Winter Hiking in the Petites Maures

FromPetitesMaures

It may be crispy cool weather this January on the French Riviera, but the sun shines. Perfect weather for a hike!

We talk a lot about the Estérel Mountains for hiking on the French Riviera. But the Estérel Mountains aren't the only seaside mountains on the Western Côte d'Azur. The Maures offer a huge number of trails, some of them with gorgeous views of green forested hills and the coast and sea that glitter from St Raphael to St Tropez.

Vaudois2 
The Petites Maures are the smaller hills that you'll find behind Saint-Aygulf and Les Issambres. Fewer people know about them. To some, the Côte d'Azur is just about beaches. They're missing on a lot of fun!

PetitesMaures 

One easy way to reach the Petites Maures is the take the D7 road heading toward Roquebrune-sur-Argens from the coast. Turn left into the Château Vaudois and park just ahead of the winery's gates. You're at the foot of the Petites Maures.


Kitesurf Sensations: European Cup in Fréjus

KiteSurfFlag This weekend (May 28, 29, 30), the bay of Fréjus, St Ayguyf and St Raphael on the French Riviera is going to lighten up with hundreds of colorful wings. They'll zip, they'll tack, they'll zoom across the waters during the Coupe d'Europe de KiteSurf.

It's the third such kitesurf event organized in Fréjus. This year, it's also the third leg in the French national long distance kitesurf championship (AlpEnergie par GDF SUEZ Kite Tour).

KiteSurfFrejus2009The organizers expect around 80 participants, with lots more admiring the race on the St Aygulf beach.

The sun plans to shine so if you're around, drop by the beach. It's going to be gorgeous.


 


The Lucioles Night Hike

Lucioles

What is this night hike?

Every year in May, the village of Roquebrune-sur-Argens with the volunteer association ASCS organize a night hike around its town and into the  Maures Mountains. This year (2010), the night hike takes place during the night of Saturday, May 1st.

Last year, over 1700 happy hikers explored the village and its surroundings by night.

How's the hike?

Lots of fun! Three hikes circle around Roquebrune-sur-Argens: 6 km, 14 km or 20 km. Children under 12 can only sign-uup for the 6 km hike and must be accompanied by an adult.  There's also a timed race, for the more competitive ones.

 It begins at place Germain Ollier in Roquebrune-sur-Argens at 9PM for the first round of hikers. Be there earlier to pick up your number and T-Shirt.

What to bring?

A head lamp or flash light, warm clothes, cell phone, a safety blanket and whistle are recommended. Not that the hike is dangerous with the number of people hiking and the number of volunteers keeping an eye out for safety, but it is dark. Hike it with a group of friends or family - don't do it alone.

Where do I sign up?

You have to sign up before the race & hike - no sign-ups allowed on hike day. Cost is 10 € and you get a T-Shirt and breakfast at the end of the loop, free for kids under 12. Sign-up online at http://www.as-cs.fr/lucioles/ or at the Roquebrune-sur-Argens tourism office (phone: 04.94.19.89.89).

LuciolesPhotoByASCS



Hiking by Roquebrune-sur-Argens: Palayson

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If you're staying on the western side of the French Riviera, anywhere near Le Muy, Frejus, Roquebrune-sur-Argens, La Motte or in that general area, here's a nice hike on mostly flat open terrain.  

Why do I like this hike? Because it's close to Frejus, yet it's out in the forest of the Colle du Rouet where a few beautiful parasol pines, oak trees and bushes of mimosas flourish. Parts of the forest burned last year (see our article about it below), but this particular hike avoids the burned areas. Along most of the trail, you're surrounded by "Le Roc" or the Rocher de Roquebrune to the south and by the reddish brown volcanic hilsl of the Rouet to the north.

The Hike:

The full loop is 8 km long. The hike takes about 3 hours, going at a slow pace.

As with many footpaths in the region, this one is poorly indicated. Plan a little extra time in case you get lost and carry a cell phone... here's how to follow the route: 

  • Begin on the G78 Piste de Palayson after the ONF forest ranger station and before & to the left of the Maison Forestiere de Palayson.
  • Stay on this wide G78 footpath and leave on your right a series of branching footpathes: G89, G88, G87 Les Flacs Sud, G86 Les Facs, G85 Les Flacs Nord.
  • Turn right onto the G90 Le Catchéou footpath.

