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July 2008
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September 2008

JellyFish: Mauve on the Move

Pelagia noctiluca photo from wikimedia Commons The Pelagia noctiluca, a jellyfish also known as the Mauve stinger, dropped by the French Riviera last weekend. We had a personal and heated encounter with them on Sunday in Agay, between Cannes and St Raphael.

Sea currents carry swarms of the pinkish blobs across the Mediterranean Sea. Some of them let themselves drift to the shores of the French Riviera.

Not good. The jellyfish's tentacles sting and burn. Most pharmacies carry anti-sting creams that coat the skin and provide some level protection, but nothing fool-proof i'm told (i dare not test the claim).

Pelagia photo by Stephen Mifsud The Pelagia noctiluca, thus named for its purplish night-time glow, normally floats in the Mediterranean Sea in manageable numbers. Their numbers are on the rise. Why? The main culprit is an increase in water temperatures. The Mediterranean Sea has warmed up by 1C since the beginning of the 20th century. And jellyfish predators, such as sea turtles and tunas, are now in dwindling numbers in the Med. So the lovely-named pulsating jellyfish are having a ball.

And they're moving to wider feeding grounds. Remember the spectacular jellyfish strike in Northern Ireland in 2007? See the CNN article. A dense and gigantic swarm of billions of jellyfish invaded and destroyed fish farm, wiping out 100,000 salmon fish.

Turtle Unfortunately, the battle against tuna over-fishing is fraught with short-term vision and not looking good. How about introducing more local sea turtles who gobble jellyfish? That's not necessarily effective: the sea turtles may return to lay eggs on the French Mediterranean coast, but they love to wander far out at sea.

Still, many coastal towns on the French Côte d'Azur are taking measures to keep the stingers at bay. In 2007, the city of Cannes installed a floating net that helps to keep them out of swimming areas. Monaco has them too.

Tourism boards in St Raphael are talking about installing them next year, should the blobs return to visit then. Other seaside towns will surely follow suit. A good measure to keep the stinging tentacles and  swimmers a safe distance apart.


Hiking across Occitania

Occitania mapThe Italian cultural association of the "Chambra d'Oc" is  organizing a trek across Occitania, a linguistic and cultural  area that covers parts of northern Italy, southern France and northern Spain.    

The Occitania hike begins in Vinadio in the valleys of Piedmont in Italy on August 30, 2008 and ends in the Arran Valley in Catalonia, Spain, on November 7.    

The trek covers over 1200 km of trail, with a large chunk of the hike slicing across the Alpes-Maritimes, Alpes de Haute Provence, Vaucluse in the PACA region of France. Just above the Côte d'Azur, the hike enters France via the Park du Mercantour, to St-Dalmas-le-Selvage, to the Lac d'Allos and by the Col d'Allos (famous or infamous Tour de France summit), into the northern section of the Verdon Valley.


Occitaniaape2008This trekking initiative is part of an awareness-raising project for the Occitania area, entitled "Occitania a pe"  (Occitania by foot). It's looking to encourage awareness for the Occitan language (we often hear it referred as "Provençal Language") and to foster dialogs between linguistically diverse people.

The hike is also part of a Chambra d'Oc campaign to add  the Occitan language to  UNESCO's world heritage list.

Click on the Occitania A Pe icon for details on the hike (in Oc, Italian and French :). You can join the fun at any of the organized stop points.


Hikers on Hiking: Favorite Riviera Coastal Hikes

Around Cap LardierPhotos by Mariette and Lorne

There's so much to do here on the French Cote d'Azur that it's always good to receive spot-on travel tips as you plan your trip. Best of all is to hear it from locals or folks who have just returned from an excellent French Riviera vacation. You hear about that special trail, that special beach, that right-on tip as you're planning your vacation to the French Côte d'Azur.

So we're thrilled to hear from Mariette and Lorne, two fellow hikers from Vancouver Canada who recently returned from an awesome trip to the western French Riviera.

Although they hadn't planned it that way, Mariette and Lorne hiked along the region's Sentier du Littoral (Coastal Path) by gems such as the Cap Lardier and all along the sandy path by Le Lavandou. As it turns out, the hikes made for some of their most memorable experiences.

Here's what they say about their adventure:

M&L: We're empty-nesters keen on a holistic lifestyle. We live on the west coast of Canada, another place with amazing urban and back country (including coastal) hikes. We were open to try a few hikes on our trip to Southern France. Our initial plan was to visit St Tropez and perhaps fit in a short hike around the peninsula, time permitting.

After an experience with "code red" type traffic (note: visit was in July, around peak tourism time when many coastal roads experience grid-lock) when heading from Gonfaron to Cavalaire-sur-Mer, we stopped by Plage St Clair eager for a breath of fresh air. This was our first taste of coastal hiking on the French Riviera.

Aside from beautiful vistas, we also observed that this section of the trail is very well constructed and well marked. And it was a surprise to us that the segments of the trail remained quiet for a Sunday in July. After short hikes along the rocky shoreline and into the more urban areas which had us stroll through a beautiful marine, we were sold. We were going to discover more about these gorgeous coastal footpaths of the Cote d'Azur!

Lardier: Plage du Jovat AzurAlive: What was your favorite hike on the French Riviera?


After a 1 1/2 hour drive from Gonfaron, a "Parking Gratuit" sign in Cavalaire-sur-Mer caught our attention. This is where we started our 4.5 hour round-trip trek by Cap Lardier. The hike was pure in-the-moment bliss! No iPods, no Backberry's to distract us.

Our day would be best described as "un festin sensuel". Just the serenade of the cigales (cicadas) under brilliant blue skies enchanted us. And what colors best describe the Mediterranean? A pale sky or deep blue or turquoise? All of them, depending on where you look.

