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Hikers on Hiking: St Tropez Walks

DefiningYourHome: plage des salins, St TropezIt's always a thrill to hear back from our readers about their trip to the French Côte d'Azur.

In May 2008, Cameron and Richard set out to explore the French Riviera the way we like to do it: on foot across great hiking trails.

They came prepared. They had sorted through web sites, travel forums and hiking guidebooks (including our own guidebook to great hikes on the French Riviera). Their goal? To discover and explore the gems of the Côte d'Azur, those hiking trails that leave visitors in awe, those spots that linger in memory for a long time. We chatted with them online about our favorite walks in the Côte d'Azur.

All this preparation payed off. They had a fantastic time on the French Riviera, walking the most scenic parts of the coastal path and some of the back-country too.

We thought you could use their first-hand account of their visit to this corner of South Eastern France. What did they like best? What do they recommend? Here's what they said:

AzurAlive: Views of St TropezAzurAlive: What was your favorite hike on the Côte d'Azur?
C & R: The Saint Tropez Peninsula. The terrain was varied and the hike long enough to be very interesting. A return trip is definitely in our future!  We want to hike the entire trail. On our next visit, we want to stay on the peninsula for a week so that we can hike on several different days. In addition to the hiking, we feel that the area is worth a longer visit. Our rental was in Mougins, so the round-trip drive was too long for us to be able to hike more than one segment.

DefiningYourHome: Hiking the Coastal Trail AzurAlive: Anything about the area & hikes that surprised you?
C & R: Words can't describe the beauty of the region! Every step on the coastal trails presented us with gorgeous views.
We were surprised by the outgoing, friendly treatment that we received everywhere we went.  This included restaurant staff and especially hikers that we passed on the trails. There seemed to always be a pleasant "bonjour" from other hikers. The hikers were all very courteous on the narrow trails.  It is apparent that the French hikers cherish and enjoy the trails.
We never knew of the many hiking possibilities available in the region. It is obvious to us that the sentier littoral are very important trails and worthy of preservation. We considered ourselves fortunate to be able to see the region by traversing these nicely maintained trails. Additionally, we felt as though we experienced France by participating in an outdoor activity that put us close to the culture, people and geography. We intend to return to the Cote d'Azur to explore more coastal hikes. We want to finish hiking the St Tropez Peninsula.

AzurAlive: St Rropez Pointe du Capon AzurAlive: Any tips for visitors interested in the full St Tropez hike?

C & R: Knowing enough French to be able to have pleasant exchanges with the locals will make for a more enriching experience!
Be prepared by reading the information provided in 26 Gorgeous Hikes on the Western Cote d'Azur.
The Tourist Information Office in St Tropez is very helpful. Stop by to pickup additional information on the area, maps, restaurants, bus schedules, etc.
If driving from another village, consider the time involved in the round-trip drive as well as the hike. In hindsight, we wish we had arranged to stay in St Tropez for several nights. We arrived early enough in the morning to get into paid parking at the harbor. Based upon our experience, I would try to hike on Monday through Thursday to lessen the chance of traffic problems. We hiked on a Thursday and tried to go back on Friday, but the traffic was far too slow to have time to hike.
Be ready to start the hike in St Tropez no later than 8:30am for the first segment. An earlier departure time is most likely preferable for the longer segments.
Take a minimum of a large bottle of water per person. Even with cool temperatures, the air was dry and the sun was bright. Pack snacks and lunch. We each packed  a sandwich cru as well as a package of nuts for protein. Wear sturdy shoes for foot stability across the varied terrain. The most difficult walking was actually through the deep sand on the beaches. We preferred to wear lightweight hiking pants rather than hiking shorts. Wear sunscreen and a hat if it's a sunny day.
Although we didn't need our jackets that day, we packed very lightweight rain jackets in our day pack.
Check on the availability of bus service (or other transportation) back to Saint Tropez at the end of your hike. Plan ahead to save enough time and energy to walk back to Saint Tropez. We walked back to St Tropez after hiking the segment to Plage des Salins.
And take your camera!

AzurAlive: Thanks for sharing your trip with us. Time to plan for your next adventure!

Click here to read more about St Tropez.

AzurAlive: St Tropez Port

Sweet Peas of the Estérel Mountains Estérel Sweetness

Each time we hike the Estérel Mountains, we find something new.

In this early part of June, we met with a sprinkle of bright pink fresh fragrant Sweet Peas (Lathyrus odoratus or in French, Pois de Senteur) along these rocky footpaths of the French Côte d'Azur.

