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Lamb jumps over the Sainte-Baume

Sheepish Above: Picture by AzurAlive of newly born lamb by the Pampelonne Beach in St Tropez.

Easter Monday here on the Côte d'Azur, France: A cute lamb falls 20 meters off the cliff of the Saint-Pilon in the famous Massif de la Sainte-Baume mountainous ridge. Caught by a safety net set-up to catch falling rocks, it survives.

Side note: according to legend, Mary Magdalene retired in a cave in the Sainte-Baume mountains.

Now local authorities face a dilemma: should it be saved or roasted?

Saving the lamb means calling the a special-operations team called GRIMP: Groupe d'Intervention en Milieux Perilleux. This is a highly-trained team that saves people in cliff-hanging situations that surpass the training and equipment of regular fire-fighters. In the Var department of South-Eastern France, the GRIMP team most frequently intervenes in the Gorges du Verdon and at the Sainte-Baume. They're few, experts, expensive.

The other option is to watch the lamb dangle, suffer and die.

Naturally, GRIMP tackles the cliff and hauls the injured lamb to safety, gently carrying it on their human backs. It is now recovering at the vet's in Carcès. 

This stunt-loving sheep may still end up in a provençal lamb stew, but for now, it's a very lucky little lamb.


Hiking the Estérel: Les Suvières

Suvières1

The area of the Estérel Mountains called Les Suvières for its magnificent forest of cork oak trees (from Provençal for oak) has gotten more difficult to reach.

It used to be accessible two ways:

  1. from a road off the N7 to Cannes close to St Jean de Cannes that leads up to the Trois Termes Forester's House
  2. from the Col de la Cadière smack in the center of the Estérel Mountains.

Today, the road up from the N7 to the Trois Termes Forester's House is closed to cars as it's on private property. Cars would jam pack the small road during sunny weekends, raising safety and liability concerns with the owner. The mountain road inside the Estérel from the Col Notre-Dame to Col de Cadière is also closed due to its bumpy state.

And thus hiking to the Suvières now takes more effort. It's no longer a 2-hour easy loop from the Trois Termes, but more like a 4-hour round-trip loop from the Col du Mistral or the Col de Belle-Barbe, for example.

You'll be well-rewarded by the magnificient site of the Sommet du Marsaou and the still pristine oak trees around the Suvières.

Interested in more info on half-day hikes on the French Riviera? Check out our highly-acclaimed hiking guide below on Amazon.com (and Amazon.co.uk too!)


French Presidents and Fort Bregançon

Begancon Sitting on a tiny rock in the Var in the South of France and perched 35 meters above the sea, the 17C Fort of Brégançon is property of the French State. Since 1968, it has been an official presidential residence.

Some presidents love Brégaçon more than others. President Général de Gaulle was the first president to have slept on the premises in 1964. The fort was in dire shape at the time. De Gaulle swore never to set foot on it again.

French president Georges Pompidou stayed at the fort a number of times, as did Valéry Giscard d'Estaing. Mitterand wasn't as fond of the spot. He visited, but only stayed overnight once. Chirac enjoyed Brégançon although he reportedly felt imprisoned on the site.

Begancon

That's not surprising. Sheer cliffs surround the fort like prison walls. It reminds me of California's Alcatraz. The would-be island rock hangs on to the continental coast by a jetty. During official visits, guards wander all around the Bregançon by boat. Only paparazzi helicopters manage to approach the fort close enough to snap juicy pictures.

Nowadays, presidential residences are under close scrutiny of another type. Money. With French presidential budget pressured to shrink, the four presidential residences (Château de Rambouillet, Domaine de Marly-le-Roi, Domaine de Souzy-la-Briche and Fort de Brégançon) are closely watched for their expenses. Together, they cost half a million (528,000€) euros in yearly maintenance. And thus, most of them have recently been handed off to municipalities and to the Minister of Culture. Not Bregançon. It may be on the French Riviera, but it's the least expensive of the four residences to maintain.

Thus the Fort de Brégançon remains the emblematic presidential residence it has been since 1968.

Will you spot current French president there? Sarkozy may love the Var, but it isn't at the Fort de Bregançon that he most often vacations. Carla and Nicolas prefer Cap Nègre, close-by in the Var and the location of the Bruni-Tedeschi family home.

Cabasson Beach by Begancon


Hiking by La Motte: Le Saut du Capelan

P1010021(2)The village of La Motte may be just 20 minutes away from Fréjus and Saint-Raphael, but it's a world apart from the bustling French Riviera.

It's a gentle village. Its handful of streets lean down toward the main street, huddled together and inclined as if acquiescing.

