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Shades Return to Nice

Nice At The Prom, December 2008
Sunny days are back, after a couple of windy drenched weeks in the Var and in the Alpes-Maritimes of southern France. Bikes, roller blades and joggers once again ran up and down Nice's Promenade des Anglais (above pic). Shades were spotted on faces all over town.

Windy Var Winter

StaygulfangryPhoto: St-Aygulf under siege
In the last couple of weeks windstorms have whipped the western Côte d'Azur.

It's not entirely unusual for the wind (Mistral in particular, but also easterlies) to pick up and whirl for a few days in winter on this side of the French Riviera. This is different. Winds are lasting longer than usual. And they're being called "tempêtes tropicales."

Today, a 6-foot wave drenched the Saint-Raphael Christmas market by the seaside promenade. Over the last week, local towns such as Cannes, Fayence, Callas, Draguignan, were all caught in whirl winds with peaks at 150 km per hour. Instead of hiking with our trekking group, we're bunkered inside and cooking.

So there you go. It's not always sunny and warm on the French Riviera...

Esterel: La Forêt des Enfants

Foret des enfants morning walk Footpaths wind around the Estérel Mountains like lace. They're not well-marked, but worth a visit any time of the year.

Even in winter? Sure, the weather often cooperates with hikers here, even during shorter winter days. Frost might still cover the moss and ice may crackle in puddles along the path as it did this morning, but the hike will be all the more magical.Foretdesenfantscrisppath

For our early morning hike, we head up the N7 road north of Fréjus to explore the Forêt des Enfants, by the Col d'Aurisque in the Estérel.

Foretdesenfants After a string of forest fires turned the hills to ashes, the Fréjus community decided to replant the Auriasque section of the Estérel Mountains. Beginning in 1991, for each child born, a tree was planted. The mountain now thrives with a variety of vigorous trees and a few explanatory signs in what is now called la Forêt des Enfants, the Children's Forest.

The Auriasque pyramidal mountain that we encircle on this leg of our hike also hosts signs of celto-ligurian occupation; look carefully and you'll spot on the Auriasque's flanks, a double stone rampart, remnants of an ancient fortress on the hill.

Hike starting point:

See Larger Map

Hiking details: From the starting point at the parking lot by the N7, we headed west on the Piste d'Auriasque to the second green water cistern, half buried in the dirt.

We continued left beyond the water cistern, heading south and then, still following the main path, west until a major intersection marked by a sign that says H77 Route Forestière du FORT. We were back at our starting point here, after only about 3 miles of hiking.

Rather than end the trek just yet, we decided to walk south east from this intersection to the Cante-Perdrix path were more children grow in the woods. More magic with views all the way to Fréjus and the bay of Saint-Raphael.

Hiking map:


For more great walks in the Estérel and all over the Western French Riviera, see the below hiking guide now available on Amazon.

Hôtel de la Ponche, by Simone Duckstein

Click on above cover to see book on Amazon.

When we hear about Saint-Tropez, it's too often about a celebrity in dark shades hurrying down the narrow streets to the quay, what Jack Nicholson or Bruce Willis or Kate Moss might have whispered at the Caves du Roy nightclub, what possible scandal brews and where.

Nothing nutritious.

Unfortunately, all this banter hides the soul of Saint-Tropez.

So it's with delight that I read through a personal account of St Tropez from the eyes of Simone Duckstein, a Tropézienne from the inside out. 

Mme Duckstein was born in her parents' bed at the Hôtel de la Ponche in St Tropez. At the time, the hotel was not yet a hotel but the Bar de la Ponche. It was her mother's popular pub, etched in a triangle of homes that huddle together and look over the fishing port of La Ponche.

In her book, Mme Duckstein whisks us through her personal history as she grows up within a rapidly changing St Tropez. As a child, she lives in a St Tropez vibrant with the artistic scene of the 50's and 60's, the St-Tropez-des-Près. At her mother's Bar de la Ponche, she meets Picasso, writer Françoise Sagan, actress and singer Juliette Gréco, American saxophonist Don Byas, poet Boris Vian and many others. They're not celebrities, but familiar faces, like cousins who visit for the summer.

But the Bar de la Ponche, consumes most of her mother's time and affections. The book describes Simone's struggle with this, her family history, the tear that splits outsiders from insiders, her personal tragedies, and how she returns to the Hôtel de la Ponche and reconciles past with present.

If you're looking for juicy pieces on famous folks who haunt Saint-Tropez, you won't find it here. Simone talks about Saint-Tropez with simple affection and style and offers a lasting impression.

In French only for now.