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Hiking the Estérel: La Baisse de la Grosse Vache

Hiking Esterel, Col du baladou, AzurAlive

After lunch on Monday, our hiking group decided it was too sunny to stay indoors. We went hiking around the Baisse de la Grosse Vache, in the Estérel Mountains between Cannes and St Raphael.

As usual, the Estérel displayed its ravines and its low-lying hills like a green sea. You find no cement buildings that block the sun here. Just rocky footpaths surrounded by cork oaks, up-swept branches of heath trees, bushes of rock roses and Spanish broom that turn yellow in the Spring.

You walk to the rhythmic crunch of boots on rocks with a wide green expanse around you, prickly fresh air on your face and the maquis' still fragrant bushes of cistus and strawberry trees.

On our return leg on this 7 km hike, we walked with the Perthus mountain of the Estérel to our right, a sheer wall like a block of carved clay.

"C'est comme le Colorado," said someone up front, looking at the auburn cliff of the Perthus.

Hiking Esterel, Les Suvières, AzurAlive

Getting there:

Enter the Massif de l'Estérel from the seaside town of Agay, heading inland at the roundabout and then turning right about 1.5km from Agay.

Continue to the Col de Belle Barbe. Continue beyond this Col to the next one, the Col du Mistral. Park there and begin your hike at the footpath to the right.

Hiking Esterel, Hiking Path, AzurAlive

Hiking Details:

6.7 km round-trip.
Accessible year-round, although the Estérel can close in the summer when fire risks run high.

Want to escape the crowds of the Côte d'Azur to stroll on the region's most gorgeous footpaths?
Check out our latest hiking guide.


The French Côte d’Azur's best-kept secret

Click to Order Hiking BookWhat is the French Côte d’Azur best-kept secret? Its footpaths.

They offer panoramic views along low-lying mountains, chiseled pitons by ancient volcanoes, protected national parks thick with vegetation, plains engorged with colorful flowers, amphibians, and birds of all chants.

Most guidebooks miss them. And unfortunately, visitors miss them too.

Yet to the walker who knows where to go, the Côte d’Azur is close to paradise. 

Pre-announcing a NEW Guide to the Western Côte d’Azur:
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Find out more about it on our About 26 Gorgeous Hikes page.


Hiking by Nice: Le Parc de la Grande Corniche

Hiking at Parc de la Grande Corniche

Looking for a stroll in nature on the Côte d'Azur, with waves of mountains (the Mercantour, the pre-Alps and Alps) to the North and the coastline from San Remo to St Tropez to the South and West? Here's a good choice: Le Parc de la Grande Corniche.

With its 660 hectares of protected land, the park sits on a mountain top beyond Nice, a couple of miles from La Turbie. The park's nature guide (Marie) claims that on a clear, very clear day, you can see Corsica like a bump in the seaside horizon.
Hiking at Parc de la Grande Corniche
What you will definitely see on a clear day are hills and mountains bouncing against the horizon, the city of Nice, its airport and barren landing strips poking into the sea, the Estérel way West. You'll hike among varied vegetation (450 species grow here). Though you're unlikely to see them, rabbits, foxes,  wild boars and owls often visit as well. You'll meet joggers, a few happy strollers walking their dogs and a handful of hikers enjoying the sites. Bring a picnic - wooden tables are plentiful.

The Parc offer three main hiking areas: Plateau de la Justice, Le Revère and La Forna.

Try the following 1 hour walk: Park at the Parking du Mont Fourche and loop around the Plateau de la Justice.

Hiking at Parc de la Grande Corniche - Fort de la Drete

Getting there:
From the A8 highway from Nice, exit at La Turbie and continue towards La Turbie. Take the Grande Corniche road (D2564) to the Col d'Eze and make a right on the route de la Justice, by the Hermitage du Col d'Eze 3-starred hotel.
Or take the Grande Corniche road all the way to the Col d'Eze.

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Hiking around Nice: Mont Vinaigrier

Cultivations on the Vinaigrier, Nice

From the top of the Mont Vinaigrier, the small park of Le Vinaigrier overlooks the seaside metropolis of Nice, the Bay of Villefranche-sur-Mer, the Baie des Anges.

On the southern flank of the Vinaigrier mountain, men carved terraces and propped them up with short walls of limestone rocks hauled from the fields. To irrigate the terraces, they built an elaborate system of water funnels, fountains and underground connecting canals. Then on the leveled fields, they planted olive and almond trees, patches of tomato plants and vines that grew over a trellis over the Mediterranean.

Foot path for a gentle hike Today, the little park is owned by the Conservatoire du Littoral and managed by the Département. You can visit and walk around the open park freely during the day.

Follow the winding footpath down the hill among olive and almond trees. On your gentle hike, you'll find a handful of  stone wells on the southern side of Mont Vinaigrier.

From its rustic footpaths, to the west and below, you peer into the bustling city of Nice and its jumble of highways below. To the west, the promenade des Anglais, the sea Terraces at the Vinaigrier, Nicewith its patches of fluorescent blues, the bay of Cannes, the Estérel.

"Le Vinaigrier, c'est un poumon pour la ville de Nice et tous ceux qui y habitent," said the enthusiastic nature guide I met on the trails this weekend - The Vinaigrier is a puff of fresh air for a bustling city of Nice.

Another little detour to remind us that the region is not only rich in history and culture, but in natural beauty as well.

Getting there:
From Nice, take the Grande Corniche road (D 2564). Notice the Observatoire de Nice, on your right, after the restaurant La Foret. Immediately after the road that leads to the Observatory, take the Rue de Brès. Continue a few meters beyond the public school to the trailhead.


Beach by Hyères: L'Almanarre

Plagealmanarre

The Plage de l'Almanarre Beach, on the western neck of the Giens Peninsula by the town of Hyères, is a hot bed of windsurfing and kite-surfing. The beach is long, sandy and wild. Behind it, pink flamingoes stroll in the Etangs de Pesquiers. It's also exposed to side and onshore winds and with a sea bed that drops fast. This draws wind players to l'Almanarre.

If you do not like to play with the wind, l'Almanarre is still a fun visit where sportsy locals come to sail, jog or just hike along its flat boardwalk-like sandy path. For pure immobile beaching, the more protected beaches on the eastern side of the peninsula might be a better choice.

Today, the Grand Prix de l'Almanarre 2007 windsurfing competition took place at l'Almanarre. Junior sailors (between ten and fourteen years old slalomed around the race buoys in light winds. The race continues this weekend. See http://hwo.free.fr

Plagedelamadrague

On the next beach further south, going up on the Route du Sel road up the Giens Peninsula, you'll find the Plage de La Madrague. We bumped in to the yearly Ventilo Show. During this show, new windsurfing boards, sails and kayaks can be borrowed and sailed right off the beach. See: www.ventilo-show.com

If you're in the area, swing by the Etangs de Pesquiers and see if you can spot a string of ping flamingoes noodling necks in the brown waters of the old salt pans, looking for algae and little fish.