The majestic 12th-century Monastère de la Verne sits on a forested ridge in the Massif des Maures, rising like an island of honeyed stone in a sea of green. The Carthusian institution was founded in 1170, possibly on the site of a temple to the goddess Laverna, protector of the bandits who hid in the Maures. It has been ravaged by fire and rebuilt several times over the years (much of the reconstruction dates from the 17th and 18th centuries).
After falling into further disrepair, the monastery has been painstakingly restored over past decades (a 20-minute video details the work) and now houses a community of the Sisters of Bethlehem. Highlights include the austere Romanesque church, the prior’s cell – with small formal garden and workshop – the bakery and the olive mill. The shop (closed Sunday) is full of excellent artisanal food, soaps, art and crafts made by the nuns. Walking trails lead from the monastery through ancient châtaigneraies (chestnut groves) into the forested surroundings.
From Collobrières, follow rte de Grimaud (D14) east for 6km, then turn right (south) on to the D214 and drive another 6km to the monastery. Park at the lot and walk the final 700m section, which is unpaved.