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!)


Esterel Hiking: l'Esquine

Esquine, Esterel

While hiking around the Esquine (in Provençal language, it means spine or back) hill, we met a couple from the Vosges region of France. They mentioned how well marked hiking trails are in the Vosges.

Not the case on the western side of the French Riviera. The Var counts a huge number of footpaths, and most lack markings.

The Esquine Hike, Estérel

So here's a description of a new Estérel hike, the Esquine hike close to Fréjus. It's short (6 km) enough for a couple of hours. It loops along the wide sandy trail of the Esquine, touches on the GR51 and then heads back toward the Auriasque hill. On a clear day, views extend from the Estérel to the pre-Alpes behind Grasse all the way to the Aix en Provence's Sainte-Victoire mountain. And if you're up to it, you can even stretch it all the way to the Malpasset dam.

Our loop runs for 6 km, although the paths continue on of course so you can go as far as desired.

Map of its starting point:

Click to View Google Map


  • Park at the Col de l'Auriasque and walk toward the H75 Cante-Perdrix fire road. H79_Footpath
  • Instead of heading up the H75, make a right onto the small sinuous dirt path that drops down to join the FRJ-14 green water cistern.
  • Go right onto the H79, Piste de l'Esquine.
  • At the FRJ-06 water cistern, turn left and head down on the H80 Route Forestière du Balcon de l'Esquine.
  • At the next intersection with a hairpin turn, make a sharp left.
  • You may not spot them easily, but about 200 meters before the next intersection, on your right, 3 or 4 millstones were extracted from the flat rocks along the trail. These are similar to those found by Bagnols-en-Forêt by the Col du Coucou (an excellent hiking spot when not too hot.)
  • At the next Y intersection, go left and walk over a little bridge before you begin to head up.
  • At the FRJ-21 cistern, go left. You'll be walking by the ruins of an old charcoal mine before you reach the FRJ-14 cistern and the parking lot.

The Western side of the French Riviera may not have the best sign posts for ramblers, but we're thankful its many large water cistern.


Hiking on the French Riviera: Rastel d'Agay

Vallon du Colombier, on our way to the Rastel d'Agay
Hike
: Rastel d'Agay from Agay
Distance: 7 kilometers
Difficulty: No flat terrain - only ups and downs of medium difficulty; mixed terrain with cemented steps Esterel rocks (mostly), and return section on wide graveled road.
Equipment
: Hiking shoes a must, or at least good running/exercise shoes with thick enough soles to taper the sharp rocks and good support. Always carry drinking water as no fountains are available.

We've hiked the Rastel d'Agay before, but from within the Estérel Mountains. See here for details.

There's another way to reach the top of the Rastel d'Agay: heading up from the town of Agay. It's more work to step up from sea level to close to 300 meters. On the other hand, you discover the nesting site of a few nice villas hidden in the Agay hills. Best of all, you don't need a car if you're in Agay.

To reach the trek's starting point, take a look at the Google Map below:


Click to enlarge map


The hike begins within the Domaine du Rastel d'Agay, from the tunnel that tucks under the railroad tracks by a waterway.

You walk up the many steps among mimosa trees and cork oaks and keep heading straight at the intersections with the Rue des Mimosas and Avenue de la Mer then at the intersection with the Avenue des Lauriers Roses and the Avenue du Bourg. You soon reach the Impasse des Bruyères and then up the steps of the Allée G Bruerre.

At the top of the Bruerre steps, turn right onto the Rue du Bourg, then left at the T intersection.

As the road begins to veer to the left, enter what appears to be a private property at #228. Take 55 steps heading down on this wooded alleyway and spot an opening in the wired fence to your left.

Take this path up Esterel rocks. It's fairly steep. The path will swing to the right and up in thick bushes of maquis.

When the path reaches a V intersection (with a rocky cairn when I visited Jan 09, but those can quickly disappear), go left and up.

EsterelHorseBack

After a pleasant 15 minutes in the now open paths of the Esterel, you reach a major intersection marked "Groupement Forestier de l'Ubac". This is the Col des Rendez-Vous. You might spot horseback riders around here. There are a couple of stables by the Estérel.

StOnoratus Notice the small St Honoratus chapel by the intersection. Take the small path that heads up right in front of this chapel, by a cork oak tree.

You'll be heading up. Stay on the main narrow path, continue pass a rocky promontory (leaving the promontory on your right) and continue up to the belvedere where an orientation table still stands, badly beaten by the elements.

TopRastel You can head up to the metallic flag that stands motionless at the top of the rastel. Just head up the footpath set among rocks opposite the sea that makes its way up toward the top. You'll have to climb a couple of short sections.

To return, walk back to the orientation table.

