Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Les Moulins - the water mills of Les Arcs

Coursing through the western half of Les Arcs-sur-Argens is a gravity-fed channel taking water down the hillside, beneath houses and under streets – in order to power the old water wheels once attached to a series of moulins – or mills.

The moulins mostly produced olive oil, though some ground flour. I am not sure whether the silk spinning mill, which operated until 1789, was part of this string of moulins. The silk mill closed after the French Revolution because without royalty, there was no need for silk fabric! The building later became a grape sugar factory, but that, too, has since disappeared.

If you walk along any of the streets leading west, there is a point at which you become aware of the sound of running water, and if you look down, you will probably be standing on a grate in the road where you can see the water flowing past beneath your feet.

Crossing rue Lucien Fabre
The most interesting of these streets is rue Pierre Renaudel which leads up the steep hill behind La Terrasse restaurant. Keep to the right where it divides into rue Lucien Fabre and you will see a large vine-clad house, the former moulin, and hear the sound of a waterfall.
Here are the ruins of the old ‘double wheel’ olive mill.

The last remaining water wheel in Les Arcs-sur-Argens.
Only one wheel remains - in an increasingly fragile but picturesque state of repair.

Outside the former double-wheel mill.
Beside it is an eight-metre high stone tower which once housed the second wheel. From the top, a steady stream of water cascades down. Although it is currently fenced off – no doubt for safety reasons – it is still quite spectacular.

Water spills over an eight-metre drop in search of a wheel.

The cool rush of air from the water is also refreshing on a hot day after a steep climb!
The channel crosses the road and is carried over the street below in a concrete channel high above the traffic. After this it disappears into a private dwelling.

This painting on the gate post acknowledges the former moulin.
The next time you locate the water, it is running alongside a former moulin, now a private house, its water wheel long since lost to time. Known as Le Petit Moulin, the house has a painted design on its gate portal acknowledging its history.
From there, the water continues beside a rough footpath flanked by a decaying arched aqueduct which originally transported the water down to the ruins of what was possibly known as Le Gros Moulin which operated in the 16th century.

The former Roman 'colobarium' later the become 'Le Gros Moulin'.
Here history becomes a little hazy. This ancient ruin is actually part of a Roman ‘colobarium’ – and according to the Mairie’s official website, no-one is sure if it was used for ‘urnes cineraires’ (the storage of cremation urns) or as a moulin.

The channel then moves into private property where the landscape flattens out towards the chemin de fer - railway. I have not found whether it peters out entirely or more probably, continues on to the Argens River on the southern side of Les Arcs.

There is only one moulin d’huile operating in Les Arcs today, Le Thélon, at the top of the town, on the route de Flayosc. It is open to visitors and the oil produced is delicious and of high quality.


  1. How interesting! I didn't realise that water mills could be oil mills. We're very keen on moulins ourselves as Jean Michel lived in one during his youth.

  2. Yes, the water turned the huge stone wheel that crushed the olives. Alan's cousin, Marcel owned a Moulin d'huile in Menton.