The Lou Messugo Blog - life in the south of France from a British/Australian TCK's perspective, bringing you French culture, travel on the Côte d'Azur and beyond, expat issues and a little bit of je ne sais quoi all mixed up with a hefty dose of photography.

Secret paradise: a refreshing river walk

As a family we love to go hiking and we certainly live in a great part of the world to indulge in this outdoor activity.  The French Riviera and surrounding countryside in the Alpes-Maritimes département offers the keen walker plenty of choice ranging from coastal paths to mountain hikes, river walks to forest treks and more, catering to all ages and levels of fitness.  This is one of my favourite walks, not so much for the walk itself which is short but for what lies at the end.  Here you'll find a magical secret area of crystal clear rock pools on the river Riou near Vence and St Jeannet, deep in a gorge, surrounded by cliffs, silent except for the sound of rushing mountain water, you'll feel like you're in paradise.  Read on to find out more.Riou river near Vence Côte dAzur France

At the start of the path you'll see signs warning that it's narrow and dangerous and I must admit that the first time we ventured here, with a 3 year old, I did wonder if we were being foolish.  The article we'd read in a local paper said there were frequent accidents, that you should take extra care and only good walkers and sporty types should attempt it.  Perhaps this explains why we have nearly always been alone and even on a hot, sunny public holiday there have only been two other couples.  All of which, in my opinion, makes it extra special.  I don't think it's dangerous and recently went with four children between the ages of 5 and 9, all of whom managed it perfectly.  But you have been warned....

bridge on river riou

Once off the dirt track which serves as a road to the last property you cross a small metal bridge over one of the tributaries which provides the town of Vence with its drinking water and from now on the walk is pure pleasure.  The narrow path starts high above the river with open views towards craggy mountain cliffs and a background noise of crashing water running through the narrow gorge. For the first part you're out in the open, surrounded by wild flowers teeming with butterflies before the path drops down into shady forest.  riou view

Depending on the time of year the air is filled with the scent of a pretty flowering tree (photo above) or ripening figs from the wild fig trees all around. Suddenly the river is there, to your right, you catch glimpses of it through the trees.  Don't think this is it; while there are plenty of shady spots for picnics, push on five minutes further, up and over a small rise and you'll be rewarded with the most glorious sight. 

Riou river near Vence

Ahead of you is an area of outstanding beauty with deep crystalline clear pools in varying shades of turquoise, trickling water running down a series of man-made steps, larger waterfalls and shallow paddling areas.  This perfect river is surrounded by smooth flat boulders and high cliffs with bursts of pink and purple flowers clinging perilously to seemingly nothing.  

flowers by Riou river near VenceThe water is temptingly lovely and the pools are ideal for plunging into though even in high summer it remains pretty chilly.  The water is so clear that you can see fish darting about easily and we've seen frogs, toads and even a snake.  Children make dams, float sticks, throw pebbles and squeal in the icy water while adults lie back on the hot rocks and recharge their batteries.  Well that's what we do at least!

Riou river kids playing

This walk is so unknown that part of me doesn't want to give away the location and I even thought about saying if you want to go there contact me and I'll give you directions, thinking that would deter enough people.  But then I figuered it won't be over-run with gangs of my blog readers either, and hey, if it is, well then at least I know I'm reaching and inspiring lots of people! 

River Riou Vence St Jeannet

So, to find this idyllic spot head out of the town of Vence (on the M2) following signs to the Col de Vence. Look out for signs to SPACA (animal refuge) on the right about a kilometre along.  Turn right here and continue straight for about 4 kms passing houses (it's hard to believe you'll soon be in such a remote area), always following signs for SPACA. 

kids at river2

The view along here, over Vence, surrounding villages and all the way to the sea is absolutely lovely.  After a while the tarmac finishes and it gets pretty bumpy.  Passengers may have to get out and walk for the last few hundred metres.  There's enough space on the left of the track for about 5-6 cars to pull over and park just before the SPACA which has always been plenty as there's usually no one around.  From here it's about a half hour walk to the pools with young children in tow.  If you don't want to drive down the gravel track, park at the end of the tarred road and add another 45 mins or so to the walk.

snake at riou

walk by river riou

river riou

riou river wild flowers

Riou River cliffs and boulders


river crossing

view of Vence

Do you like hiking with your children?  Have you got a favourite walk to share?  As always I love to hear from you.