Take the wide and once graveled road that winds down from the orientation table toward the sea. 

When you pass a huge cement water cistern, take the small path that heads down in front of the cistern.

When you reach the residential road, take the road on your left. This is the Avenue du Bourg which you walked on briefly at the beginning of the hike.

Pass the dead-end Rue des Pins and head right on the Allée G. Bruerre shortly after, in front of the villa named El Paradon. These steps will look familiar, and more friendly going down.

RastelOrientationTable


Esterel: La Forêt des Enfants

Foret des enfants morning walk Footpaths wind around the Estérel Mountains like lace. They're not well-marked, but worth a visit any time of the year.

Even in winter? Sure, the weather often cooperates with hikers here, even during shorter winter days. Frost might still cover the moss and ice may crackle in puddles along the path as it did this morning, but the hike will be all the more magical.Foretdesenfantscrisppath

For our early morning hike, we head up the N7 road north of Fréjus to explore the Forêt des Enfants, by the Col d'Aurisque in the Estérel.

Foretdesenfants After a string of forest fires turned the hills to ashes, the Fréjus community decided to replant the Auriasque section of the Estérel Mountains. Beginning in 1991, for each child born, a tree was planted. The mountain now thrives with a variety of vigorous trees and a few explanatory signs in what is now called la Forêt des Enfants, the Children's Forest.

The Auriasque pyramidal mountain that we encircle on this leg of our hike also hosts signs of celto-ligurian occupation; look carefully and you'll spot on the Auriasque's flanks, a double stone rampart, remnants of an ancient fortress on the hill.

Hike starting point:


See Larger Map

Hiking details: From the starting point at the parking lot by the N7, we headed west on the Piste d'Auriasque to the second green water cistern, half buried in the dirt.

We continued left beyond the water cistern, heading south and then, still following the main path, west until a major intersection marked by a sign that says H77 Route Forestière du FORT. We were back at our starting point here, after only about 3 miles of hiking.

Rather than end the trek just yet, we decided to walk south east from this intersection to the Cante-Perdrix path were more children grow in the woods. More magic with views all the way to Fréjus and the bay of Saint-Raphael.

Hiking map:

Carteforetdesenfants

For more great walks in the Estérel and all over the Western French Riviera, see the below hiking guide now available on Amazon.


Estérel: Hiking around a Wolf

Ascension forever

This time last year on the French Riviera, we had cold wet weather. This week feels like a summer, with plenty of sun, only a lazier sun that goes down sooner and leaves the air fresh and crisp enough for a light jacket.

Perfect time to lace the hiking boots and head to the Estérel Mountains, these rugged rebellious-looking pitons and peaks behind the coast of Cannes.

We decided to hike around the wolf, the mountain of la Louve.

The nice thing about the rocky peak of La Louve is that you can get to it quickly from Fréjus or from Saint-Raphäel. Great when you're around Fréjus this time of year, when the afternoons are short.

You reach the entrance to this side of the Estérel by the Valescure neighborhood. Take the Oratoire de Guérin into the Estérel fire road, and you're basically on the GR49 hiking path. You can park further up at the roundabout with the half dozen cork oaks.

Agrandir le plan

The Estérel paths around la Louve aren't well-marked and, unless you have a hiking guide, I recommend you get a regional IGN map (TOP 25) before heading out on anything more than a short stroll. Or, just head straight, don't venture off-path too far and return the same way you came.

Need more brief on-foot adventures? Try the latest English-language regional hiking guide to the western French Riviera.

Esterel Hikes

 


Estérel: Hiking the Cap-Roux

AzurAlive: To the St Pilon This week was the Semaine de la Randonnée Pedestre in the Var on the French Riviera. Towns and communes of the Var organized guided hikes for any and all.

The drizzly weather mid-week canceled some of the interesting hikes such as the climb up the Rocher de Roquebrune by Roquebrune-sur-Argens or the trek across the Mont Vinaigre in the Estérel.

But today, the sun allowed us to lace our hiking shoes. We hiked with organizer Stéphane at the Adrets-de-l'Esterel tourism board and Hélène to visit old Estérel friends: the Sainte-Baume, the Saint Pilon and the Cap Roux.

On a clear day, this is my favorite short walk (2 hrs) in the Estérel Mountains.

AzurAlive: St Pilon You begin with a climb up to the humbling sides of the sheered St Pilon rocks. There, a stage of red volcanic pitons rise over the sea like pipes on a pipe organ.

A few steps up to the Cap Roux lead you to an old viewing table gifted by the Touring Club de France. You peer over the Bay of La Napoule to the north-east, the islands of St Honorat and Ste Marguerite, Le Trayas, Agay, St Raphael further south, les Issambres and its finger of land pointing into the sea and the cape of St Tropez in the southern most distance. No views of Corsica today...

