rendez-vous in the gardens organized each year by the Ministry of Communication and in heritage days.

The town, which once housed the Pin de Bertaud, a parasol pine with a trunk circumference and a remarkable size, today hosts one of the two oldest olive trees in France.

Natural heritage
The town has three beaches on its coast: the Moune beach which hosts a sailing school, those of Treizain and Bouillabaisse, which Gassin shares with Saint-Tropez, dot the coast of Gassin. A coastal path allows you to cover part of the Gassin seaside.

Three marked trails have been developed. From the mini-stadium in the new village, the Boucles de l’Arlatane allow you to discover the Provencal forest, in particular thanks to botanical panels installed on the course. The trail stretches for a total of 3.5 kilometers. A picnic area is set up near the source of the Arlatane.

The path to the Notre-Dame-de-la-Consolation chapel is a 4.1 km circuit. It passes by the road which runs along the view of the Moors then descends into the forest and the Gassinois vineyards before climbing up to a sheepfold and the chapel.

The last route, 16.9 kilometers long, going down to La Croix-Valmer before going up to the village, takes a small passage from the GR 51.

The plant species on the Gassin territory are characteristic of the Mediterranean areas. The forests are made up of downy oaks, holm oaks, umbrella pines in particular. The white pines of Provence also grow there. On Place Deï Barri and around the village there are hackberry trees from Provence.

These elements and the Provencal fauna in general are highlighted in the remarkable garden of L’Hardy-Denonain, but also in a discovery trail in the municipal forest. Botanical signs have been installed on part of the Boucles de l’Arlatane trail.

The territory of the commune is located in two natural areas of ecological, faunistic and floristic type II interest: ZNIEFF 83-103-100 called “Moors of the Presqu’île de Saint-Tropez” and ZNIEFF 83-200 -100 called “Moors”.

The fauna has 14 heritage species: for birds the circa Jean-le-Blanc, the hawk squirrel and the Eurasian Scops Owl in decisive species as well as great spotted woodpeckers and ortolan sparrows; of Hermann’s tortoises (Gassin is one of the municipalities in which applies the national action plan for the Hermann tortoise), the terrapins Europe and ocelés lizards for Terrestrial Animals; the cardiophorus exaratus, the amaurops abeillei and amaurops aberrans; the cyclops halicyclops septentrionalisand finally the deroceras slug.

Gassin is part of the optimal membership area (AOA) of Port-Cros National Park.

A field of large nacres
In 2018, the marine observatory discovered a large field of mother-of-pearl off the grounds of Château Bertaud, covering around 15,000 m², the second largest shell in the world. The site is exceptional by its concentration of a population of the same age (2 to 3 years) and by its density, greater than the other fields in the sector, exceeding that of the population of nacres in Port-Cros National Park. According to marine biologist Nardo Vicente, this is the highest density of the entire Mediterranean coast.

The presence of this species, protected in France, appears as a blocking element for the sale of the site of the Gassin torpedo factory by Naval Group.

Cultural events and festivities
The Leï Masco group (Les Masques) perpetuates the Provencal culture in Gassin during various events: sung mass, dawn, procession for the feast of St. Lawrence and the sharing of the Thirteen desserts.

The Friends of the Arts organize many cultural activities: an annual exhibition of the works of the workshops, a play.

For several years between 2014 and 2017, the American actor Leonardo DiCaprio organized in Gassin a major auction for the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. The event attracted around 900 people to the Bertaud-Bélieu wine estate in 2016, including personalities such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Albert II (Prince of Monaco), Mariah Carey, Edward Norton, Naomi Campbell, Kate Hudson or Bono. More than 40 million euros were collected, part of which, the event taking place a few days after the terrorist attack of July 14, 2016 in Nice, must be donated to the victims of the attack.

The estate hosts other events. In 2019, it is the place where the arrival gala of the Rallye des Princesses takes place.

From 2020, the stud hosts the Fight Night, one of the most important combat sports gatherings in France.

Every second Sunday in August, Gassin celebrates its patron saint, Saint Laurent. The events are organized by the town hall, the municipal office for entertainment, culture and leisure (OMACL) and the Leï Masco group. Aubade, procession, mass sung in Provençal, entertainment, Provencal meal are scheduled each year.

It used to coincide with bravado, led by a captain, who was the organizer of the party. This tradition continues during the revolution when the secular festival merges with the employers’.

French Riviera
The French Riviera is the Mediterranean coastline of the southeast corner of France. There is no official boundary, but it is usually considered to extend from Cassis, Toulon or Saint-Tropez on the west to Menton at the France–Italy border in the east, where the Italian Riviera joins. The coast is entirely within the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of France. The Principality of Monaco is a semi-enclave within the region, surrounded on three sides by France and fronting the Mediterranean. Riviera is an Italian word that corresponds to the ancient Ligurian territory, wedged between the Var and Magra rivers.

The climate of the Côte d’Azur is temperate Mediterranean with mountain influences on the northern parts of the departments of Var and Alpes-Maritimes. It is characterized by dry summers and mild winters which help reduce the likelihood of freezing. The Côte d’Azur enjoys significant sunshine in mainland France for 300 days a year.

This coastline was one of the first modern resort areas. It began as a winter health resort for the British upper class at the end of the 18th century. With the arrival of the railway in the mid-19th century, it became the playground and vacation spot of British, Russian, and other aristocrats, such as Queen Victoria, Tsar Alexander II and King Edward VII, when he was Prince of Wales. In the summer, it also played home to many members of the Rothschild family. In the first half of the 20th century, it was frequented by artists and writers, including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Francis Bacon,h Wharton, Somerset Maugham and Aldous Huxley, as well as wealthy Americans and Europeans. After World War II, it became a popular tourist destination and convention site. Many celebrities, such as Elton John and Brigitte Bardot, have homes in the region.

The eastern part (maralpine) of the Côte d’Azur has been largely transformed by the concreting of the coast linked to the tourist development of foreigners from North Europe and the French,. The Var part is better preserved from urbanization with the exception of the agglomeration of Fréjus-Saint-Raphaël affected by the demographic growth of the maralpin coast and the agglomeration of Toulon which has been marked by urban sprawl on its part West and by a spread of industrial and commercial areas (Grand Var).