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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Sunday Photo - 20 November 2016

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autumn river walk Alpes Maritimes

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At first glance the Côte d’Azur (or French Riviera) might not seem like an obvious choice for a holiday destination for families with toddlers with its reputation for glitz and glamour, but look again, it really is.  I’m going to show you just how toddler-friendly this place isWe’ve lived here since our youngest was a toddler; I speak from personal experience.  Here are 28 things to do, activities and days out with toddlers on the Côte d'Azur, France.

holidays with toddlers on Côte dAzur

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Cruising the Danube

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At Christmas my parents found themselves in the unusual situation of all three of their children - me, my brother and sister - not spending the holidays with them.  We were all with our in-laws.  So rather than mope around at home missing us (!) they booked a cruise on the Danube, for the whole of the festive period.  I must say, despite sometimes mocking the idea of a river cruise, I was rather jealous. Having been to Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest earlier last year I knew that they'd be visiting wonderful places and the idea of being waited on, no cooking, no chores etc for 2 full weeks while watching the world pass by sounded very appealing.

cruise Danube 08

It is from my globe-trotting parents that I inherited my love of travel.  They (a Brit and an Aussie) met in Ghana and have lived in 9 and 10 countries (dad and mum respectively) and travelled all over the world. Last count my dad had visited over 90 countries (and my mum not far behind) including unusual locations such as Bhutan, Honduras, Democratic Republic of Congo, Greenland and Angola.  (I could go on...) Now in their mid seventies they may no longer choose West Africa or Central America for their holidays but they haven't slowed down at all...they're off again next month to Florence....

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I'm not sure quite what came over me last week, normally not one for extreme sports, quite the opposite really, I agreed to go white water rafting with my family!  I'm still surprised at myself.  If you've read my blog recently you'll know I wrote about climbing, canyoning and via ferrata and clearly stated that I hadn't actually done any of those crazy activities personally though this area is an excellent place to give them a go.  So how come less than a month later I found myself hurtling down a fast mountain river in a rubber raft?  

     rafting 02

                                                                                                image credit

Every summer we go camping for a few days in the mountains nearby, to breathe the fresh air, hike, spend time outdoors and live under canvas for a few days.  This year we decided to combine this annual event with a trip to Italy as we felt we needed a little fix of Italiano in our lives.  We hadn't been for a few months and it was time - living where we do, less than an hour from the Italian border, we often pop over for lunch, or a spot of shopping.  This time we headed for Piedmont, keen to discover somewhere new, and we found ourselves a lovely campsite on the Stura river about 2.5 hours from home.  It turned out to be a rafting centre and the boys were busting to give it a go.  So we did!  

     Stura river Piedmont

We were almost the only people staying at the campsite and managed to book a rafting trip just for us, no one else which made it extra special.  The four of us and Manuel our guide.  We booked for 2 pm and after a gorgeous sunny morning the sky clouded over and threatened rain.  The forecast said 50% chance of precipitation.  We decided to risk it, and although the afternoon was dull and overcast, making it a little cold at times, we didn't get rained on - just soaked from the river!  Manuel took us through some safety procedures and then we were driven upstream to the start point.  The rafting trip was 8 km long which took us just under 2 hours with stops for rock jumping and swimming along the way.  Being late summer the water was reasonably low, but perfectly fast enough for us beginners.  Manuel told us that in May the same route took 15 minutes without stops as the river was so high.  No thank you!  I think I would have died of fright. As it was I was scared out of my wits often enough as we paddled faster and faster toward huge boulders for the express purpose of crashing into them to bounce off!  The kids loved it!  The look of pure joy on their faces made the terror worth it....

     rafting 03

                                                                                                image credit

Not being equipped with a waterproof camera there was no way we could take our own photos so I'm very thankful Paolo from Stiera Rafting gave me permission to us some of his.  All credited photos are his, the rest are mine as usual.  I so wish I could have filmed JF and the boys jumping off rocks and hurtling down stream on their backs, feet forward, arms crossed.  But I'm also very glad we didn't try to risk taking a phone or camera in a plastic bag as we got very very wet, even without jumping in, and JF was thrown from the raft at one alarming point.  I was honestly very scared at times, squealing like a little girl (I was so glad we didn't have to share the boat with anyone else!) but I genuinely enjoyed it...I retrospect!  You can get an idea of what we did by viewing some of Stiera Rafting's videos here.

     rafting 01

                                                                                              image credit

For rafting novices like us, here's how it works:  you sit up on the side with one foot hooked under the seat in front to anchor you in.  You paddle along at a reasonably relaxed pace until the guide tells you to go fast, fast, faster at which point you paddle like mad despite the fear.  This is usually in the fastest bits of current and often directly into big boulders. Sometimes one side paddles forwards and the other side backwards so you spin round and round in 360° loops.  The guide is in charge of steering to avoid hazards such as branches and dangerous rocks and if/when he shouts "in the boat" you all dive into the middle as fast as possible so as not to fall out on a steep drop or fast twist. The adrenalin is crazy!  You don't paddle continually; sometimes you just drift downstream taking in the quiet and enjoying the views. We saw plenty of birds and in the less rapid parts of the river the silence was overwhelming. We stopped a couple of times, once to jump off rocks and once to jump off the raft itself.  Manuel turned it over and we used it as a trampoline to spring into the water. Despite being August it was refreshingly icy!  The guys also all bailed out of the raft to drift down on their backs but being as blind as a bat without my glasses I decided to stay in the boat.  

                     Stura fiume Piemonte Italia

The rafting along the Stura river where we were is classified as grade 2-3 out of a maximum of 6 on the official scale.  This was perfect for us, enough action without being hideously dangerous.  As this was an on-the-spur-of-the-moment decision and not thoroughly planned and researched I didn't really take into account just how extreme rafting can be.  I'm glad I didn't read the Wikipedia entry before I went as it is pretty scary.  I'm quite sure I wouldn't have taken part and would have been extremely nervous of my kids going off if I had read it first.  Of course I was aware that it's an adventurous sport not to be undertaken lightly but as children as young as 6 can participate I reckoned I'd be OK.  I was, but as I said before, it's not normally my kind of thing at all.  I'm delighted I did it, but I doubt I'll do it again.  I think the boys would have happily continued on several more hours and gone back the next day.  JF was somewhere in the middle of that!  

       rafting 04

There are several places in the Alpes-Maritimes, close to the Côte d'Azur, near Lou Messugo to go rafting if you are looking for adventure and an adrenalin rush like no other.  The season runs from about April to October, depending on the weather, just make sure you choose a licensed operator with a good reputation.  I would of course wholeheartedly recommend Stiera Rafting as a professional and friendly place to start.

      rafting bus Stura river

Have you been rafting?  Would you like to?  Are you an extreme kind of person?  I'd love to hear from you.


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