Cap Roux Map My usual trek back forms a loop around the Cap Roux, but the group decided to turn on our heels and enjoy the more bushy and more shaded trail on the northern side of the hill that lead us up here.No one complained. We were having a ball.

"This has got to be my favorite hiking loop in the Estérel; I've trekked it a dozen times over the years, and never tire of its over-arching views over sea and mountains," I told Hélène, our hiking lead.

"Tiens," said Helène "my favorite is the Ecureuil hike down belowin the gorge. Perhaps it's a thing with domination."

Never looked at it that way, I said as we laughed. Hiking never fails to bring a new point de vue.

We returned replenished to our starting point at the base of the Ste Baume mountain.

AzurAlive: Esterel Hikes For directions, click here.

For more hikes in the Estérel Mountains, take a look at our Esterel selection of articles on azuralive.com.

Questions? Drop us an email (see Contact info to the side) or leave a comment below.

And check out our guide below for some great hikes on the western French Riviera, with maps and photos.

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



Hiking the Estérel: Around the Cantonniers Forester's House

MF des Cantonniers, Estérel


Hike: Around the Pas d'Adam

Hiking Distance:  7.01 kilometers

Min Elevation: 240 m
Max Elevation: 422 m
Terrain: Nothing tricky but rocky; you'll need good hiking shoes.

Cantonniers_map

relief en 3x

Getting there (link to ViaMichelin directions)

The Estérel Mountains stretch for about 30 kilometers from St Raphael or Fréjus to Cannes, between the Mediterranean Sea and the Endre Valley.

While it seems small enough when seen from Google Earth, the Estérel counts enough large fire roads & smaller footpaths to keep our weekly hiking group busy for the year without tromping the same terrain twice.

If you're new to the region and without prior info or maps, you could get lost in the Estérel. Just remember the main reference points: the Mont Vinaigre with its watch tower is toward the north side of the Estérel; the Pic de l'Ours with its white and red striped antenna, faces east; St Raphael and its immense bay is to the south.

Cantonniers1

Hiking by the Cantonniers

We parked at the Cantonniers forester's road and headed up the H74 path called L'Aigre.

A few steps up and we reached and crossroad with an old worn-out post saying Pas d'Adam. We headed left here and up on the north-bound path.

At the Y intersection with the Belvedere de l'Aigre, we decided to continue straight/right. The weather wasn't clear enough just yet to enjoy the view from the top of the Aigre hill.

Esterel Aigre Path When we reached the Route d'Italie car road, we turned right and immediately reached the H64 Porfait fire path which we took. Nice regrowth of mimosa or acacia trees. These will be in full yellow bloom in Februrary.

On a roll from a downhill, we reached the "Place du Porfait." We checked out the old post from the Forester Administration (ONF) telling us we're 11 km from St Raphael and 24.8 from Le Trayas.

We took the right-most path from there and reached the Carrefour des Roches Noires, after heading around the mountain along its flank on a wide path. The carrefour or intersection is like a wild roundabout with a cork oak tree planted in the middle. The sign by it was too worn out to be readable.

Sumac in October, Estérel

We headed for a gentle uphill adventure onto the smallest uphill path on the right. It's a single lane track that skirts the side of the mountain. The sumacs were fiery red there on this autumn day.

At an intersection, we took the path straight ahead with a red and white cross (indicating this is no longer the main GR path).

It lead us back to the starting path which we took going left back to the Pas d'Adam. At the Pas d'Adam, we took the path to the right that heads down to the MF des cantonniers.



Sweet Peas of the Estérel Mountains

AzurAlive.com: Estérel Sweetness

Each time we hike the Estérel Mountains, we find something new.

In this early part of June, we met with a sprinkle of bright pink fresh fragrant Sweet Peas (Lathyrus odoratus or in French, Pois de Senteur) along these rocky footpaths of the French Côte d'Azur.

The sun-loving creatures are also called "blissful pleasure"or "queen of annuals," for their dashing colors and honey fragrance. They may appear tender and delicate, but they're pretty hardy. They love the sun and are native to the eastern Mediterranean region.

We discovered them on our weekly Estérel treks, on the side of the footpath before the Carrefour de Castelli. They wore very bright pink.They'll also wear white, purple, sometimes a blueish pink. 

They belong to the pea family, but they're not the edible kind! Their seeds are highly toxic.

Their gentle pose even inspired poet John Keats:

"Here are sweet peas,on tip-toe for a flight
  With wings of gentle flusho'er delicate white,
  And taper fingers catching at all things
  To bind them all about with tiny rings."

