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Published 8 March 2023 by Leyla Alyanak
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Each winter, the French Riviera bursts into oceans of golden bloom. Residents eye the burgeoning branches and at the first sign of the little yellow flowers, spirits lift, as though spring had arrived unexpectedly.
For those of us unable to call the French Riviera home, mimosa season is a welcome respite from the cold, gray winters further north, the bright sun and mild temperatures hinting at the seasons to come.
As I travel across France, I use guidebooks to remind me of the history of certain places and to uncover new sights I might not have heard of.
On this trip, I brought along the Green Guide to the French Riviera, which proved excellent for both historical information and to uncover little-known sights and villages I might not have heard of otherwise.
If you love a good road trip (as I do), you can follow the Mimosa Trail (or Mimosa Route) over its 130km (80mi) crescent that stretches from Bormes-les-Mimosas in the Var right up to Grasse, the famous perfume town. You'll need a car to do this so if you don't have your own, make sure you reserve one well before this popular seasons starts, especially if you're hoping for an automatic, of which there are few.
Ideally, you'll spend several days along this route, exploring both the mimosa and the stops along the way, from glorious seaside towns to wild hillsides dramatically carpeted with golden bulbs the color of sunshine.
However long you decide to stay on this route, you'll be going to the same places. Here are the various stops, and we'll go into detail about them below (10km = approx 6mi):
1. Bormes-les-Mimosas: Km 0
2. Rayol-Canadel-sur-Mer: Km 15
3. Sainte-Maxime: Km 42
4. Saint-Raphaël: Km 59
5. Mandelieu: Km 108
6. Tanneron: Km 112
7. Pégomas: Km 115
8. Grasse: Km 130
You may decide to whip through some of these places, or stay a day or two, or even longer. There are no rules: each is wildly different, so you can enjoy both the seaside and the mountainous interior on the same French Riviera road trip.
Below I outline each stop along the route, with a resource box at the end of each with useful information like tourist office contacts or hotel reservations. Where they exist, I've linked to the English-language version of websites. Otherwise, I've provided the French versions.
Again, remember to reserve your rental car ahead of time – this is a popular season on the French Riviera.
This 12th-century medieval seaside village is your starting point, or Kilometer 0, and you'll see why as soon as you get here.
Looking at the graceful curve of the bay it inhabits, Bormes-les-Mimosas deserves its name – the village is filled with 90 different kinds of brilliant golden trees (and hundreds of rare plant species). In fact, it used to be called simply Bormes, but local authorities added "les-mimosas" in recognition of the village's huge number of mimosa trees.
While you're here to wander around the streets and check out the mimosa, there's a lot more to do in this little town.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR BORMES-LES-MIMOSAS
➽ Where to stay: If you're on a budget, the Hotel Paradis provides a delightful welcome from its new owners, who go above and beyond to try to help. Otherwise, booking.com has plenty of private accommodation in every price range.
➽ Recommended beaches: the small beach at Estagnol, with its white sand and tree shade; the larger Pellegrin, also sandy and shaded; Cabasson, for a stunning view over the Fort de Brégançon.
➽ If you'd like to take the scent home with you, the Savonnerie des Bormes sells natural soaps and cosmetics scented with mimosa, of course, but not only.
➽ Contact the Tourist Office for more information about Bormes-les-Mimosas.
Part of the beauty of this second stretch of your road trip along the Mimosa Route is the actual road to Canadol, so green and flowered it is exactly what you imagine the Riviera to be.
During mimosa season, you'll see the extraordinary patches of gold almost wherever you turn in this village.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR RAYOL-CANADEL-SUR-MER
➽ Where to stay: For a splurge, the Hotel Le Bailli De Suffren is a cocoon of restfulness right in front of the sea. Otherwise, check out these other accommodation options at lower prices.
➽ Contact the Tourist Office for more information about Rayol-Canadel-sur-Mer.
Sainte-Maxime is a laid-back, friendly town along the coast, the opposite of the hyped-up St Tropez and others like it. While many places are closed in winter on the Côte d'Azur, Sainte-Maxime is different and you won't have any problem finding a place to eat here.
Its long coastline makes this a true beach town, where you can combine the sun and sea with the small streets of the old town and its weekly markets.
The Corso (parade) in Sainte-Maxime is a good example of February celebrations of mimosa in France
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR SAINTE-MAXIME
➽ Where to stay: For the ultimate luxury spa stay, head for the Villa Cosy. Otherwise, booking.com has plenty of hotel and private accommodation in every price range.