The sun-loving creatures are also called "blissful pleasure"or "queen of annuals," for their dashing colors and honey fragrance. They may appear tender and delicate, but they're pretty hardy. They love the sun and are native to the eastern Mediterranean region.

We discovered them on our weekly Estérel treks, on the side of the footpath before the Carrefour de Castelli. They wore very bright pink.They'll also wear white, purple, sometimes a blueish pink. 

They belong to the pea family, but they're not the edible kind! Their seeds are highly toxic.

Their gentle pose even inspired poet John Keats:

"Here are sweet peas,on tip-toe for a flight
  With wings of gentle flusho'er delicate white,
  And taper fingers catching at all things
  To bind them all about with tiny rings."

Happy trails on the French Côte d'Azur!

Interested in exploring the Estérel Mountains of the western Côte d'Azur on your own?  Find out all about the 5 best  hikes in the Estérel with the hiking guidebook:  26 Gorgeous Hikes on the Western Côte d'Azur. The new book includes commentary, directions, user-friendly map and all the needed details on hiking paths. Available now on all international Amazon sites, including Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Germany, Amazon France. If you're already on the French Côte d'Azur, copies can be delivered to your nearest Tourism Board. Just ask us for details!

Elephant Hunting on the French Riviera Elephant hunt on the French Riviera400,000 ago, visitors to the French Côte d'Azur didn't snack on socca and petits farçis around a colorful flower market.

They came to hunt. They tracked and killed elephants, meadow rhinos, wild boars and other animals that then roamed the region.

Nice was neither Nice nor nice. The Mediterranean Sea was 26 meters higher than it is today. The entire coastal plain where Nice now stands was under water. The Colline du Chateau hill, now a great vista point over the French Riviera, was an island.

In 1966, a group of archaeologists lead by Henry D. Lumley excavated the site of Terra Amata just east of Nice's Colline du Chateau. It took them over 10 years of cautious, detailed work to find and catalog the 28,000 objects found on site and to reconstruct the history these objects told. Today and since 1976, the Terra Amata Museum stands at the very spot where Lumley discovered the prehistoric site.

Although no human bones were found on this site of Terra Amata, the site's coprolites (fossilized human or animal dung) told us about the early humans' lives, about region's weather at the time (warm though slightly colder than today, humid). The science of palynology (study of pollens) established that  holm oaks, Aleppo pines and cistus covered the nearby hills around Mont Boron, just as many still do.

While not huge in size when we think of the magnitude of the findings, the Terra Amata Museum brings to life the French Riviera as it existed roughly half a million years ago. It reconstructs the huts hunters built by the Lazaret cave, the hunting scenes, the hearths, the stone weapons they used, the large fire they kept alive with branches and sheltered with pebbles by the beach.

It's a great jolt back in time that gives this region all the more depth.

French Riviera beach time

          Place:          Musée de Terra Amata, Nice
          Location:    25 Bd Carnot, 06300 Nice;          Tel: 04 93 55 59 93
          Times:  Open everyday EXCEPT mondays, 10AM to 6PM with no interruption. Closed on Dec 25, Jan 1, Easter Sunday, May 1. See web site for current access cost.

The Riviera Times: June Hiking


Hot off The Riviera Times presses!

The first in our series of monthly Côte d'Azur hiking columns is out in the June '08 issue of The Riviera Times newspaper.

It looks good! And it comes just in time for the return of our hiking weather here on the French Côte d'Azur.

We picked one of our favorite among the many hikes on the St Tropez peninsula: Cap Lardier.

See RivieraTimes.comRead all about it in the English-language paper. You'll find it in bookshops across the French Riviera.

Restaurants in Provence Côte d'Azur

Gantie_2008It's out!

The Guide Gantié to fine food establishments (and hotels too) celebrated its 17th birthday this year with the launch of its new 2008 guide for the region.

The guide reviews 800 restaurants and bistrots and 500 specialty food outlets in PACA (Provence Alpes Cote d'Azur) and in northern Italy.

What restaurants are included? Mostly those in the upper echelon in quality and in price. It's unique in that it provides actually commentary (not all flattering), not just stars for ratings. Guide is updated once a year which keeps it fresh.

That said, we would love to see more smaller truly home-made style tables included, where food is exquisite and prices reasonable. True, these are few in the more popular spots of Provence Côte d'Azur, but they do exist!

The guide is available in English as well as in French.

We love its online version. After all, online seems like a fine way to go for up-to-date info in an industry that changes so quickly. Click on the icon below to visit the site. Nice web design, with nifty 360" video sweeps of the restaurants and hotels.

Guide Gantié