LeCatcheou 

  • At the end of the vineyard, take the path on the right, opposite the one way sign.
  • You'll cross a small river twice (river may be dry in summer), once with stepping stones and once with a jump (again, depends on weather).
  • You'll hike with the Rouet hills to your back and continue along heading south on the Piste du Trou de la Jarre. Unfortunately, I found no sign here to indicate the name...
  • You'll leave the G85 Les Flacs Nord, G86, G87 etc... to your right and continue straight on a path parallel to the one you took the other direction.
  • You see the G88 La Borne path, and again leave it to your right to continue straight ahead.
  • At the T intersection where the Trou de La Jarre path stops, go right and then left on the main G78 Piste de Palayson that began this journey. You're back at your car.

View AzurAlive.com: Trou de la Jarre Hike in a larger map

 

The Terrain:

The hiking terrain is flat the first half the way, with a short rocky downhill on the loop back. Not as rocky as in the Esterel Mountains, mostly wide sandy footpaths that you could also easily bike with an all-terrain bike. As with all of our hikes, you need hiking shoes or at least supportive walking or sports shoes.

Getting there:

The trick is not to miss the entrance to this "Forêt Domaniale de la Colle du Rouët" after Puget-sur-Argens when you're coming from Fréjus, on the other side of the A8 from Roquebrune-sur-Argens. The entrance is immediately after the discrete A8 overpass after the round-about that heads to Roquebrune-sur-Argens.

See the below Google map to pin point it.


View AzurAlive.com: Forêt de Palayson in a larger map


Antique Hunting at Chateau de Berne

Chateau On Sunday, March 14 2010, the Château de Berne in Lorgues opens its vast gorgeus and estate doors to professional antiques dealers for a brocante.

This antiques fair is organized by the association "il était autrefois", who has recently hosted a much appreciated fair for heirloom treasure linens (bed linens, boutis, drapes, tablecloths, hand embroided napkins)

Should be fun for the setting & landscape alone. And you never know what jewel you might discover.

 10AM to 6PM at Chateau de Berne, Lorgues, Var, France. Telephone: 04 94 60 43 53. Entrance is FREE.


Les Petites Maures

ReydissartApresMontee2

Wow! One of the cool things about the French Riviera is that even in winter, you can find a clear sky, a mountain crest to hike and balcony views over the Mediterranean. There's snow nearby in the Mercantour if you want it, but there's also plenty of dry trails for a trek closer to the sea. No need to wait for Spring.

And for hiking close to St Ayguf, Sainte-Maxime, Fréjus, one of the best sites are the Petites Maures.

(c) Conservatoire du Littoral It's a low-lying set of hills between the Etangs de Villepey by St Aygulf and Les Issambres that precede the deeper wooded Maures. These hills on the Comune de Roquebrune-sur-Argens, or 518 hectares of them, belong to the Conservatoire du Littoral so they're protected and not buildable (for now). Better yet, they're full of hiking and MTB trails with gorgeous views. 

Here's a good start at 6km (2 hours) of up-down treat: park at the end of the Ski Nautique lake off the D7 road that leads to Roquebrune-sur-Argens. You'll be right next to the Château Vaudois if you care for a taste. Take the F1 trail that heads up steeply, then at the top head right. If you prefer not to take the risk of getting lost heading down toward the Reydissart river below, just stay on the larger tail that follows the crestline. You can head back on the same trail all the way, for a different set of views. Or go all the way to the Bougnon mountain top (other side of D8) if you ok with some uphill. The Med and Maures views make it all worthwhile.


View Départ Rando: Les Petites Maures in a larger map

Adventures in Aqualand

Aqualand1 The weather's getting hot here on the French Riviera. Anyone longing for a change from the beach?

Here's an idea. Twirl and splash on the water-spouting toboggans, cork screw twisters, white water raft rides and gentle pools of Aqualand.

On the Côte d'Azur, you'll find Aqualand water adventure parks in Fréjus and in Sainte-Maxime.

They don't come cheap (24.50€ per adult in 2009). Find ways to cheaper tickets in our Tips section below.

The Fréjus water park is the largest, with an advertised 8 hectares of land filled with water rides.
To fully explore it, start with the maps given at the entrance and posted all around the park. Rides come in three flavors: green (easy for all kids), red (some for kids 9 and up) and black (white knuckles here).

