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March 2011
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May 2011

Hiking Lac de l'Ecureuil

Not so long ago, the small lake in the Estérel mountains called the Lac de l'Ecureuil was empty. it had been drained after cracks were noticed in one of the retaining walls below.

Today, the lake is full again with little trouts swimming down its creeks.

The walk to Lac de l'Ecureuil is a favorite family hike in the Estérel Mountains. Why? It's an easy (mostly) flat walk. And it gives you a glimpse at the beauty of the red volcanic pikes that surround it.

Begin the adventure at the Col de Belle Barbe. If you're not familiar with the Estérel hiking trails, we recommend you head to the lake and come back the same way. This will take about 2.5 hours of leisurely walk. As usual with hiking here, don't go if it's too hot, bring plenty of drinking water (no fountains here), wear hiking shoes and head out early to give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the sites.

See the below guide for details and for more great walk in the Estérel. 


Road to Paradise Temporarily Closed

The Chemin du Paradis, this ancient mule track that links the sky-reaching village of Gourdon to the Vallée du Loup way down below, is temporarily closed.

Rocks stumbled down the pathway, making it unsafe. Not surprising when you consider that over its 3.2 km (2 miles), this section of the footpath makes a 500 meters drop/jump in elevation. Walking up and/or down the winding track was a challenge, but the views of the surrounding white and rusty limestone cliffs and the deep valley below made it worthwhile.

The path to heaven will reopen. To find out when, consult with the Bar-sur-Loup Tourism Board:


Safety in Hiking


Every once in a while, we are reminded how important it is to take a few extra precautions before heading out to hike. 

One family experienced a potentially serious situation when hiking out in the Blavet Gorges by Bagnols-en-Foret by Frejus this week. They headed out late, beginning the hike at 6PM. Nightfall came quickly. With the night, no light to help them see the path. They got lost. 

We enjoy the Gorges du Blavet hike. We've marked it as "Medium" difficulty in our hiking guide, not "Easy". That's because, as the guide explains, you need to watch your step especially on the descent. In the dark, it's outright dangerous.

Thankfully, fire-fighters and the GRIMP (Groupe de Reconnaissance et d’Intervention en Milieu Périlleux) rescue team found the group and brought them back to safety. But it was no doubt a terrifying experience for them!

Some hiking spots are more prone to accidents than others. Here in the South Eastern part of France, the Gorges du Verdon are stunning & fantastic to hike. But accidents happen there regularly on the more technical of the hiking trails & on canyoning trips. I don't recommend going on the more technical longer Verdon trails without a guided group.

In the French Riviera, hikes are usually calm and worry-free. But caution always applies on any hike:

  • Make sure you wear appropriate shoes with good gripping soles. We still see a lot of folks struggling on the Sentier du Littoral coastal paths with heels or city shoes. Not fun.
  • Check on weather before you head out. For coastal walks, don't go if the sea is agitated and waves are picking up.
  • Bring plenty of water as very few hiking paths in this region offer water fountains.
  • Head out in the morning rather than in the afternoon. This is especially true for mountain hikes (the sun sets earlier in the valleys of the Maures Mountains) and at the bottom of gorges.
  • Always let someone outside your hiking group know the path you're hiking on and your expected return time.
  • Bring your cell phone.

Nothing is without risk, you say. True. I broke a rib on a perfectly safe hiking trail with a bizarre acrobatic tumble! But a few extra cautionary steps help keep the risks nice and low. Local fire-fighters and rescue teams here are very competent, but it's best you not have to find that out first-hand during your vacation!

Coastal Walks: Trail Maintenance


Officials for the municipality of St Tropez claim that 15,000 visitors stroll along the St Tropez coastal footpaths, but I think it's way more than that. At least, more folks hike the section from St Tropez to Pampelonne that the others (see Hikes 11, 12, 13 and 14 for details, available in the guidebook: 26 Gorgeous Hikes on the Western Côte d'Azur).

No matter how many lucky visitors enjoy these beautiful coastal hikes, the trails ("sentiers du littoral") get quite a beating. It's hard to imagine on a calm spring day like today, but these trails get whipped hard by waves and wind. And the ones by St Tropez meander close to the edge of the sea. So they need regular maintenance.

Right now, work is under way to solidify steps, retaining walls, to clear vegetation where it has taken over the trails, to add informational panels. All for our benefit. The work will cost €45,000 and should conclude before May.

Hiking the Petites Maures


If you're anywhere close to the seaside resort town of Saint-Aygulf close to Fréjus and Saint-Raphael on the French Riviera, consider exploring the hills behind the beach: the Petites Maures.

Views from the top of the mountains are gorgeous. And it's always surprising to discover these waves of deep green hills from the inside. You wouldn't suspect that so much wilderness stretches behind you as you relax on a beach towel down by the sea by St Aygulf.


Where to begin your hike? One easy start is from the Allée des Petits Etangs de Villepey, in from of the Camping Marc Hilaire off the D7 road that links St Aygulf to Roquebrune-sur-Argens. See the Google map below:

Voir Les Balcons des Maures agrandir

Marseille's Calanques: France's National Treasure

The Marseille calanques, with their 45 kilometers of white limestone cliffs that plunge into the Mediterranean, are about to become a protected national park. If all goes according to plan, the french national park label will take effect by the end of 2011.

Why a National Park?

Each year, about 2 million visitors enjoy the Marseille calanques in southern France, whether by boat or from land. Many fish, rip the Posidonia underwater plant with their boat anchors (the posidonia produce a great deal of oxygen and are considered the "lungs of the Med"), tread without much thought for its ecologically fragile environment.

The calanques are a much beloved landscape for the inhabitants of nearby Marseille. After all, they've been the pride of this seabound region for ages. And it's only a mere 432-meter high Marseilleveyre hill that keeps the gorgeous calanques and Marseille apart. So it seems logical to most of the population that they be protected. How should they be protected? Well, that's been a subject of controversy for ages, especially for land or business owners. But it appears that the National Park option wins.

So the idea is to protect the ecology of the calanques, to ensure that it's remains in full beauty for the future.

Currently, only the Miou archipel is formally protected as it was bought by the Conservatoire du Littoral in 1992 for a marine sanctuary.

What will change?

HikesCalanques Not a whole lot from a visitor's viewpoint. Access will continue to be free. Non-invasive activities like hiking, horseback riding, biking, will continue to be allowed. We expect to improved trail maintenance over time, with areas blocked off only when they're particularly environmentally sensitive.

With the advent of the National Park, expect to see camping more widely disallowed and mountain biking restricted to trails. A fair restriction to help keep the area stunning for years to come.

For more information: