The story starts in the 13th century
The castle of Le Castellet first appeared in history in 1250, thanks to the legendary Romée de Villeneuve. He was the first baron of Vence and seneschal from Provence in 1236.
In the Middle Ages, a seneschal was a high civil servant who ran the finance and judiciary. He also ran the daily life of the court.
He appointed his son Paul as direct and universal heir to the domains of La Gaude, Saint-Jeannet, Le Castellet and as co-seigneur of Vence.
Important place in the past
It seems that in the 13th century Le Castellet was as important as its neighbors La Gaude and Saint Jeannet.
Le Castellet was again mentioned in 1309. A year after the seizure of Knights Templar properties, before disappearing from the Chronicles and then becoming legendary.
The legend of gold of Le Castellet
Le Castellet has its own legend, which stems from a telling find of gold coins hidden in the walls.
This legend starts with a tale. A tale from author and phisician-surgeon in the Navy and ethnologist Laurent Jean Baptiste Bérenger-Feraud. It is from his book “Folk Tales of Provence people from Antiquity to Middle Ages” from 1887.
Here, Bérenger-Feraud recounts a cousin of Romée de Villenueve, Arnaud de Villenueve, also known as Arnaldus de Villa Nova. He was a famous alchemist and physician. In 1285, he had been appointed first doctor for the King of Aragon, Pierre III.
He was said to have turned iron into gold at the Papal Court in Rome, and then hid the secret of the philosopher’s stones used for the transformation.
Why would such a learned and famous man stay in such a modest place as Le Castellet? There are two things that reinforce this narrative. First, the rocks around Le Castellet contain the special limestone, which was supposed to be part of the conversion process of iron into gold.
Gold were found in 1938
Then, the legend is strengthened by an actual find of gold coins hidden in the walls of Le Castellet.
It dates from 1938 when a certain Janin Trastour discovers various golden coins in a ceramic jar hidden in the wall. He would then have entrusted his secret discovery to the village elder, Monsieur Gastaud, who later disappeared without a trace….
But before we allow ourselves to be caught up in too much of the story, we must remember that le Castellet, in the Middle Ages, was used as a refuge when there were invasions of the cities along the coast.
People were fleeing here with their most precious possessions until the invaders were chased away and people could return to their home again.
So perhaps this Castellet treasure comes from the famous alchemist Arnaud de Villeneuve, or perhaps from a rich man who sought refuge and hid his treasures from eager robbers?
In any case, the ruin of Le Castellet castle is there today and can be visited, and then you have to listen and let speak the walls, apparently silent.
How to get to the Castellet castle
To get to Le Castellet, wear your walking shoes and make the hike from Saint-Jeannet.
It is a really nice walk and you can choose to take the whole round trip east, around Baou de Saint Jeannet, about 4.5 km. Or 6 km including Baou de Saint Jeannet, or take the slightly shorter road from the west side of the city, about 4 km.
At Le Castellet you can enjoy a picnic spot and the beautiful views of the Cagnes valley. From here you can see both Baou de Saint Jeannet and Baou des Noirs at new beautiful angles.
North of Le Castellet trails pass on to the upper Cagne valley through the villages of Bézaudun and Coursegoules.
See the choices of hikes here.
See the route to the castle of Castellet on the tour map after the 360-degree photo.
360-degree photo (rotated with mouse or finger):