Happy trails on the French Côte d'Azur!

Interested in exploring the Estérel Mountains of the western Côte d'Azur on your own?  Find out all about the 5 best  hikes in the Estérel with the hiking guidebook:  26 Gorgeous Hikes on the Western Côte d'Azur. The new book includes commentary, directions, user-friendly map and all the needed details on hiking paths. Available now on all international Amazon sites, including Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Germany, Amazon France. If you're already on the French Côte d'Azur, copies can be delivered to your nearest Tourism Board. Just ask us for details!


Esterel: Hiking for St Honorat

Esterel Mountains, St Honorat Hike Pilgrims Hike to the Esterel Mountains

Hundreds of hikers walked from the town of St Raphael (and a few all the way from the Basque Country...) to the Ste Baume grotto in the Esterel Mountains for the yearly St Honorat (St Honoratus) pilgrimage. 

OK, it wasn't exactly a strenuous trek. In fact, we hiked about 5km under blue skies with a gentle breeze to cool us off. From the Maison Forestiere du Gratadis to the Ste Baume grotto area, two ONF foresters lead the way on horseback while  jolly Provençal musicians played three-holed flutes or galoubets and drums or tambourins to cheer us on.

After this light hike, mass was given in Provençal language in the Esplanade Santo Baoumo (Sainte Baume) by Don Bruno Attuyt. To close the ceremony, Bruno Attuyt chose the Coupo Santo cup of wine hymn, which earned him the title of "curé très sympa". We then feasted on aioli, danced a bit and enjoyed a little sieste before heading back along the footpath.

Esterel_stebaumepelerinage1

Interested in participating in this yearly event? The festive "pilgrimage" takes place the first Sunday in May. Check out the Saint-Raphael's Tourism Board's web site

Tucked between the towns of Cannes and Saint-Raphael in the French Cote d'Azur (French Riviera), the Estérel Mountains strike their visitors with their red rocks and their jagged crest lines and pitons over the Mediterranean Sea. The Esterel Mountains were born (250 Million years ago) from a few active volcanoes that centered around the current Mont Vinaigre and the Dramont.

The Esterel sports an intricate network of hiking trails. Find out more about them with the acclaimed hiking guide to the French Riviera: "26 Gorgeous Hikes on the Western Côte d'Azur".

      
                
    
Getting to one of the Esterel entances
:    
   
By car -- N98 coastal road from Saint-Raphael (going east) or from Cannes (going west).

At the main roundabout in Agay, turn inland on the D100, heading toward Valescure.

After less than 2km, turn right into a small road with a sign that indicates "Massif de l'Esterel."

Continue straight, pass the vineyard on your left, the cement ford and reach the Maison Forestière de Gratadis.

A Gift from the Esterel Mountains of the Cote d'Azur

Hiking on the Esterel St Barthelemy Footpath, Cote d'Azur, France The Western Côte d'Azur has been promised a third Réserve Biologique, a protected wilderness area dedicated to research for conservation. In the  generously built-up French Riviera, such natural spots are gems to hikers and to nature lovers.

Where will this nature reserve be located?

The Estérel's Reserve Biologique will cover 800 hectares of forest and maquis shrubs growing among the jagged red peaks of the Estérel Mountains, around the Cap Roux mountain  north-east from the seaside resort town of Agay.

The site will continue to be open to the public, of course.

What are some of the other reserves biologiques in the Var?

The Maures Moutains and Plains area includes such a reserve (for 2008: 2500 hectares) and so does the Sainte-Baume area (for 2009: 500 hectares).

Where can I hike, bike or just stroll in the future reserve biologique de l'Esterel?

Hike in the Estérel along the wide and comfortable footpath (open to bikers too) that sets out from the Plateau d'Anthéor to Saint-Barthélemy and beyond. This is an easy most flat trail that opens up both mountain and sea views. No water fountains, so come prepared.

This stretch of Estérel trail will soon include botanical panels posted along the footpath from the Plateau d'Anthéor and the Saint-Barthélemy rock. On your walk along this Estérel footpath, learn more about rosemary and lavender as you admire the viewpoints over the Mediterranean Sea and the volcanic peaks of the Estérel. Note: plans are to change these informational panels yearly and to remove them after June 30th when the blooming is done.

Esterel St Barthelemy Footpath, Cote d'Azur, France

Click below to look at our latest hiking guide to the French Riviera: "26 Gorgeous Hikes on the Western Côte d'Azur".

The color guidebook includes hikes in the Estérel (among others), complete with detailed maps, photos and site descriptions.

Available at all of the international Amazon.com sites (US, UK, Germany, France, Japan) and at the following local bookstore: Cannes English Bookshop.