Heading for the Hills

Claviers“This beats the hell out of taking a train, huh Dad?”

“At least the train knew where to go, Alex.”

My last view of Arles was through the windshield of our rental car. I sloppily navigated the streets while studying unrecognizable words and symbols. It was like learning to drive all over again. Somehow I managed to get us on the right highway.


Donna looked at me. “What?”

“We never asked Madeline how she got our email.”

She laughed. “I don’t think it matters anymore.”

* * *

We motored toward the small village of Claviers located in the hills north of Saint Tropez. Donna gave the kids some local history about the place and they started falling asleep until she mentioned Nazis, then they perked up.

“What’s a Resistance?” Chris asked.

Donna explained how Claviers played an important role in the French underground effort during the German occupation of France. They rained on Hitler’s parade by doing things like blowing up their own bridges.

After a few hours of rolling down the main highway, we found a two-laner that headed into the hills. As the terrain got steeper, the road got narrower. The landscape was serene – flourishing plant life and trees neatly arranged beyond the short brick walls running along the shoulder of the road. It had a calming effect that actually complimented the curves.

“We’re almost there.” Donna announced

Buildings came into view in the hillside above us and Donna pulled out her notes. The asphalt road leveled off along a stone retaining wall. “Park any place along the stone wall.” She read aloud.

We opened the doors and were met by a dull silence. The faint sound of men’s voices came from a small Bocce ball court across the road. We unloaded our car and watched them toss silver balls across the smooth dirt-covered ground. They gave us a friendly nod as we passed. The asphalt road became a narrow cobblestone path. A small square with a clock tower suggested this little village was quite old and worthy of immediate exploration, but Donna’s instructions lead us in another direction – down a narrower walking path, under an arch and around a corner. This next courtyard was surrounded by tall stone row houses. A small truck was parked outside one and wondered how it would get out of here.

“That’s it” Donna pointed to a house right in the middle with blue shutters. We knocked on the door and waited on the tiny stone porch. A grey haired man poked his head out a window a few stories above and waved. He ducked back in then seconds later pulled open the arch-shaped front door. “I’m Ro-gher” he said pleasantly. He was a retired police captain in San Tropez and father-in-law of the American owner. We walked inside and scanned the surroundings of the place we’d call home for the next week. Man, it sure looked like something built seven-hundred years ago – walls constructed of a variety of stones and hearty wood beams everywhere. The kitchen had a full-sized fridge and stove that begged to be used. The dining room was elevated and featured a gigantic wooden table with plenty of room us. Beside it sat a grand piano. Beyond that – an iron railing surrounded a staircase leading  – down?

Our seventy-something French host hopped up the stairs of this five-story tower like an acrobat showing us a different bedroom on each level. Breathless, we arrived at the top to find a family room with wood framed windows, leather couches, and a wet bar – it screamed relaxation and I couldn’t wait to plop down on that couch, strap on my headphones and sip on something local – but not yet, there was one more level!  Roger opened a heavy glass door that lead to a small rooftop deck and a sweeping view of the tree-covered hills below. Roger pointed to the distant view of the ocean “San Tropez” he said.  I pictured Donna and I enjoying a cup of coffee here each morning.

Back down on the main level, Roger unfolded a map on the kitchen table then suddenly held up his hand, indicating he’d forgotten something. He waved us into the dining room and instructed the kids to hold tight to the railing of the descending iron staircase. “This must be the cave.” Donna said excitedly.


She explained how the founding fathers built everything on deep stone foundations. Caves were dug out below the home to utilize space – typically to house animals. Roger flipped the light switch. I was expecting hay covered dirt floors and the aroma of lingering dung. Instead we found designer tile and mood lighting. A terra cotta storage system held various bottles of wine. It seemed more like a tasting room than a dungeon. Through the thick stone doorway we found a recently remodeled bedroom, bathroom, and laundry room. Roger opened a set of wooden shutters and daylight bathed the room. “See kids.” I added. “It’s not so bad.”

“Yeah Dad – you can sleep down here.”

NEXT: A Morning with the Dead and No Coffee


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