Aqualand2

What's the scoop on Aqualand?

From my own personal testing, it's all thumbs up from the kids.

The younger kids (under 6) loved the Pirate Boat at the end of the park and the shallow Mini Park Jungle with the elephants spouting water and the easy slides.

Even though a number of rides were marked as "9 y.o. and above", in our experience, the security guard assigned to each ride allowed younger kids on these when accompanied by an adult. Favorites for the braver among younger (6-9 years): Black Hole, White Hole and the short but very fast Free Fall.

Older kids & teenagers have a blast too across all of the rides. The twisted Anaconda toboggan was a big among teenagers.

For parents? Whatever you fancy. And when you want a rest, park under a parasol on a lounge chair by the surf beach that beeps before it starts to pulsate with gentle waves. Beware, the few lounge chairs go fast (see Tips below).

Aqualand3

 The Pros

  • Lots of rides for all levels of courage from white-knuckle rides for big kids to waddle pools with gentle slides. You'll find maps of the park at the entrance.
  • Clean and well-maintained.
  • Each ride has a watch person keeping an eye out for safety.
  • Like EuroDisney, it's a whole different world in Aqualand.
  • Kids come back elated.

Aqualand4

 Tips

  • For kids, Aqualand makes most sense for ages 6 and above. Not that younger ones can't enjoy the shallow pools, but they're limited. A number of splash rides are for 9 years and above. 
  • To really soak in the fun, plan for a full-day visit. Bring a snack and plenty of water or get your goodies at the cafés on site.
  • Bring lots of sunscreen, hat, sun glasses. The sun reverberates against the pool waters. If your kids are fair skinned, consider lycra rash guard tops. For those who love the faster rides, keep in mind that a wet rash guard will slow you down...our kids took them off after the first ride :)
  • For discounts, reserve your tickets online. A family of 4 with 2 adults and 2 kids can purchase a "family pack" off the internet for 74€. Online again, you'll get more than 10% off on Adult tix (22 instead of 24.5 in 2009). Click on their web site http://www.aqualand.fr and go to "Promo Internet, Reservez vos billets). 

Looking for more info? Check out the Aqualand web site for current opening days and fares.

Where is Aqualand Fréjus?

See the Google map below. Aqualand has a large (mostly unshaded) parking area.


View AzurAlive.com: Aqualand Fréjus in a larger map


The Tour de Brignoles

Brignoles, Place Caramy
Hills of the Central Var surround it, lush with forests of oaks and pines. The Caramy river swooshes by. The A8 highway zooms above it on its way from Fréjus to Aix. Yet at first glance, the town of Brignoles appears sleepy, tucked in a cradle-like dip between hills and mountains of La Loube.

It takes time to discover Brignoles. After all, it took over 4,000 years to knead it into its present-day form.

Poke around north of Brignoles and you'll uncover prehistoric burial sites; the dolmens des Adrets, with their intriguing stone slabs, attest to human settlements dating back 4,000 years.

In Roman times, the strategic Via Aurelia road ran close by. The area was known as Brinonia, Latin word for plum. Small blueish plums flourished in the hills. But more on plums later.

RT_PlaceRaynaud Brignoles grew over the years. Ramparts were raised to protect it. They encircled the village, expanding outward in layers like the rings of a tree trunk.

In the 11 and 12C, the Counts of Provence built a tower, castle and their summer palace against a defensive rampart.

The citadel walls shielded inhabitants against the plague that struck so violently in the Middle Ages. Upon news of Black Death epidemics, city doors were shut to the outside world.

Time passed and ramparts turned into walls for new homes. The fortified town became a tightening maze of narrow streets, ancient stone doorways and a myriad of delightful plazas and fountains (24 in total!).

If you sit at one of the cafés on place Caramy, by the 17C town hall, you notice the softness of the light that trickles through three plane trees to the surrounding pastel-painted shutters.

You might miss the Vieille Ville, hidden behind old walls. Look by the fountain. A little sign points up and says "Musée, Eglise St Sauveur."

Climb up the steps on Rue du Grand-Escalier and you're in the Vieille Ville. Can you spot a plum tree in the presbytery garden?

