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.

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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

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Roquefort les Pins has plenty of varied walking trails easily accessible from our front door.  Here’s one of our favourites combining forest, open vistas and a little bit of historical interest. 

Roquefort les Pins view gorges du LoupHead out of our lane, turning left into chemin des Pignatons, which becomes chemin du Camouyer.  Take the left fork up chemin des Betrands, up a little steep path and left when you get to the road again at chemin du Debram.  That’s the “urban” bit of the walk done (although calling Roquefort les Pins urban is somewhat exaggerated, I just mean you’ve finished with streets and houses).  Facing you is a wonderful view of the gorges du Loup, the plateau de Caussols and the ever dominant Pic de Courmettes; you can even make out the hilltop village of Gourdon on a clear day.  The very last house on the left is called “Panoramic” and it’s superbly well named.  This view is breathtaking.  Continuing on, go under or around the barrier onto the “Piste du Debram” and from here on it’s all forest track, suitable for mountain bikes (VTT) as well as walking.  These tracks are for fire access which is a serious concern in the summer months.  Open fires are forbidden from 1st June to 1st October, even smoking is not allowed, as bushfires are such a threat.

randonnée Roquefort les PinsThe track heads downhill and comes to a junction.  Take the right path heading uphill into the forest (signed Circuit du Castellas).  As the path levels off there’s a division, take the option for the Terres Blanches (not towards the Castellas).  It’s a more interesting route this way.  You’ll pass a large water tank on the right and shortly you’ll find yourself in a surprising open area of rounded clipped bushes and neatly cared for stone walls.  This is an old Roman site called Camp Tracier but who is responsible for its upkeep nowadays is a mystery.  I’ve heard that local horticultural students prune the bushes as practice but I have no idea if this is true and I’ve never seen anyone there, ever!

Camp Tracier Roquefort les Pins

If you take a quick detour up the Roman-looking paved path to the left you come to an old ruined house.  Vegetation is taking over the roof and windows are broken but it’s obvious someone once made an effort to renovate as it has some unusual contemporary features such as huge plate glass windows.  It’s in the most spectacular setting with views over the mountains one way and towards to sea the other and I covet it!  Truth be told it’s too isolated for me but I do sometimes dream.  It is beautiful, particularly surrounded by such well maintained gardens.  It’s a mysterious place.  But on with the walk….

ruined house RLP

Back on the main track take the left option at the fire hydrant opposite the terraced garden.  In winter you can get a glimpse of the ruined house from here but it’s totally hidden by leaves in summer.  The path now steadily goes down hill for quite some time, through the trees and along a ridge with sweeping views across the forest towards the coast on your right-hand side.  Once back in the woods you’ll see a path on the right which you ignore but you do take the next on the right signed to les Castellas.  This track climbs steeply up to the old ruins through dense vegetation.  It is fairly dark and can be slippery.   ruines des Castellas Roquefort les PinsAnd now you arrive at the second surprise on this walk – the ruins of the medieval site of “roque forte” (strong rock), a defensive outpost that was the original location of Roquefort les Pins.  The ruins are protected historical sites and pretty crumbly, but it you climb carefully up to the tower you get a fabulous view down to the Loup river, across the mountains and over to the coast at Villeneuve-Loubet.  It’s not hard to imagine why this site never became the centre of the modern town as it’s in such an inhospitable place, isolated and difficult to access, but a perfect lookout for invading hoards I guess.  The ruins date from the first half of the 11th century and include the nave of the church of St Michel.

rlp castellas St Michel

This marks the furthest point of this walk; you now retrace your steps up as far as the fire hydrant where you turn left.  The path becomes narrow and passes an open clearing before finally coming out at an Playmobil treeenormous fake tree, disguising a mobile phone aerial.  Now’s the time to make that call if you want good reception!  It's known as the Playmobil tree n our household for obvious reasons and once you’ve seen it up close you realise you can see it from all over the area.  It’s a good landmark when you’re looking at a view from afar and trying to work out where everything lies as it sticks up far above the real trees.  That's it, you'll find you've come to the end of the forest track and shortly you’ll be back on chemin du Debram, back “en ville” in the "urban sprawl" of Roquefort town!  Time to return to Lou Messugo the way you came along the named streets.  This walk should take about two to two and a half hours of actual walking.  How long you take depends on how much time you spend exploring the old house and the historical ruins.  Bonne balade! 