➽ Where to eat: I had lunch at the Café de France, right across from the port, which has been serving since 1852. I particularly enjoyed browsing their collection of historical photographs. Good food in large portions.
➽ If you're keen to visit St Tropez, it's a short 15-minute ride by boat, which will save you the crowded drive and difficult parking
➽ Contact the Tourist Office for more information about Sainte-Maxime.
As is the case for most of the stops along the Mimosa Route, a glance upward into the hills between January and March should yield blankets of golden mimosa flowering trees, in contrast with the dark rock of the mountain and a prelude to the increasingly flowered trail, all of which culminates in the Mimosa Festival in February.
Behind Saint-Raphaël is the Massif de L'esterel, or the Esterel mountain range, a gateway to the mimosa forests and some of the region's most unspoilt nature.
Across the water is the famous Ile d'Or, now a private island but believed to be the inspiration for the Tintin comic "L'Ile Noire", The Black Island, which regaled many a French childhood (mine included).
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR SAINT-RAPHAËL
➽ Where to stay: THE place to stay is Le Confidentiel, a small family-run hotel and spa with plush furniture and beautiful decor just a few minutes from town. Otherwise, booking.com has plenty of hotels or private accommodation you can choose from.
➽ Drop by the Palet d’Or chocolate shop to taste the Mimosa d’Agay, a delectable white chocolate mimosa-flavored creation. You'll find chocolatier Didier Carrié at 170, rue de l’Agay.
➽ Contact the Tourist Office for more information about Saint-Raphaël.
Mandelieu is known as the Capital of Mimosa, both for its sweeping mimosa views up the mountain and for the Parc Emmanuelle de Marande, a mimosa arboretum, which is also known as the Museum of Mimosa, a green and golden wave in the Capitou neighborhood.
The Mandelieu tourist office organizes all sorts of mimosa tours, whether into the mountains above town on foot or by car (2CV even!) or to Emmanuelle de Marande park.
Of course Mandelieu has its own mimosa festival in February, with a Mimosa Queen election... and like other towns along the coast at the foot of l'Estérel, you'll have one foot in the azure Mediterranean and the other in the golden hills of Tanneron forest above.
At the tip of the bay you'll find the Château de la Napoule, a 14th-century fortress which owes much of its present-day state to a couple of American benefactors. Son of a Wall Street stockbroker, Henry Clews Jr was more or less disowned by his father for his artistic tendencies.
He moved to the French Riviera with his wife in the early 20th century and was especially talented at sculpture (he studied with Auguste Rodin), adding his own "artistic touches" to the castle – watch for them as you visit.
They bought the chateau and renovated the rooms and the gardens, turning the complex into what we can see today.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR MANDELIEU
➽ Where to stay: The Ilot du Golf BW Premier Collection is a fabulous boutique hotel if you like the "modern chic" look. Otherwise, check the private holiday listings and other hotels on booking.com.
➽ You're only half an hour by train from Cannes, if you'd like to hop over for the day and leave your car behind.
➽ Contact the Tourist Office for more information about Mandelieu and the various guided tours available.
One of the nicest things about Tanneron is getting here from Mandelieu. You'll twist and turn along narrow mountain roads with sweeping views down all the way down to the sea. Absolutely stunning.
In winter, you simply cannot escape the mimosa, wherever you turn, hill after undulating hill.
This is it, France's mimosa heartland.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR TANNERON
➽ Where to stay: Tanneron has a few private accommodations and hotels within driving distance, but you may have to go further afield, depending on the season.
➽ Please note that it is illegal to pick "wild" mimosa anywhere in the Tanneron Forest. Most of it isn't wild – it belongs to farmers whose crop is short-lived and who cannot afford thousands of people picking off their crop.
➽ Contact the Tourist Office for more information about Tanneron and the environs. If you'd like to visit a forcerie, there's every chance they can help.
By the time you reach Pégomas, you will have been driving through mimosa forest for a while and getting close to the last section of the mimosa route. The entire region is a delight throughout winter, with extraordinary scenery and far fewer cars than you might expect.
By the time you get here, you'll be nearing the end of the Route d'Or, or Golden Route, from Mandelieu up through Tanneron and now Pégomas.
Still, I suggest you try to get to this area early and you'll have it all to yourself. Like Tanneron, this is the place for walks.
Pegomas is home to several "forceries", or hothouses, but like Tanneron, visits are becoming increasingly difficult, so I encourage you to contact the tourist office directly. If you look online, there are several forceries that appear to welcome guests but in reality, most do not, unless you have reserved ahead of time, which is why I suggest enlisting the help of the tourist office.