 Why not PIN this!

secret paradise river walk Côte dAzur France



Travel Monkey
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  • Guest
    yael cortes silva Monday, 03 July 2017

    I dont suppose you could help me. Im going away with my 2 kids 12yr and 8 yr and we want to stay somewhere simple. Maybe a Gites or chambers d'hotes. We want to be in country side and near places for natural swimming...rivers streams etc..We need to be not far from nice and where we stay needs to be relatively accessible by local transport . At least easy transport to get us to a place where we can stay and then we can go everywhere by you have any suggestions?
    Thankyou so much. I looked at your blog and it seemed just what were looking for but we also need to find somewhere to stay.
    Thankyou again

  • Guest
    Phoebe Monday, 03 July 2017

    I don't understand why you don't contact me direct with your dates, I run a gite, ON THIS WEBSITE! However, I am full till 5 Sept when there are just 4 nights available. I suggest you look at the gite de France website, Airbnb or simply google gite near Nice with public transport. Without dates there's not a lot I can suggest as pretty much everywhere is full over the summer.

  • Guest
    Packing my Suitcase Sunday, 03 July 2016

    Wow, such a stunning place, look at that clear water! Beautiful Phoebe!

    Thank you for joining #MondayEscapes :d

  • Guest
    Gina Caro @ Gypsy Soul Wednesday, 22 June 2016

    Wow! What a beautiful place to visit. I could just sit there for hours contemplating life #MondayEscapes

  • Guest
    Phoebe Thursday, 23 June 2016

    It's a very peaceful place to sit and contemplate life Gina Caro!

  • Guest
    Ahila Tuesday, 21 June 2016

    That's a beautiful secret spot that you have there, to enjoy with your family. Thanks for sharing it at #MondayEscapes

  • Guest
    Phoebe Thursday, 23 June 2016

    It really is lovely Ahila!

  • Guest
    Ruth Tuesday, 21 June 2016

    How great! That water is crystal clear. Did you took a dip? Or, is it too cold to get in?

  • Guest
    Phoebe Thursday, 23 June 2016

    It's always been a bit too cold for me, but I'm a real wimp with cold water! I do dip my toes in though!

  • Guest
    Corey Tuesday, 21 June 2016

    It does look like paradise! Beautiful photos, felt like I was there :). #mondayescapes

  • Guest
    Phoebe Thursday, 23 June 2016

    Thanks Corey :)

  • Guest
    Johanna Monday, 20 June 2016

    It does look beautiful, Phoebe! It's an area I'd love to explore.:)

  • Guest
    Phoebe Thursday, 23 June 2016

    We're so lucky with mountain rivers in this area, there are so many beautiful places to walk.

  • Guest
    Tanja/the Red Phone Box travels Monday, 20 June 2016

    lovely spot! beautiful colour of the water. but I'd afraid of that snake:) #monday escapes

  • Guest
    Phoebe Thursday, 23 June 2016

    It wasn't very big Tanja (clever photo!)

  • Guest
    Nell (Pigeon Pair and Me) Monday, 20 June 2016

    Such beautiful blue waters! This really does look like a special place. Thanks for sharing its whereabouts despite your reservations!

  • Guest
    Phoebe Thursday, 23 June 2016

    Actually over the years I've had quite a lot of people tell me (and even ring me) that they've done the walk thanks to this blog post but it's still not over run!

  • Guest
    gianni Monday, 20 April 2015

    Thank you for showing this walk. We make expedition from Italy to go here and very happy. Beautiful place. Paradiso!

  • Guest
    Phoebe Wednesday, 22 April 2015

    Gosh, thanks for your confidence Gianni, I'm so pleased you like the walk having come from Italy!

  • Guest
    Thomas Friday, 07 June 2013

    Sounds and looks absolutely gorgeous. Even we oldies should be able to do it. Not so sure about the snake.

  • Guest
    Phoebe Saturday, 08 June 2013

    The snake wasn't big and seemed harmless just sunning itself on the warm rocks! I don't think you need worry Thomas.

  • Guest
    Phoebe Friday, 07 June 2013

    Isn't it just, Rin! Thanks for commenting as always.

  • Guest
    rin Friday, 07 June 2013

    Brilliant walk with beautiful views, crystal clear water, gorgeous flowers and wildlife to spot. :)

  • Guest
    Phoebe Saturday, 08 June 2013

    Isn't it just Rin! Thanks for commenting as always.

  • Phoebe
    Phoebe Friday, 07 June 2013

    I can only recommend it: easy walk, not so easy swim but a great reward at the end of the path. If you go there please respect nature and the environment to keep it as wild as possible, enjoy!

  • Guest
    Phoebe Friday, 07 June 2013

    Thank you for your comment Ramon, I see you've been to this lovely spot. I agree swimming isn't easy owing to the temperature, but it's very tempting none-the-less. I also agree with your plea to respect this wild place. :)

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