The two things I fretted about most before our “Walking the French Riviera” tour were fitness and weather. Though the tour was classified as leisurely / moderate, we’d found with the Amalfi walking tour that the Exodus definition of “moderate” could result in pretty seriously sore muscles. So this time I thought I’d prepare a bit, by doing more workouts that emphasized lower body strength.
But for weather, obviously, all you could do was try to bring clothing suitable to different conditions. (Even if it doesn’t all match.)
We went on five walks in total, all focused on a different aspect of the Riviera landscape. Our excellent guide Stéphanie would stop at various points to give information about what we were seeing around us. Though interesting, I wasn’t great at remembering that many of those details.
I have no trouble, however, remembering the weather each day.
Walk 1: Cap Martin
This one started right from our hotel in Menton. We did a seaside walk around a cape, then went up into the medieval town of Roquebrune. And though I say “up”, this walk was more on the leisurely side of leisurely / moderate, with an elevation gain of 350 m. Length was 12 km.
We were pleased to find that we were in the fitter half of the walking group of 12, and even more pleased to find that although rain was predicted for the day, it was more like just cloudy. There were a few sprinkles, but nothing too bothersome, and not really interfering with the views.
We saw interesting vegetation in the Cap part—olive trees, lemon trees, cactus (which Jean got a little too close to), pepper trees (like, the spice. Which I didn’t know grew on trees.). And Roquebrune was a fairly dramatic, somewhat Italian-looking city. This part of the France is very close to Italy, in fact, and a lot of areas have traded back and forth between the two countries over the years.
Walk 2: Sospel
This was our first mountain walk, a bit more of challenge because of the ascent (460 m) and because the path was rougher. To get to the trail start, we took a bus along the narrow, twisty mountain road. The day was predicted to be nice, so I decided to omit the rain pants and waterproof backpack cover, to make things a little lighter.
We pretty much started with an hour’s climbing, but found it quite doable. Our guide was very good at keeping a reasonable, steady pace, so no one got worn out by early over-ambition. Of course, we would stop periodically for the slower ones to catch up. We learned about some of the wild animals in this part of France— though the only ones we saw were squirrels, we did see evidence of boars, who dig up big piles of dirt. We learned that wolves had been wiped out in France, but they are now migrating back from Italy—which isn’t pleasing the French farmers.
At the top was a bunker, built around 1934 in anticipation of war.
We climbed up above this, where there is now a popular site for para-gliding, so a bunch of astro-turf has been laid down. Not the usual thing to see on a mountain top.
We had lunch here, and it was all very pleasant, until some nasty clouds started gathering.
So we gathered up our stuff and started heading down. But there’s only so fast you can climb down a mountain trail. And it did start to rain. And then it rained harder. And then there was thunder and lightning. And then there was hail.
(That would be one thing I hadn’t fretted about in advance: What if I’m caught in a hail storm.)
It soon turned back to rain, and it was just miserable. My jacket was waterproof, but I hadn’t put the hood up in time, so water eventually gathered in there and started running down into the jacket. I had gloves, but they weren’t truly waterproof. No rain pants, and “quick dry” pants aren’t so useful when being constantly rained upon. At least my waterproof boots appeared to hold (though I later found they were little wet inside; I think the wicking socks did their job).
When we got to Sospel, the rain had finally stopped. We had a bit of a wait for the bus, so we toured around the town a bit. But in the time it took us to get a coffee, it started pouring again for our walk to the bus stop. Yay.
At least the bus was warm and dry.
Walk 3: Monaco to Eze
We did manage to dry everything out overnight, partly thanks to our heated towel rack, and the Tuesday forecast was really good. Nevertheless, I packed rain pants, as I would for all remaining walks.
This would be the most challenging walk, I think, because of a significant descent required—775 m. But we cut out some of the ascent by taking the train to Monaco [I’ll do a separate post on some of the city visiting we did], then a bus to La Turbie.
From here, we climbed, getting amazing views all the way. It was just a perfect day weather-wise, as though a reward for the previous day.
Then, after lunch, began a long series of downs, first to town of Eze, a town built on the edge of a cliff.
Being in Eze itself was a little weird, as it consists of weaving, tunnel-like streets, so you feel a bit like a rat in a maze going through it. But we did stop for a drink at a cafe before doing the final descent, down to the seaside.
There were a lot of stairs at this stage, and many people found that pretty challenging. Again, Jean and I did fairly well with it. I thought I might have sore muscles the next day, but I was pretty good. I guess the working out worked out. (Jean claimed to be fine also, but I did catch him sneaking Naproxin.)
Walk 4: Saint Jean Cap Ferrat
This was the walk after our “free” day, and it was the flattest of them all, just around two capes, through beach front.
It was a beautiful day, and a beautiful easy 11 km walk on nice paths. We started with a train ride (France has a fantastic train network, by the way) to Beaulieu-sur-Mer, then just walked the easy route. Whereas other walks had been more isolated, here there were many beaches, and so many people out sunning themselves.
We finished this walk around 2:00, leaving us enough time to visit the Villa Ephryssi de Rothschild, which I’ll cover separately.
Walk 5: Castellar Menton
This was another mountain walk, and the forecast wasn’t great, so I wasn’t as much looking forward to this one. Still, the morning was very nice. The plan was to take a small bus to the town of Castellar, then walk up to the Italian border, and back down to Menton.
The road to Castellar was even more twisty than the Sospel road. We walked through the small mountain town before heading up on the trail. It was a fairly easy one as uphill climbs go, as the path was pretty wide and the ascent gradual. The path to the Italian border was more challenging, as it was narrower and more rocky. But everyone made it up.
We did have a good morning, but once again, on the way down, it started to rain. Lighter rain, though. And yes, this time, I had the rain pants, and put up my hood, so it wasn’t too bad. We actually had a choice here, of taking the bus or walking back to Menton. In the light rain, everyone agreed to do the walk down.
Except then it started to pour. And as we got wetter, more and more people started to change their minds about walking. Until finally, Stéphanie (the guide) declared that we were all taking the bus! She felt it would be too slippy to attempt the walk down (had there been any volunteers remaining for it).
We did get off the bus at an earlier stop, though, to have some time to tour the old cemetery of Menton.
And hereth endeth this tale of walks and weather.
May 5, 2014 at 10:33 pm
That walk longs interesting! I wonder if you can DIY. Could be a nice thing to do if (when! *fingers crossed*) I go back to France.
May 6, 2014 at 4:06 pm
Some of them, for sure, you could do on your own.