The path was well-marked, well-worn and not too arduous. We were only slowed down by the beautiful vistas that called us out to stop.

We found very distinct sectional differences along the trail which provided diverse coastal views. On some segments of the trail a canopy of trees provided welcomed relief from the sun, other sections had not much more than low coastal shrub. We also traversed popular and busy beaches including the Plage de Gigaro where we felt somewhat over-dressed. I'm certain we looked like the march of the penguins.

Plage de Jovat on Cap Lardier was the perfect more quiet spot for a quick refreshing dip and lunch.

AA: Any specific recommendations for this hike, other than to be well equipped with plenty of water, hat, sunscreen and a few bites to eat?

M&L: In retrospect, we could have parked closer to Gigaro and bypassed some of the beach to reach the beginning of Cap Lardier. A better plan would actually have been to start our hike earlier and to allow more time to appreciate this coastal region. I do recommend this hike!

Cap Sicié AA: Other great coastal treks on the French Riviera?

M&L: Around Cap Sicié. We were told that roads through the Massif du Cap Sicié were closed for summer. That was a perfect excuse to leave our rental car parked for the day and to head for the trails.

We walked along the beautiful sandy beaches of Plage des Sablettes before turning in toward the more urban La Seyne sur Mer. After returning to the coast, we passed by Plage de la Verne, a pebble beach much like that of Nice and Plage de Fabrégas and its black sand. Pine and other tall foliage gave way to low coastal shrub.

In contrast with Cap Lardier, we found a significant part of this trail to be quite open. Hikers will need appropriate head wear and protection for the sun. We also found this hike to be more physically challenging. In a few places, the trail winds, narrows and runs steep.

After a wonderful hike, we retreated to the nearby beaches for a seaside feed of moules-frites and a cool rosé wine. It couldn't get any better.

AA: What was your favorite aspect of hiking the Cote d'Azur?

When we left Canada, we had only limited information about the local coastal trails. We did not know how extensive the network of coastal trail, or just how many opportunities exist on the French Riviera for wonderful outdoor experiences. We're so glad to have found out about them.

Our favorite things about hiking here? Wonderful views, no need for GPS systems, heavy survival kits or weather gear!

AA: Thanks Lorne and Mariette for the trip report and for the tips on veering off the car roads into the picturesque Sentier du Littoral footpaths of the Cote d'Azur. We hope you come back to visit soon.

Click here to read more about Hiking Cap Lardier.

For a colorful hiking guide to the western Cote d'Azur with maps and photos, check out the new "26 Gorgeous Hikes on the Western Côte d'Azur" below on Amazon.com.

Cap Sicie

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Le Rouret: Hikes, Strolls and Discoveries

 

Azuralive: Roman Camp Site

There are times when I hike simply to breathe in gulps of fresh air, to stroll, to relax. 

Other times I trek to plunge into a new environment and discover new grounds.

In this south eastern corner of France along the French Côte d'Azur, miles of footpaths cross the country side. Some paths skirt the sea and lead us by ancient Roman vivariums, others have us cool off by riverbeds as we walk from one village to another (see hiking from Biot to Valbonne), others take us around islands or over volcanic rocks (see our hikes postings on the Esterel Mountains).

Some of the hikes start out as exploration and end up as simple strolls.Azuralive: Roman Camp Site

Recently, I trekked up by the little town of Le Rouret along the rolling hills behind Cannes and just ahead of the Gorges du Loup.

Le Rouret is a quiet village, even if the Pink Floyd keyboardist, Richard Wright, used to live there part of the year (Sep 15, 2008 addendum: we sadly learned today of the death of Richard Wright in London, of a yet-undisclosed form of cancer). Because it's close to the perfume town of Grasse, Le Rouret cultivates patches of flowers that blossom in season with jasmine, violet  and roses.

My idea was to hike from Le Rouret and reach the Roman Camp at the top of the forested hill behind the village.

Excavated by a team of archaeologists lead by Paul Goby, at the end of the 19C, the site revealed not just a roman camp site, but ceramic debris dating from the Iron Age.

So off we walked to discover Le Rouret and its Roman wonders.

The walk to the opidum site headed uphill, with a short steep section followed by a gentle climb. The dirt trail passed by a handful of villas, then headed for the woods. Anyone who thinks the French Riviera is nothing more than blocks of palaces by the sea needs to visit these cool wooded hills.

After about forty minutes of gentle uphill following the signs "Camp Romain", we reached the top of the hill...

No Roman ruins.

They were supposed to encircle the top of the hill.

Were it not for some rusty old sign that said "Défense de Fouiller", we would have missed the Roman camp site altogether.It's essentially a ruin covered by vigorous shrub.Azuralive: Roman Camp Site

We headed back down the other side of the hill. The dirt road was wide and winding across park-like settings.

Around a bend in the road, we stumbled upon a sign: "Champ d'Essai Truficole." We had hiked by a black truffle farm, one of the very few in the Alpes-Maritimes.Azuralive: Black truffle farm

In the early 1990's around 30,000 truffle-friendly trees (oaks mostly) were planted in the departement of the Alpes-Maritimes, between the coast and up to 1200 meters altitude. The idea was to cover 300 hectares (600 acres) of truffle farm of "truffières" in this departement by the year 2010 to expand the production of these precious mushrooms.

Today, the Alpes-Maritimes produces about 100 kg a year of cultivated black truffles and another 400 kg is picked up from wild truffle hunts.

This truffiere of Le Rouret is experimental and pretty secretive. Not a lot of information is published about it, possibly to keep intruders out given the price of black truffles.

And thus ended another Côte d'Azur hike filled with discoveries.

Click here for directions to Le Rouret, on the French Riviera.

Click here for more information on Le Rouret, on the French Riviera.

Cote d'Azur Flowers