The Best Nature Hikes
The French Riviera is at the foot of the French Alps and is full of fantastic hiking trails for all fitness levels. Here are the best hikes:
St-Raphael: Esterel Mountains
|Recommended trail: Tour around Dramont|
Sights to see: Bay of Agay and the Esterel Massif, covering beautiful landscapes of the sea and mountain
Length: 4.39 kilometers
Departure from: Port du Poussai, Saint-Raphael
Duration: Approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes
How to get there: Drive, or take the train to the Le Dramont station and walk from there.
Website: Official website with trail info and directions
One of the most beautiful natural features of the French Riviera is the Massif de l’Esterel. It is a coastal mountain range of red rocks serving as the backdrop of the picturesque region. It is situated in a volcanic area between the Mediterranean coast and Provence spanning 32,000 hectares. Here you can have an enjoyable mountain experience just a stone’s throw away from the tranquil beach.
The Esterel massif provides a fragrant, protected, and vibrant forest for walkers. This area forms a magnificent view and has plenty of leisure activities: hiking and horse riding, mountain biking, climbing, etc. Vehicles are permitted on about 42 kilometers of road, circuits for mountain biking (100 kilometers of designated mountain bike circuits), horse riding (100 kilometers of horse-riding trails), and hiking (40 kilometers of walking trails) are all set for explorers.
There are several locations where you can start climbing the Massif and reach the highest peaks— sometimes a short walk is needed to reach the highest points—and each has its own attractions. Most of them have spectacular views that extend far out along the coast and across the Mediterranean.
Trails on the sites are marked for hikers and off-road cyclists. These paths are the best way of exploring the area. Among the favorites are those of Cap du Dramont, the top of Mont Vignaire (the highest point), the walk to the viewpoint of Cap Roux, and the Blavet Gorges at Begnoi-en-Foret further north.
The road following the coastline is on the southern part of the Esterel and is one of the scenic paths in Southern France. There are many spots where the sea and cliffs meet, with small coves of red rocks around water, and more jagged rocks dramatically opening to the sea. Along the paths are few small towns and beaches, such as the Dramont beach with stunning scenery.
With much of the Massif d’Esterel itself, being thick with forest there is a very real danger of wildfires and all types of outdoor fire are prohibited year round.
Mercantour Natural Park
|Recommended trail: Fontanalba Heights|
Sights to see: Valley of Marvels including ancient stone carvings
Length: 6.6 kilometers
Departure from: Lacs Jumeaux
Duration: 2 hours and 30 minutes
How to get there: You’ll need to drive. It’s about a 90 minute drive from Nice, partially going through Italy (so bring your passport, just in case). From Menton, it’s 1 hour and 15 minutes to drive.
Website: Official website
The outstanding wealth of natural wild fauna and flora is everywhere in the Mercantour National Park with its magnificent setting between the sea and mountains. Hikers will be welcomed by chamois, mountain goats, marmots, eagles, and bearded vultures as you traverse the vast natural region.
There are 600km of waymarked ways here. With six valleys emanating from the main Mercantour massif, there is a vast choice of routes. Overcome cols such as the Col du Barn, or take less challenging walks through canyons such as the Gorges de Daluis or around Alpine lakes.
One of the places to see in Mercantour Park is the Valley of Marvels, located between 1900m and 2700m and with a span of 17 kilometers. Here is where you can see ancient wall paintings and petroglyphs along the path of a magnificent landscape of rich mineral deposits and vegetation.
Another great spot is the Allos lake, a truly exquisite natural wonder. It is a product of a glacier melted a long time ago, and the lake has five sandstone peaks around as it nestled at the foot of one of the highest peaks in the Mercantour.
There is also the Pelat Mountain is known to be one of the easiest trails for high climbers in the Alps. Its peaks go up to 3000m and offer a 360 ethereal scene of the areas encircling the heights of Mercantour.
