Summer Hiking in the Var: Fire Risks

Hiking in the Esterel Mountains, French Riviera
Going on a hike on the Western Cote d'Azur in South Eastern France? Check out the weather forecast and check out the fire risks before you go.

Each day from June 21st to September 30th, the local government of the Var releases a map that shows the level of fire risk for  forested areas in the Var.

This map depends on Meteo France’s weather forecast and is updated every day at 7 pm.

Look for it here:

The French Riviera's Fiery Rebel: Esterel Mountains

Views of Esterel from the Corniche de l'Esterel

The Esterel Mountain range surprise many visitors to the French Riviera.

The French Riviera conjures up images of sand and pebble beaches, plush beach mattresses, long seaside promenades, bright blues of sea and sky, yellows and gold of sun and cliffs. Rarely do we think of mountain ranges when dreaming of the French Côte d'Azur.

Yet, drive along the "Corniche de l'Estérel" coastal road between Cannes and St Raphael and let the Esterel Mountains cast their fiery spell on you. The range's volvanic pikes rise out of the sea like pointed fingers in a dash of brick red colors. Their burned red colors contrast against the deep blue of the Mediterranean Sea. Their sharp, tormented peaks rage against the calmness of the sea.

If you are tempted to hike the mountain range, do go prepared with an IGN map as well as a good local hiking guide such as 26 Gorgeous Hikes. We have also written a number of articles on hikinhg the Estérel which you can access under the "Esterel" category.


Views of Esterel from the Corniche de l'Esterel

Sunsets in the Esterel Mountains

Hiking the Esterel by AzurAlive
One of the most pleasant, breath-taking walks in the Estérel Mountains behind Agay and Saint-Raphaël on the French Riviera, is the hike around the Rastel d'Agay.
We often talk about the Estérel's Rastel d'Agay on, and for a good reason. From the top of the hills, the Meditérranean sea opens up below, glittering in the sun, with its jagged coastline like a lace along the shore. 
When visiting, keep in mind that trails in the Estérel Mountains are not well-marked, and they're not lit up. The Estérel Mountains are wild, which is what keeps them so attractive. So when eploring the Estérel Mountains:
  • Stay on the larger trails, if you're not familiar with the Estérel. 
  • Or go accompanied. The Tourism Offices offer some guided tours.
  • Arm yourself with a solid hiking guide and IGN map. 
  • Carry a mobile phone, but keep in mind some spots may not have network coverage.
  • Carry a flash light, extra layer of clothing and extra drinking water.
  • And the one that most visitors forget: Begin your hike early! The sun sets quickly when you're surrounded by mountains
Just a couple of days ago, a lone walker decided to admire the sunset from atop the Rastel d'Agay. It must have been gorgeous on this clear winter day. After the sun had set, however, things turned ugly. The hills turned pitch dark; all trails disappeared under the cover of darkness; and with the cliffs lurking close by, every step over the rocky grounds could lead to a serious fall. The hiker called for help. Eight firefighters and a helicopter rushed to the rescue and whisked the hiker to safety.
Thankfully, no one was harmed except possibly the hiker's pocketbook. That, the story does not say...
AzurAlive hiking above Agay, French Riviera

Fire Risks on Fireworks Day Maures Mountains

July 14 means the national celebration of Bastille Day here in France, which means fireworks, firecrackers and risks of fire.

Even without the fireworks, the Estérel Mountains and the Maures Mountains of the French Riviera face the risks of fire during the dry season. As of July 14th, they are now in "Orange Zone" for fire risks. Hiking the Maures Mountains

What does that mean?

Every day and based on local weather conditions, the préfecture local government decides if its forested areas face an elevated risk for fires. They're then assigned a Yellow (moderate risk), Orange (high risk), Red (very high risk) and Black (critical level of risk) statuses. 

Black zones can't be penetrated by motorized vehicles (aside from authorized fire-fighting ones, of course) and pedestrians alike. On site, they're marked by a red circle on a white background. It's rare that a zone is declared a Back Zone, but it means stay out. 

Red zones are also marked by a red circle sign. You can't drive through them while they have this status. And it's highly recommended you do not hike through them or in them either. 

When zones are declared Orange comes the gray area, so to speak. It is recommended you restrain from entering the area, but you're not forbidden to do so. The safest course is clearly not to enter. Under these conditions, the weather is usually too hot to hike anyway. Do stick to the coastal path if open!

Yellow zone are fine. Caution is advised, as fire risks are never null around forests, especially after a dry spell. Esterel Mountains

How do I know the status of the Esterel and Maures?

You can check out the Var's Map of Fire Risks anytime online. Or call the local Office Du Tourisme.

Hiking is a great way to discover a region, and the French Riviera is a perfect example of this. If you're keen on discovering how gorgeous St Tropez is, for example, try its coastal path!  By all means, go prepared (see our articles on this), check out weather conditions and fire restrictions and you'll have a great time.