Shutters that reach low enough to be able to bump heads warn the passer-by with a sign: "Volet Ouvrant." The Charcuterie and the Epicerie grocery stores wear painted signs. No blinking neon here. Water fountains dot the village here and there and trickle.

If you're inclined to walk, as we are, La Motte has a nifty little trail that heads to a water fountain called le Saut du Capelan (the priest's dive). This is where the Nartuby river, a river that begins and ends entirely within the Var department, plunges some 22 meters to a splash and a rumble.

P1010027The loop from the main village to the waterfall and back runs about 3 kilometers and takes about one hour. It's well-marked from the center of town.

If you're adventurous, after your stroll along the vineyards by the Saut du Capelan, you can continue through the path along the vines. After the vineyards, veer right and down toward a wooded area, then to the left on the D47 for 50 meters before reaching across to the Le Rousset path (marked as such). The Le Rousset trail heads up a while and meanders on the flanks of the hills to the west of Le Rousset. Turn right after the large green water fountain on the right of the Rousset path and find your way among newly-built villas back to the D254. Take the D254 on the right and walk back to town. 

And even if the priest's dive is enough of a hike for you, don't miss a visit to the local vineyards. They abound in the area. Some of the better known ones: Château du Rouet, Château Sainte-Roseline, Domaine des Demoiselles, and many many more.


Click here to see Google map of La Motte


Hikes by Roquebrune-sur-Argens: La Cavalière


Rocher de Roquebrune

The town of Roquebrune-sur-Argens harbors many treats. We've talked about a number of them on AzurAlive.com:

The Rocher de Roquebrune: www.azuralive.com/2007/07/roquebrune-sur-.html
Hiking the GR51: www.azuralive.com/2009/02/hi.html
Picking Fresh Fruit from the Farm: www.azuralive.com/2006/10/bites_la_frambo.html

Here's another favorite hike of ours along the wooded hills of the Maures Mountains just south of Roquebrune-sur-Argens.

While the town has marked a few trails for the pleasure of its visitors, I especially like this mostly unmarked hike because of the variety of views: the Rocher de Roquebrune, the gurgling river la Petite Maurette, the mountains of l'Escaillon, la Haute Cavalière, la Cavalière and the wonderfully weird hermit shelter...

Hike     : 6.8 km (2 hours for average hiker)
Terrain: sandy and rocky footpaths, some brief stretch of asphalt. Some short steep uphill and downhill. On sunny days, the hillsides are exposed to the sun during more than half of this hike.

Starting point for the hike


Click to See Larger Map

Using great navigation tools such as above Google or ViaMichelin, find your way up to Roquebrune-sur-Argens' cemetery. Park there and lace up those hiking boots. As usual, make sure you have plenty of fresh drinking water with you as there are no water fountains here. No pubs either. This is 100% nature.

  • Head to the Chapel Saint-Anne and walk along its side and then onto the footpath that runs parallel and just above the F23 La Cavalière paved road.
  • Make your way (1 km) to the site called Les Vingt-Cinq Ponts or the 25 Bridges. This is the site of an aqueduct built in the 18C to supply water to a then growing town of Roquebrune-sur-Argens.
  • Continue beyond the aqueduct on the paths marked with Blue, Yellow and Red (B/Y/R).
  • Still following the B/Y/R signs, head into the narrowing path that's blocked to traffic with two wood logs.
  • Pass the river La Petite Maurette, skipping over whatever rocks may still be there (rarely impassable). The path begins to climb.
  • At the intersection, take the left-most path, the path marked in red. The rock of Roquebrune-sur-Argens enters the view, on your right.
  • At the next intersection, stay on the left path which is marked in Red and Blue.
  • Shortly after, you run into a 4-way crossing. Take the Blue path straight ahead.
  • Walk by the river for about 20 minutes until you see on your left a wide path that crosses the river (first path to do so). Take this path, which has you climb up the flanks of the Cavalière hill. After 15 minutes, you'll walk by a strange-looking house make with tires, wood planks, car mirrors... continue on up.
  • About 10 minutes after the hermit's lodge, the path will make a sharp hairpin turn to the right and climb. Don't make that turn but head straight into a narrower wild path.
  • You'll soon reach a wide open area with a nice-looking provençal house that overlooks both the Rocher de Roquebrune and the Argens Valley below.
  • Take the asphalted road on the right that heads down back to the F23 Cavalière road.
  • Turn left on the F23 Cavalière road. It's a pleasant road, but narrow and open to cars so being careful of traffic. You'll soon pass the 25 Ponts on the left and can return to your car on the path that lead you to the aqueduct.
  • MrPhotographe