Cap d’Ail or Monaco: Tete de Chien
|Recommended trail: Cap d’Ail to La Turbie to Boulevard Tete de Chien|
Sights to see: Incredible views of Cap d’Ail and Monaco
Length: 5.1 kilometers
Departure from: Cap d’Ail (also accessible from Monaco)
Duration: 1 hour and 15 minutes
How to get there: Drive, or take the train via the SNCF station of Cap d’Ail, located a little downstream of the city center. You can also get to it from Monaco.
Website: Official website
From the center of Cap d’Ail up to the hill above going to Tete de Chien is probably one of the most spectacular views in the French Riviera. The surrounding sea, mountains, and luxurious villas meet every hiker with exciting and unforgettable scenery.
The trails are totally enclosed by nature, with cacti, exotic flowers, and wild herbs like lavender that make the climb pleasant for everyone. The white limestone cliffs stand over the windy uphill walk as you get nearer the peaks of Tete de Chien. It leads to an enchanting view of the sea and magnificent coastal views. The impressive sceneries include entire Monaco, Cap d’Ail, Cap Ferrat, Menton, and even Antibes and Italy on a very clear and bright day.
From the central parking of Cap d’Ail, go up the Chemin des Mimosas which joins the middle Corniche road; cross it at the traffic light and go up in front of the “Roman road”, a small asphalt dead end which borders on a housing estate.
Cross the road a little higher (unsecured passage) to find an authentic portion of the Roman road which leads to a model-making circuit. Continue the ascent by a path again cutting the same road (use caution) to come along the Loubière cliffs to the top of the Dog’s head (550 meters) which occupies the extreme south of the plateau delimited by the remains of a covered way.
Bypass the fort occupied by the CNET (574 meters) by a small road on the western slope and find a recent path traced in the eastern slope above Monaco; you quickly lose altitude thanks to many laces and stairs carved into the sheer cliff while approaching the first villas in the Bautugan district. A small, steep road descends through it to the cemetery (stairs); quickly reach the road crossroads and the center of Cap d’Ail via the ascent route.
Èze: The Nietzsche Path
|Sights to see: Views of the sea from the medieval hilltop village of Èze |
Length: 1.2 kilometers
Departure from: See detailed instructions
Duration: 1 hour to 90 minutes from Èze-Sur-Mer uphill to Eze Village, and about 45 minutes back down.
How to get there: Drive, or take the train to Èze-Sur-Mer. If you want to start in Èze Village then you can take a bus there from the train station, or park at the base of Èze Village.
Website: Official website
The Chemin de Nietzsche in Èze is great if you want an easy but tiring uphill hike while you enjoy beautiful seaside views from above. The round-trip trek of the 427-meter-high former mule path will take about three hours, and at moments it is rocky and quite strenuous, though not for a reasonably fit person. But what really leaves you breathless is the emotional sweep that seems to carry and lift you, especially on the descent, when the coast reveals itself and leaps straight up from the limestone rock formations.
The path connects Èze-sur-Mer (on the main road above the beach) to the picturesque hilltop Èze Village. You can start your route straight opposite the train station in Èze-sur-Mer, where there are plenty of places to park your car, or start in Èze Village and work your way down to the beach (to get to the beach you must take the tunnel under the road, accessible from the north side of the road by the real estate agency).
Èze Village takes about an hour to get to uphill (or 40 minutes downhill) if you are a more determined walker or about an hour and a half if you choose a relaxed pace. It is certainly one of the toughest walks in the area with its steep incline and many stairs, but all that work makes the views on the top even sweeter.
If you’ve walked down, it’s a good idea at least in summer to bring a bathing suit, because you’ll want to cool off in the gentle surf. The trek back up is steep in parts, and the cliffs that seemed like friendly giants on the way down now seem a tad forbidding, but if you’re not feeling adventurous enough for a round-trip, you can catch a bus in either direction.
Check out our full guide to the Nietzche Path.
TIPS FOR HIKERS AND CLIMBERS
- Wear the right shoes to have a better grip and avoid slipping.
- Bring plenty of water and sun cream, too, because the path in many places is exposed to the bright summer sun.
- Start early or later in the day to prevent the strongest afternoon sunlight (from about 10:30am to 4:30pm in the summer).