Gorges du Blavet

If you're anywhere near the towns of Fréjus, Bagnols-en-Foret or Saint-Raphael in Provence Côte d'Azur, France, you're likely to hear about the Gorges du Blavet. They're the local equivalent of the Grand Canyon, in a shrunken form.

For hikers such as ourselves, they're a favorite place to bring our hiking friends as the little canyon and its reddish cliffs not only look impressive in their fiery colors but the road that leads to them (D47) has a few great viewpoints too!

There are a few possible hikes around the Gorges du Blavet. In fact, we mentioned one in our hiking guidebook: 26 Gorgeous Hikes around the Western Cote d'Azur.

Much to our frustration, the hiking trails are not at all well-indicated in the area. With better signaling, it should be easy enough to head up the main wide path called "Piste de Bayonne" and turn right to the bridge before returning closer to the depth of the gorges. The reality is that the course is hadly marked and it's getting worse each year. BlavetAzurAlive4

For anything more that a simple hour stroll, you need a map, a guidebook, or the company of a guide who knows the area. And of course, you should always give yourself plenty of time for the hike. If you're well-prepared, the sights are gorgeous!




The Esterel Mountains: Bearish?


Earlier this week, a family visiting the French Riviera from the UK and staying at the Estérel Caravaning campground pedaled their mountain bikes like mad back to their camground at the edge of the Estérel Mountains. They had been enjoying a bike ride in the Estérel when they spotted a bear. A big brown bear, close to the ford named Font du Pommier, by the Roussiveau Forester's house.

The family rushed back and alerted the camground who called police. Police and ONF had the parc closed. They patrolled the grounds with sniffing dogs. No trace of a bear. They called local zoos. No missing bear reported anywhere. They asked the local farmer who lives close-by with her goats. Animals are as calm as the Mediterranean in mid-summer when the Mistral doesn't blow. A helicopter even briefly patrolled over the sites on the lookout for a big brown bear. No bear sign anywhere.

What could have happened? An especially large wild boar crossed the road. The witnesses swear it wasn't just a boar. A person in a bear-suit pulling a prank? Possible, and more likely than an actual bear - the Esterel has not hosted a bear for as long as local memory can remember. In all the years we've hiked the Estérel, we have never either spotted one or heard of someone spotting one.

While the mystery unravels, local foresters keep a keen eye and ear out for bear signs.
As for us, we're always bullish on the gorgeous Esterel.

Hiking Cap Roux Esterel


Bearly afraid? Check out this guide to hiking on the western French Riviera. 

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. 


Hiking above Agay


If you're visiting the seaside resort town of Agay, look up behind you. Those reddish brown rocky hills that peer over the Mediterranean are part of the Estérel Mountains.

Interested in a nature walk in the Estérel? We've talked about a few of our favorite Estérel hikes, and we've written a book about them too.

One Estérel hike with fantastic views is the walk up to the Rastel d'Agay. Because it's actually easy to miss the dirt trail that laces up to the top of the Rastel mountain, I recommend this one in a group setting or with a hiking guide or an IGN hiking map in hand. If you're in or around Agay for a quick visit, drop up a note and we'll give you more detailed info on the best trail to reach the top of the Rastel.


Another way to soak in the seaside views from above is to drive to the Plateau d'Anthéor stop in the Esterel. Follow the Google Map below and park just ahead of the footpath sign "H32 - Cap Roux". From there, you can walk on the main wide path down to the St-Barthélémy rock and return on the same path. You can't get lost!


View The Rastel d'Agay in a larger map

Esterel's Magic Tricks

If you have hiked around the Esterel mountains of south eastern France recently (the mountainous back-drop to Cannes on the Côte d'Azur), you may have noticed a change. Like magic, one of the main lakes of the Esterel has disappeared. The Esterel's "Squirrel lake" or Lac de l'Ecureuil is dry.

Why? One of the foresters working in the Esterel noticed a crack in the man-made lake's barrage about a year ago. The lake was thus drained for safety reasons.


True, hiking that side of the Estérel doesn't feel quite the same. And fewer animals stroll in the evening as they did to take a drink, but the reddish cliffs that surround the hiking path still glow like flames in the setting sun. I continue to recommend this hike to anyone visiting the region behind Agay, Cannes, St Raphael in southern France.

The Lac de l'Ecureuil hike is hike #3 in the hiking guidebook "26 Gorgeous Hikes on the Western Cote d'Azur", available on all Amazon sites (US, UK, France, German, Japanese).

Plans are under way to restore a small dam to capture rain water. We're expecting to hear more about these plans in 2011.

Estérel: Col du Mistral

Esterel: Col Mistral

Each summer, when sun and wind dry Eucalyptus and Pine trees and fire risks run high, parts of the Estérel Mountains close. The Col du Mistral was still closed to cars yesterday. This didn't stop us from hiking around Col d'Aubert and Col du Mistral, but we had to park at the Col Belle-Barbe and hike up to the Col Mistral. The Col Mistral should open up again to traffic by the end of September.