castellas ballade vue mer

rlp walk camp tracier

castellas walk 4

castellas walk 1

castellas walk 2

castellas walk view Gourdon

castellas walk view courmettes

 

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Cap dAntibes look twds MercantourThe Cap d'Antibes on the French Riviera, a name synonymous with luxury properties, phenomenal wealth and perfect manicured gardens is not often linked with untamed natural beauty. But a walk around its coastal path reveals a surprisingly wild landscape, often more reminiscent of Brittany than the Côte d'Azur. It's a delicious walk, perfect really, taking in gorgeous views of the Mercantour National Park one way and the Estérel mountains the other while gently climbing up and down well maintained rocky paths next to the crystal clear sea.  I can't stress more how lovely this walk is. 

danger sign cap dantibesThis hike (though that word implies more effort than is required here in my mind) is just under 5 kms long and takes about two hours without extended picnic stops.  Start at the car park behind the plage de la Garoupe and take the path that runs along the right side of the beach along a stone wall.  From here on for as far as you can go along the coastal path the route is obvious and doesn't need to be marked as there's no choice.  A note of warning however, do not take the path in bad weather/high seas/strong winds as it can be dangerous.  This is a fair weather walk and none more fair than the day we did it during the Toussaint holidays in early November.

We stopped for a picnic early on, almost immediately in fact, owing to the time of day.  This turned out quite fortuitous as further on along the path there are fewer places to make a camp and at times there is no room at all to leave the narrow track.  We ate our lunch on a wide open point with a magnificent view over the eastern side of the Côte d’Azur and across to the Alps behind.  Despite it being November we were all dressed lightly in t-shirts and the children even swam at the end of the walk!  Our group consisted of three generations from seven years old to over eighty and everyone coped well with the length and level of difficulty of this walk.  I must admit though that the eighty-three year old with us was fit and determined and I doubt many of her age would be able to manage it.  

path cap dantibesThe trail follows the old customs path right along the water’s edge, winding up and down along steep white lime cliffs and past narrow rocky coves.  It’s well maintained, even cobbled at times, with hand rails to hold onto in the more precarious parts.  Looking down to the left the water is beautifully clear, deep blue and sparkling, and looking up to the right you catch glimpses of private gardens behind high stone walls.   Every now and then there’s a gate into one of the luxurious gardens through which you can see ancient olive trees, Aleppo pines, enormous agaves and exotic cacti.  Did you know that the agave flowers only once and then dies?  (Well now you do!)  The jagged white rocks are covered in succulents, such as the “Witches Finger” which seem to grow out of nothing.  You wonder how they could possibly survive but apparently they thrive on the salty spray and warm sun. 

After a while the path levels out onto an open flatish area of rough low rocks with a newly renovated wall on the right.  You get the feeling someone really big lives here judging from the amount of security cameras and you’d be right.  The Château de la Croë, once home to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and known locally as The White House, is now in the hands of Russian squillionaire Roman Abramovich, owner of Chelsea FC.  You’ll notice an ugly round concrete block at the end of a path heading out towards the sea.  This is all that remains of a failed attempt by Abramovich to build a pontoon to moor his yachts at.  In a true David and Goliath story a local sea urchin fisherman pulled the plug on these illegal plans as no one, not even Roman, has the right to build up to the water’s edge.  The irony of this is that now that all the curious walkers can spy into his property as the concrete block serves as a viewing platform without which his house would have stayed truly private.