RueDuGrandEscalier

In the 16C, French royalty loved to nibble on Brignoles-grown dried plums. Legend tells us that in 1579, locals discovered that lord and plum producer Hubert de Vins had ignored a less savory fruit: local taxes. In protest, they uprooted 18,000 plum trees, putting a squeeze on local production. A plum tree was secretly saved and planted in the Presbytery garden.

Continue up. Overhead, a buttress connects the Saint-Sauveur Church with its 12C Romanesque doorway to the "street of many stairs". Head south and you enter the Place des Comtes de Provence with its Saint-Louis Chapel, Palace and olive trees. It homes the Musée du pays Brignolais.

With such rich history to relate, the museum packs a variety of gems: the 3C sarcophagus of la Gayole believed to be the oldest in France, Christian altars of the 4C and 6C, a cement boat built by Joseph Lambot (inventor of ferro-cement), rooms dedicated to famous Brignolais from painters to Academie Française writers.

Sarcophage De La Gayole

It also reenacts a vital page of local history. After the discovery of bauxite in 1873, the region mined the ore used to make aluminum. In 1914, the Var department ranked world leader in bauxite production. Cheaper imports soon appeared. From 1973, Brignoles' bauxite industry declined. Its last mine shut-down in 1990.

Walk under the 14C western rampart door to quaint Place Raynaud. Silence and history reign inside the Vieille Ville

Back at the old town's perimeter at Place Caramy, the town buzzes around current happenings. On July 5 2009, the Tour de France pedals from Monaco to its second stop: Brignoles.

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


Fréjus: Big Base Nature

Base Nature Beach

When in 1995, the aeronautical military site by the beach in Fréjus closes its doors permanently after a slow retreat, a huge site opens up for public use.

Base Nature Biking

In 2007, this beach-side site by Fréjus becomes the Base Nature François Léotard. It's 135 hectares of public land used both for public recreation and some sections for nature protection.

Among visitors, not too may folks know about it. It was set-up with local residents in mind, but of course, it's open to all and especially appreciated by visitors with children.

What can you do at Base Nature, Fréjus?       

On any sunny day, you'll find kids biking around its huge tracks, skating with roller-skates, flying kites, playing soccer, volleyball, rugby or just hanging around with family and friends.

You can jump around hills set-up in the BMX park, try out skate boarding in the mini skate park, play volleyball in the Beach Volley field, kick a ball on one of the 8 soccer fields, fly a kite or have a ball on one of the 3 playgrounds.

Base Nature Pool Raining or too winding for the beach? Go swim in the Base Nature Fréjus 25 meter Maurice Giuge covered pool pictured above (in the summer, pool opens 11AM to 7PM and in 2009 full-price entrance runs 3€ or 22€ for 10 entries).

The Fréjus Base Nature also hosts a number of festivals and competitions:

Where can you eat in Base Nature?          

A cute and very friendly wooden snack bar, the Snack de la Base, opens up for ice creams, simple sandwiches, sodas and coffee smack in the middle of the park. Parasols open up and lots of parents gather around its few tables to cool off and catch their breath before they try to keep up with kids again.

BN_Restaurant From April to October, the Restaurant de la Piscine at Base Nature offers a more classy setting with Plats du Jour running between 12 and 20 euros and the cool drinks being welcomed on a hot summer day.

Interested in half-day hikes close to Fréjus? Check out our highly-acclaimed hiking guide below on Amazon.co.uk (and Amazon.de, Amazon.fr, Amazon.jp and Amazon.com too!)


Fréjus: Europe KiteSurf Cup

KiteSurfChamp

The wide bay of Fréjus hosts both the European KiteSurfing Cup and French long-distance kite surfing championship this weekend, May 30 and 31, 2009.

Expect around 80 competitors to fly their kites and slice the Mediterranean waters across the bay from Saint-Aygulf to Fréjus and Saint-Raphael. This afternoon, the winds blows heartily. Should be more of the same this weekend during the competition, at least in the afternoons.

Races start at 10:30AM. They break at 12:30PM and start again at 1:30PM, all subject to wind of course. Kite surfers launch from the Saint-Aygulf beach.

The local shop called Freeride promises to demo some of its equipment to folks with a reasonable handle on the sport.

Enjoy the show from any of the many beaches between St Raphael, Fréjus and St Aygulf. Traffic might get congested around the St Aygulf entrance, so time it right to ward off road frustration.