Isn’t it always the way? You live so close to something you always promise yourself that you’ll pop down the next time you’re in the area – but you never really do. We’d been living in the south of France for at least three years and had never quite got round to driving through La Route d’Or (the Golden Road). It sounds quite magical – and, you know, it is.
The Route d’Or starts at Mandelieu La-Napoule and stretches up to Tanneron and across to Lac de St-Cassien in the Var. Tanneron is the capital of the Mimosa and celebrates this incredible tree once a year in February. Winter time is when these tiny cotton wool balls of yellow fluff burst into life – and fragrance.
Dependent on the weather, flowers can come into bloom as early as December; different mimosa varieties flower at different times thus causing a continuation of flowering right through until April or May – however February is the best month. The valleys are awash with different shades of yellow (as the buds open and die) and the fragrance infiltrates the air.
“La Fête de Mimosa” is widely celebrated here in the south of France. Tanneron, Biot, Mandelieu, Bormes-les-Mimosas, Fréjus and a host of other towns and villages decorate their houses, town halls and shops – in fact anything that will hold a few sprigs of Mimosa.
A multitude of wonderful parades, exhibitions, costume balls and other marvellous festivals are held throughout the flowering period. Postcards, soaps, perfumes and other touristic trinkets are on sale – not just then but all year round; Mimosa, like Olive Oil, Lavender and the Cigale is the symbol of the south of France
So, early one Saturday morning in February the intrepid adventurers that we are now becoming, decide to experience “The Golden Route”. The other reason is that I wanted to write about it for the website and now was as good a time as ever.
There is no doubt that this road is remarkable. Not just for being picturesque, but also because for four months of the year the entire area is smothered in yellow.
Not all mimosa bloom at the same time; some trees come into flower earlier (or later) than others (it is dependent on the weather – hard frost will kill them). And this makes for the enchanting vision. But it is more enchanting as the Mimosa trees grow wild and on “restanques” (terraced slopes). The higher you climb – the more you look down on this sea of colour.
Taking the Route d’Or we wind our way up the steep, narrow road (and it is narrow in some areas) until hunger pangs (and me wanting to take a few photographs) cause us to stop. The view is magical – the air filled with fragrance; it’s just unfortunate that the only spot we could find to park was next to communal waste bins. Luckily, Mimosa are strongly scented plants.
Sadly we arrive at Tannaron after they’ve already celebrated their Mimosa festival (February 1st) and along with a rather stiff wind that whipped up around us, we decide to cut short our visit and continue our drive.
This is a special route, and it is difficult to describe just how incredible the scenery really is. In the beginning the drive is very steep – and then past Tanneron we start to dip down and the view changes yet again. The hilly slopes are covered in different shades of yellow and it’s just amazing.
And then, all of a sudden, there’s a sudden glimpse of Lac de St-Cassien and the view is utterly wonderful. Unfortunately there is no where to stop to take photos and so we’re obliged to drive on.
But it makes us realize that next year we need to be better organized, get our dates right and prepare properly for this wonderful spectacle.
For those of you who are wondering, Tanneron is a northern extension of the Esterel and consists of 5,278 hectares and includes 22 hamlets; with about 1,320 inhabitants. It’s highest point is “Gaëte” which is 519 metres and overlooks the Bay de Cannes and Mandelieu La-Napoule.
Growing amongst the Mimosa are Eucalyptus trees; enjoying the same climate, soil and temperature as the Mimosa. This is mainly clever business sense; if one “crop” fails – there is another to fall back on.
Mimosa (a fairly thorny tree) was introduced into the Mediterranean region from Australia in 1839 and first mentioned near Cannes in 1864. Finding climatic conditions to its liking, it then proceeded to invade the slopes of the Tanneron Massive. Although much continues to grow wild, private cultivation of this amazing tree has brought financial success to the region. There are three main varieties of Mimosa tree; Silver Wattle, Blue-leaved Wattle and, the most common variety growing in the region, Four-seasons Wattle which grows in huge swathes and flowers all year round.