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December 2008
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February 2009

Roman Amphora Snatching

St Raphael Museum: Amphorae

In our previous post about underwater archaeology on the western French Riviera, we mentioned the generous number of amphorae and ship wrecks lying quietly under Riviera waters. They're the pride of local archaeologists and the joy of expert divers.

They're also the target of looters.

In mid-January 2009, a couple of folks were caught lifting an amphora out of the waters in the St Tropez bay. When police approached the diving boat for a routine check, they noticed a large object being thrown hastily overboard. It was an ancient Roman amphora. With a pocket of air still caught inside, the amphora simply rose back up to the surface and floated.

It is illegal in France to keep ancient artifacts discovered along the French coast, and snatching them is punishable with prison time and hefty fines.

In deeper waters, wrecks are discovered with sophisticated sonar and video equipment. Few individuals can afford this type of professional equipment so looting is less of an issue far offshore.

In shallow waters, ship wrecks endure more damage from plant and coral growth and from churning waves. They also become accessible to casual divers including a small number of ill-intentioned ones.
The Islands of Hyères (Port-Cros, Porquerolles and Levant), Cap Lardier, the St Tropez Peninsula, St Rapael, Cap Dramont, Cannes, Antibes, Nice, all are sites rich with underwater ship wrecks from ancient to modern times.

Interested in learning more about them? Take a look at our previous post on Riviera archaeology for books we recommend on the subject on (sorry, currently in French only). St Raphael Museum: Amphora from Rhodes

Hiking on the French Riviera: Rastel d'Agay

Vallon du Colombier, on our way to the Rastel d'Agay
: Rastel d'Agay from Agay
Distance: 7 kilometers
Difficulty: No flat terrain - only ups and downs of medium difficulty; mixed terrain with cemented steps Esterel rocks (mostly), and return section on wide graveled road.
: Hiking shoes a must, or at least good running/exercise shoes with thick enough soles to taper the sharp rocks and good support. Always carry drinking water as no fountains are available.

We've hiked the Rastel d'Agay before, but from within the Estérel Mountains. See here for details.

There's another way to reach the top of the Rastel d'Agay: heading up from the town of Agay. It's more work to step up from sea level to close to 300 meters. On the other hand, you discover the nesting site of a few nice villas hidden in the Agay hills. Best of all, you don't need a car if you're in Agay.

To reach the trek's starting point, take a look at the Google Map below:

Click to enlarge map

The hike begins within the Domaine du Rastel d'Agay, from the tunnel that tucks under the railroad tracks by a waterway.

You walk up the many steps among mimosa trees and cork oaks and keep heading straight at the intersections with the Rue des Mimosas and Avenue de la Mer then at the intersection with the Avenue des Lauriers Roses and the Avenue du Bourg. You soon reach the Impasse des Bruyères and then up the steps of the Allée G Bruerre.

At the top of the Bruerre steps, turn right onto the Rue du Bourg, then left at the T intersection.

As the road begins to veer to the left, enter what appears to be a private property at #228. Take 55 steps heading down on this wooded alleyway and spot an opening in the wired fence to your left.

Take this path up Esterel rocks. It's fairly steep. The path will swing to the right and up in thick bushes of maquis.

When the path reaches a V intersection (with a rocky cairn when I visited Jan 09, but those can quickly disappear), go left and up.


After a pleasant 15 minutes in the now open paths of the Esterel, you reach a major intersection marked "Groupement Forestier de l'Ubac". This is the Col des Rendez-Vous. You might spot horseback riders around here. There are a couple of stables by the Estérel.

StOnoratus Notice the small St Honoratus chapel by the intersection. Take the small path that heads up right in front of this chapel, by a cork oak tree.

You'll be heading up. Stay on the main narrow path, continue pass a rocky promontory (leaving the promontory on your right) and continue up to the belvedere where an orientation table still stands, badly beaten by the elements.

TopRastel You can head up to the metallic flag that stands motionless at the top of the rastel. Just head up the footpath set among rocks opposite the sea that makes its way up toward the top. You'll have to climb a couple of short sections.

To return, walk back to the orientation table.

Take the wide and once graveled road that winds down from the orientation table toward the sea. 

When you pass a huge cement water cistern, take the small path that heads down in front of the cistern.

When you reach the residential road, take the road on your left. This is the Avenue du Bourg which you walked on briefly at the beginning of the hike.

Pass the dead-end Rue des Pins and head right on the Allée G. Bruerre shortly after, in front of the villa named El Paradon. These steps will look familiar, and more friendly going down.


Port Lympia, Nice

NiceLympiaNice's Port Lympia never rose to its 18C ambitions of rivaling great commercial ports such as those of Genoa or of Marseilles.

I'm thankful for that.

The Lympia marina, also called Bassin Lympia, remains smallish and pleasant, with its glowing rows
of red and gold painted façades in neo-classical Italian style. Just behind this little rectangle of a port, Lou Casteu or the Castle Hill broods over the port's line of up yachts and its few ferry boats and looks over bay and city. Nice views from up there.

To reach the top of Castle Hill from Lympia, walk to Rue de Forresta and Montée Montfort. You'll encounter plenty of lovely cobblestone steps this way. A more leg-friendly option exists to head up to the castle: an elevator from the tour Bellanda on the other side.

A notable restaurant right on Quai Lunel also enhance Port Lympia:

La Zucca Magica (4, Quai Papacino), a vegetarian Italian restaurant with lots of love and personality. You eat the menu which has been set for the day, and generously at that. It's hard to say what the menu may be: it changes daily. What doesn't change is quantity. The cook is anything but stingy (4-course meal here). Lasagna is a favorite, but you're likely to discover a new creative version of it, with generous amounts of melted cheese. Lunch is around 25 € with full fare. Dinner runs a bit higher, as usual.

There's also a good Indian restaurant right close to Zucca Magica, but I can't remember the name right now...