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR PÉGOMAS
➽ Where to stay: Pégomas has a larger hotel selection than Tanneron and since it's a 15-minute drive away, this might be a good base for your overnight in this area.
➽ Pégomas has a specialty: the "mimosette", a type of brioche (part cake, part bread) made here only during the mimosa festival. You'll find it at the Fournil du Logis, Place du Logis, in Pégomas.
➽ Contact the Tourist Office for more information about Pégomas (the tourist office and the town hall are one and the same). Write or drop by, or call +33 4 92 60 20 70 for information.
This is IT – congratulations, you've made it to the end of the Mimosa Trail! You have now reached the world capital of perfume, a fitting end to a trip that is all about flowers.
I expected Grasse to be a kind of tourist trap, with plenty of cheap perfume and tacky souvenirs of the "scent from Grasse" type.
Not at all! This is a lovely town (built on a steep hill, beware), full of medieval streets, tiny specialty shops, and delightful gardens. I visited for a day – and then drove right back the next day because I had enjoyed it so much. I wasn't surprised to find that the perfume know-how of Grasse is protected on UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage List.
3 TOP GRASSE PERFUME EXPERIENCES
➽ Perfume-Making Workshop
➽ Perfume-Making Class and Fragonard Factory Tour
➽ VIP Perfume Workshop
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR GRASSE
➽ Where to stay: If you'd like to stay a bit outside town away from the hustle and bustle, I highly recommend Lou Messougo, a delightful holiday rental – we call it a gîte in France – about 15 minutes from either Grasse or the Mediterranean. Otherwise, booking.com has a good selection of hotels and private accommodation within Grasse.
➽ Where to eat: I had two excellent but very different lunches in Grasse. For earthy local cooking, head to Lou Pignatoun in the heart of the old town, where I had a very traditional aïoli with fish. For light and fresh natural fare, the little Café des Musées across the street from the MIP was lovely. However, it does get plenty of negative reviews so either things have now improved, or I was particularly fortunate. If you so decide to try it out, walk in and reserve your table before your museum visit. It fills up quickly.
➽ Contact the Tourist Office for more information about Grasse.
WHERE SHOULD YOU GO AFTER YOUR MIMOSA ROUTE ROAD TRIP?
🌸 Head north towards Provence!
🚗 Visit the stunning hilltop villages of the Luberon
Mimosa isn't endemic to France: it looks and smells nice, and has become a symbol of spring on the Riviera.
Initially from Australia, it was imported by British aristocrats who wanted to bring winter color to their gardens. The mimosa felt right at home and proliferated until today, it covers a wide swathe of territory along the coast and into the mountains above, and is one of the foundations of Grasse's perfume industry.
If you want to get more of a "feel" for the Mimosa Trail, this video by the tourist office should do the trick.
It comes from the verb "to force", in this case a room in which the mimosa is "forced" to flower after being collected from the forest while it is still green, often around November and December.
After collecting the mimosa, mimosa producers (called "mimosistes") treat and store it in a room whose temperature ranges from 20-22℃ (68-71℉) with a humidity above 85%: this combination guarantees a perfect flower, "forcing" them to bloom in just one night.
After the mimosa blooms, a group of 6-8 women gather around a large table to clean it from excess branches and gather it into small bunches, which will then go on sale. In a good year, the Forcerie Augier can process up to 18 tons of mimosa!
You used to be able to visit several forceries in the Pays de Grasse but increasingly, they are closing the doors to visitors, often because they have too much work and not enough staff to stop and explain things.
Occasionally, a forcerie does accept to show people around, but the only way you'll find out which ones is by contacting the local tourist offices (I've given you the contacts above) in Tanneron or Pégomas.
I was able to watch bouquets being prepared at the Forcerie Augier, but not enter the "forcing" room, which is kept at constant temperatures. Still, it was fascinating to see how it's all put together!
If you're flying into the region, the closest airport to the starting point of the Mimosa Route is Toulon-Hyères, which has some international flights during the high season. It's just over 20km from Bormes-les-Mimosas.
Your better bet is a flight to Marseille, just over 100km away, an hour-and-a-half's drive to the starting point. It's a more cosmopolitan airport, with flights from across Europe and beyond, and plenty of car rental facilities. Find out about availability of cars from Marseille airport.
If you're landing in Paris, you can take the TGV from Charles de Gaulle airport directly to Marseille and rent your car upon arrival to begin your drive.