path cap dantibes 2This is the end of the coastal section of the walk as the path turns inland between two high walls separating two enormous properties: the Villa Eilen Roc on the left and le Croë on the right.  I couldn’t help thinking as I walked along here that the budget for Roman’s security alone, and perhaps just along this section of his boundary, was undoubtedly more than my own house, Lou Messugo, is worth.  The wealth in this part of the Riviera is astounding and at times overwhelmingly vulgar but it only goes to highlight one of the reasons why this walk is so lovely; the contrast is so unexpected.  The Cap is wild and untouched, almost fierce in its beauty, yet it’s bang in the middle of one of the most heavily developed parts of the French Mediterranean coast.

cap dantibes pontoonThe last part of the walk is along the street.  Take Avenue de Beaumont until you get to the main road and then immediately turn right into Avenue de la Tour Gandolphe.  This street is full of surprisingly modest old houses with small holdings.  I’m sure the property developers would love to get their hands on some of this land but it’s certainly refreshing to see that some ordinary folk still live here.  I wonder for how much longer?  At the end of this lovely street you’ll find yourself back at the car park where you started.

Bonne balade!

                  path cap dantibes 3

agave flower

path cap dantibes 5

cap dantibes view copyright Phoebe Thomas

Do you have a favourite walk?  Do tell!

 

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Hiking in France

Posted by on in Activities, Walks, Beaches & Day Trips


balisageThe area around Lou Messugo is a walker's paradise. There are so many different types of walk to choose from: the coastal path, urban walks, mountain hikes in pristine national parks, hill walks and country trails right from the door.  You can walk in all seasons, using snow shoes on higher ground in winter.  In summer it can be scorching hot in the back country which makes the coastal path an attractive choice, stopping off for a refreshing dip along the way.  Or go into the mountains to find cooler temperatures at higher altitudes and enjoy the stunning alpine scenery. We really are spoilt for choice.

Long distance footpaths in France are organised by numbers with the letters GR infront.  This stands for Grande Randonnée meaning "big hike" and they tend to be from A to B not circular.  There are over 60,000 km of signed paths, some of them reaching hundreds of kilometres long. Possibly the most well known, certainly the oldest and amongst the longest at 1600 kms is the pilgrimage route, the St Jacques de Compostelle Way, GR65.  GR paths are all signed with a horizontal paint mark in red and white.  These marks are painted on to trees or rocks every 50 or so GR signmetres, sometimes more frequently and certainly wherever there is a choice of direction in which case they indicate whether to turn left or right.  

Lesser footpaths which aren't on the GR network tend to be tagged with a yellow mark.  I find these marks (balise in French) are great for motivating reticent young children who are less than enthusiastic about hiking.  By sending them ahead to find the next one and check you're on the right path it becomes a kind of treasure hunt that keeps motivation levels up. As well as the painted tags most footpaths have wooden signs at the beginning, end and important junctions showing the name of the walk or the next village etc.  These are numbered and the numbers correspond with numbers on IGN maps of 1:25,000 scale.

mapsLarge-scale maps are produced by the Institut Géographique National (IGN) and are available in good bookshops such as FNAC or online.  We have all the local ones available to borrow at Lou Messugo.

It's worth knowing that nearly all villages and towns in France have public drinking fountains some of which are beautiful elaborate affairs dating from when there was no mains water, others little more than a tap. They are often, but not always, near the church. The water is drinkable unless there's a notice saying "non potable".and you can fill your water bottle at them.  

Lastly a note on safety.  During the hunting season (roughly September to February with local variations) if you're walking in forest it's a good idea to wear something bright and talk reasonably loudly as French hunters shoot anything that moves!  When walking in mountains it's important to check the weather forecast as it can change rapidly and dramatically at altitude.  The national forecast office is MétéoFrance. Here are some useful numbers to call in case of an emergency:  Ambulance (SAMU) 15, Firefighters/Paramedics 18, CODIS 06 (local fire & disaster emergency) 04 93 22 76 90, Mountain Rescue 04 97 22 22 22.

To find more posts on walks in the area local to Lou Messugo click on the tabs below.

Bonne balade!

 

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