The medieval village of Le Castellet is situated in the Department of Var, in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region of South East France. It is located 8km directly north from the beaches of Bandol and has a resident population of 4,500 people. It lies north west of Toulon (20km) and next to La Cadiére-d'Azur and Le Beausset. Le Castellet is an attractive village perched on top of a hill overlooking vineyards with a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside. Originally a fortified town, the remains of the ancient ramparts are still there leading through the old 'portes' (gateways) to the narrow cobblestone streets and pretty little squares within.
Le Castellet is full of interesting buildings and has a typical Provençal feel to it. Beautiful old houses line the streets which have been carefully restored to highlight their stonework with brightly coloured flowers cascading down their walls. Bougainvillea, wisteria and fuchsias are everywhere with pots of geraniums and lavender outside the houses adding a touch of gaiety to this delightful place. There are plenty of busy shops in the centre of the town including several art galleries and artisan's workshops selling local pottery, ceramics, candles and leather crafts. The smell of Provençal cooking wafts temptingly from the restaurant terraces in the Place de la Fontaine from where you can see the Mediterranean coast. There are also several cafés to rest and reflect in the shade of the town's squares. In all, Le Castellet is one of the region's most popular tourist destinations and a gentle stroll through the winding streets is a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon.
The first record of settlement in this area was in 1030 when it was called Castellarium. Because of its strategic position and good communication routes, Castellet has been an important site throughout history and was part of the Celto-Ligurian period and later the Gallo-Roman empire.
In Medieval times, Le Castellet was a protected township once belonging to the Baux and King René of Anjou. The Lords and Bishops of Marseille ruled the district but authority was then passed to the Lords of Castillon.
From the 15th century château where the town hall is located, there is wonderful view of the Sainte Baume massif. The castle sits on the cliff top and it still has an imposing defensive air about it with sections of the ancient surrounding walls adding to the theatre of the setting. The main façade is listed as a Historical Monument. There is also a church within the town which is well worth a visit.
The green hills and vineyards provide an opportunity to explore the area and horse-riding and cycling are a good way to get around. Nature lovers will enjoy walking the marked trails which meander throughout 75km of unspoilt countryside taking in the glorious scenery and spectacular limestone cliffs.
The local vineyards produce AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) wine from the Côte de Provence region and from Bandol which are served in many of the restaurants and bars. Tastings of the wine can usually be arranged (La Bastide Blanche, Château de Castillon, Domaine de L'Olivette, Domain Tempier, Domaine de La Tour du Bon, Domaines Ott and Domaine de La Vivonne) and wine can be bought directly from the vineyards.
Le Castellet is also famous for its state-of-the-art racetrack which is a few kilometres north of the town, currently used for major car races and corporate hospitality events. The Paul Ricard Circuit is internationally renowned for the quality of its track and for the first class facilities that are available to visitors. As well as motor racing, the Bol d'Or motorcycle events and go kart races are held here and there is a flying school. Many of the world's major car manufacturers use this track to test their cars and to launch their new products. It has its own airport and is used by competitors and organisers throughout the year who are attracted by the convenience of flying straight to the venue. A few metres from the Circuit is the Best Western Grand Prix Hotel which is ideally located for business executives and tourists alike offering excellent facilities and a good restaurant.
The track uses state-of-the art technology and is known for its distinctive black and blue run-off areas known as the Blue Zone. The run-off surface consists of a mixture of asphalt and tungsten used instead of gravel traps which are more commonly found at other circuits. A second, deeper run-off area is the Red Zone with a more abrasive surface designed to maximize tyre grip and therefore minimize braking distance. The final safeguard consists of Tecpro barriers, a modern improvement on tyre barriers. It is hoped that Formula 1 Grand Prix racing will return to France at Le Castellet in 2013.
The beautiful beaches of Bandol, Saint Cyr sur Mer, La Ciotat, Sanary and Cassis are all close to Le Castellet offering all sorts of water sports, and an 18 hole golf course (Bandol) and at Hotel du Castellet (6 holes). At Saint Cyr-sur-Mer there is a harbour with a market held every Sunday bringing a real taste of the South of France.
The Best Western Grand Prix Hotel has three stars and has been constructed with a modern and contemporary design. It is a few metres from the Paul Ricard circuit and Le Castellet airport. The hotel features an outside heated swimming pool amidst pretty gardens with a terrace restaurant and bar as well as Restaurant Le Pitlane. With meeting rooms and a specific business area, and having 117 rooms, it is ideally located for guests visiting the area.
The prestigious Hotel du Castellet has five stars and is a member of Relais & Chateaux. It is open from February to October and has an excellent Michelin starred Monte Cristo Restaurant and the San Felice Poolhouse restaurant. With two swimming pools, tennis courts, 6 hole golf course and fitness centre, this is a first class hotel offering conference facilities for up to 100 delegates and a luxury gift shop. It is situated in 70 hectares of grounds and has 19 suites, an apartment and 22 rooms.
La Résidence des Equipages (The Crew's Residence) is a 3 star hotel which is often used by pilots from the airport, flight attendants and race teams and customers of the Paul Ricard circuit.
The High Speed Club Brasserie & Bar is situated at the gates of the Paul Ricard Circuit which is a popular venue welcoming visitors and enthusiasts from the track to an ultra-modern bar inspired by the world of Formula 1. This club is also the setting for a variety of exhibitions of historic cars and motorcycles and hosts several music concerts throughout the year.
Other hotels nearby include the Hostellerie Bérard at La Cadiére and the Dolce Frégate Provence at Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer. There are also several villas for rental in the vicinity and Bastide de l'Empereur is a beautiful stone Provençal luxury manor house close to Le Castellet village.
The Camp du Castellet which dominates the plain towards the Mediterranean, is an excellent site for camping in the pine forest. It is 15km from the sea and near the Paul Ricard circuit.
By Air: There is a small local airport 10 km north of Castellet, Aéroport International du Castellet at the Paul Ricard Circuit which has a 1200m runway and is used for private planes and executives jets.
The nearest main airports are Marseilles-Provence (30 km), Nice Côte d'Azur (2 hours drive) and Toulon-Hyeres.
By Rail: The nearest stations are at Toulon and Marseille (30 km). The TGV stops at Aix-en-Provence, but the station is a good 20 minutes south of Aix town just off the autoroute to Marseille. The TGV connects Paris/Gare de Lyon to Marseille in 3 hours.
By Car: Take A50 exit 11 from Toulon or route N8.