Weather Whine

French Riviera muddy trails in the Esterel Mountains

It isn't just Cannes and the film festival that's spiffed about the current French Riviera weather.

Being normally spoiled with fresh sunshine in May, we cannot believe the amount of water that's pouring down this week from our usually blue skies. 

Umbrellas are on sale again, and with a price-tag vengeance. Drivers snap and wail even more than usual. And my hiking boots are full of mud.  

So what's up, météo? Sun is promised for Tuesday and Wednesday this week, but it is then to go away for a few days. But sunshine is an inalienable right over here. It's in the Human Weather Rights Declaration; check it out in the fine-print below:  

Rights Of 1789

While our rights are being reviewed, here's where to obtain fairly good weather forecast for France: Meteo France.

Be aware that the French Riviera from Hyères to Menton varies greatly in topology and thus in weather. It may be pouring in Cannes but sunny in the hills of Fayence, or vice versa.

If it's any consolation, remember that "après la pluie, le beau temps..." 

Esterel Blooming

Siberia on the Riviera

OK, the title exaggerates a bit. But it's -3°C tonight in the Var by the coast of Southern France, and that's c-o-l-d for us southerners. The Alpes-Maritimes next door have it a tad warmer at zero right now in Nice.

For tomorrow Sunday, snow might visit the Var again even at lower elevations. That was predicted for today, but the skies were clear despite the freezing wind so we escaped the snow.

Micro-climates easily throw off the weather forecasts here on the French Riviera. But this site remains a good short-term weather predictor for the region:

Will it snow today?

While temperatures have dropped like a rock in the last four days here on the French Riviera, it isn't quite cold enough today (3°C) to turn rain into snow.

Snow is expected though for today!

Mostly inland, and not that far up in altitude (200 meters). We have our small plastic sand shovels ready to shuffle the snow. You guessed it, no one is ready for snow by the coast. When it snows here by the coast in southern France, the whole region freezes up for a few hours; cars panic, folks run outside and snap pictures.


Meet A Hermann Tortoise

At some point in time, the Hermann's tortoise (Testudo hermanni) was commonly seen slowly strolling the Maures and Esterel Mountains of the French Riviera. Nowadays, the tortoise is considered almost extinct in the wild in Southern France.

Why? Because these tortoises are adaptable, many folks grabbed them to keep as pets. Forest fires and land deforesting gave the animals another fatal blow.

We've talked about the Tortoise Village in Gonfaron before here on AzurAlive, Le Village des Tortues (SOPTOM), home to over 2500 tortoises of all kinds. Since its creation, the village has releases over 8000 Hermann tortoises into the Maures.

As local hikers, we are seeing regular signs that the tortoises are coming back to the Maures Mountains. Last month, we spotted one by hiking trails in the Petites Maures by Roquebrune-sur-Argens. Last week, we spotted another one by La Bouverie on the Petit Redon hiking footpath. A good sign for the local SOPTOM efforts and for the local eco-system.

Happy hiking! Turtle

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!

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:

Hiking Guide Gift



A new year is about to roll in and we want to wish you a happy hiking one!

As a gift, we're offering a free hiking guide to the French Riviera to the first person to sign up for our Newsletter! See our Azur Newsletter sign-up field on the right of this site.

It may not yet be perfect hiking weather here on the French Riviera, but it won't be long...


Walk on Water in Southern France

FamilyHike On a cold humid day stuck inside on the Côte d'Azur, hiker friends were recently day-dreaming aloud: wouldn't it be fun to invent a new walk-related sport that we could practice in any sort of weather?

Sure, snow shoeing is fun in Winter, but you have to drive up to Audibergue or Gréolières or Auron or further and only when snow is around.

Looks like the state of Assam in southern India took us up on this :) They're promoting the sport of water walking, where you walk inside a thermoplastic bubble ball that floats on water. Sort of like a hamster's wheel, except that it's a clear ball and it sits on water. The frantic running gives you quite a work-out: the claim is that 5 minutes inside a water ball is equivalent to 20 mins on a treadmill, and lots more laughs.

To get a better idea, watch this YouTube Video:

How about bouncing a few balls over to Southern France?

Tour de France 2010: Not South Enough

TdF2010Unlike last year, the Tour de France won't pedal through the French Riviera in 2010.

Instead of Monaco, the happening tour will take off from the south side of Rotterdam beginning on July 3rd 2010. Then it dashes south, heads to nearby Gap and Sisteron and moves west to reach the Pyrenées and the leg-burner peak of Col du Tourmalet.

So no TdF craze for the Côte d'Azur this year, outside of gatherings around pubs and friends' with big screen TVs. 

More info on the Tour de France 2010, check out the very complete LeTour site:

Big Brash Beautiful Bus

Bus I love taking the bus on the French Riviera. Plenty of time to admire the surroundings, lots of space for luggage, lots of plush comfort, of relaxation, of arguing.

I loved my latest bus trip from the Nice Airport to Fréjus. A poor customer who clearly had not read this blog post arrived 15 mins early at the airport bus stop. It was freezing cold. He asked, no demanded, to go in the bus. Listen to this: he was speaking in English. At the international airport, c'est incroyable. The bus driver said no, you wait. He got impatient. The bus driver told him that if he's unhappy, take a taxi. He started screaming that it was cold and what the hell, the bus was here anyway. Bus driver responded in French "c'est ma pause". He said he "didn't give a shit". In English. Big mistake - he should have said it in French. Bus driver "j'en ai rien à foutre," and exchange continues until it's time to board. Bus driver let me and others climb aboard. Fuming but freezing poor lad had to wait outside. Is last to board.

So. Are you visiting the Côte d'Azur? Coming from another planet where "the customer is king?" You're going to need some prepping before taking the bus on the French Riviera.

Top 10 Rules for Proper Bus Behavior
  1. Before: Allow plenty of time to find current bus line schedules.
  2. Before leaving house: Make sure you have exact change ready in hand. While waiting at stop: Make darn sure you have exact change ready in hand. Double check change in your sweaty palms as bus rolls in at stop.
  3. If your bus is ready, idle and waiting at the bus stop. Do not board until the scheduled departure time unless you're interested in a lesson in injurious speak.
  4. After the bus doors open for you, before you make any motion. Say "bonjour!" loud and clear, "bonsoir" if evening.
  5. As you climb up toward driver. Say where you are going. Do not attempt any other discussion at this time. Pray that you have a match between place you want to go and places where bus stops.
  6. Hand out your change in a quick cowboy draw.
  7. Take your receipt instantly as it spouts out of machine next to driver.
  8. With receipt in hand, say "Merci" and move back slightly. As bus dashes off, do not tumble. Appear sturdy and well-anchored at all times. Do not even hint that driver may have a lead foot.
  9. If bus is still waiting for exact departure time, attempt brief conversation. Try a dash of dry humor such as "quelle foule aujourd'hui" if there's not another soul on-board. Or "ça roule bien aujourd'hui?". If no response, sit in far back.
  10. You want to get off outside of a standard bus stops? You're kidding. Don't mention a thing. Walking is really good for your health.
And to think that in the States, we actually have to pay extra for this kind of entertainment (see Dick's Last Resort).