The Wild West of the French Riviera

Théoule-sur-Mer may lack the glamour and urban flair of some of its coastal neighbours in the East, but has a nice little walk attached to it

Looking back over the Easy Hiker posts from the last six months or so, it strikes me how few of them refer to anything that we have done on our home turf.

On the one hand, this is good, I suppose, because it shows how busy we were making all those wonderful sponsored trips to places such as Greece, Malta and the Alps (full disclosure: travel bloggers actually quite like sponsored trips), but on the other hand, it is also a bit of a pity because there is still so much left for us to explore in our own backyard.

"Theoule-sur-mer, wild west of the french riviera"

Take the western half of the French Riviera, for example: we have, until now, never gone to hike anywhere beyond Cannes. This is largely due to two reasons: for one, that part of the coast is far away and relatively difficult to reach. (Stations beyond Cannes are not on the main line from Grasse to Ventimiglia but on an “extension” to Les Arcs Draguignan with far fewer trains.)

And secondly, it was my long-held assumption that whatever we were likely to find in the West we might as well find in the East, literally in front of our own door.

I always felt about the Western Riviera a little bit as I felt about different suburbs of London when I lived there. (Why should I travel from Southgate to Stoke Newington for my Sunday afternoon walk?)

It is that second point on which I have changed my mind. The western section of the French Riviera is, in fact, not at all like the stretch between Nice and the Italian border, as we have recently found out on two consecutive weekends of journeying beyond the familiar. (Listen, all you Londoners out there: Stoke Newington, I am pleased to report, is surprisingly different from Southgate after all.)

For one, the West, although perhaps not downright “wild”, is certainly not as densely populated as its easterly neighbour.

The coastal lands from Cannes to Menton can be best understood as a single, spaghetti-shaped city (sometimes only one row of houses deep, sometimes three or four blocks), and all the different towns are mere districts of “Pacapolis” (PACA is the French abbreviation of the “Provence Alpes Cote d’Azur” district), albeit with their own particular character.

Beyond Cannes, however, it is a different story.

"Theoule-sur-mer, wild west of the french riviera"

The Riviera is almost rural here, certainly less frantic and more at ease with itself. You would have to mark that down, overall, as a plus, I suppose, although all that tranquility also has its drawbacks.

Théoule-sur-Mer – Wild West of the French Riviera

Calling Théoule-sur-Mer – the destination for our first walk in the area – a “quiet little place”, for example, would fail to give you an idea of what that place actually feels like. The “centre ville avec tous les commerces” (town and shopping center) to which you are directed by a sign on the Theoule beachfront turns out, on closer inspection, to consist of a roundabout with a post office, a bakery, and two garage-sized shops selling beachwear and a few essential groceries.

You cannot help but wonder how you would pass your time if you were caught here during a three-hour-wait for the next train. (There are however, I have to admit, half a dozen restaurants by the beach.)

"A restaurant in Theoule-sur-mer, wild west of the french riviera"

Difference number two concerns the nature of the coast itself. You will not notice this immediately, turning right out of the train station past the village and down to the beach path (follow the red-and-white markers), but once you are in the Parc Departmental (up the path from the last of a series of consecutive beach promenades, called the Parade Pradayrol), the beachscape is rougher, rockier and cliffier than anything you will see further to the east.

"Dramatic rocks of l'Aiguille in Theoule-sur-mer, wild west of the french riviera"

Particularly when you arrive at the Point des Aiguilles, sculpture-like rocks surrounded by the most scenic beach I have so far found on the French Riviera – and I only refrain from calling it the “best” beach because of all the pebbles. (If you fancy a swim, I recommend that you bring some rubber footwear with you – and something soft to lie on.)

"A beack in Theoule-sur-mer, wild west of the french riviera"

The Aiguille and the surrounding Gardanne beach alone are worth the hike, but a second highlight follows shortly: the summit of the hill which overlooks the Gulf of Napoule …

"view of Theoule-sur-mer, wild west of the french riviera"

… which you reach on a gently climbing footpath, having crossed the Corniche road and turned left after a 100 metres or so. (For a map of the entire 5-km hike, go to their site here.)

The trail from Théoule-sur-Mer is well marked throughout (look for the yellow or red-and-white signs) and easy to follow.

There are only two slightly tricky spots: about a quarter mile beyond the crossing of the Corniche, you have to follow the yellow trail and ignore the red-and-white cross (the two trails separate here).

And once you have taken a brief rest on top of the hill and enjoyed the views …

"Theoule-sur-mer, wild west of the french riviera"

… it may take you some time to find the continuation of the trail which, counter intuitively, veers off to the south while you can already see the roofs of Théoule (which is where you will return) in the west, but rest assured: the trail will soon make a large sweep to the right.

But above all, do not miss Gardanne beach – which is theoretically possible, because the trail only leads you past, not right through it.

So keep your eyes open and look for the Aiguille rocks on the left side of the trail when it makes a sharp right hand turn to follow the coastline (about half a mile into the hike). You will not forgive yourself.

We’ll be doing more hikes and walks in the French Riviera so don’t miss our updates by subscribing to our free updates via email or following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Death is an Italian Opera …

15415892168_34e904d3bd_q

… at Milan’s Cimitero Monumentale

But there are cracks in the bombast, and you can feel how a very modern sense of discomfort is creeping in.

For centuries, death operated a strict two-tier system: cathedral tombs it was for crowned heads and high clergy, the local churchyard for everybody else. (Unless you were a certified saint, in which case your bones were distributed piecemeal across Europe, more precious than diamonds and gold.)

Sometime in the 19th century, this feudal two-class system was no longer felt to reflect the needs of a changing society, and a new middle class of cemetery was invented. The most famous representative of this new type of cemetery is the Père Lachaise: often described as a “city of the dead”, but in fact more a Paris of the dead, neatly arranged into streets and districts with large and

Continue reading Death is an Italian Opera …

The Hub of the Dolomites

thumb bolzano

The provincial capital of Bolzano has a long history, rich cultural attractions – and even some lessons for all of us

One thing is for sure when you go hiking in the Gardena Valley: sooner or later you will come to Bolzano, in nearly all respects the hub of the province, if only between trips to different resorts. So you’d better know what to expect.

Expect, above all, crowds. Stunningly large numbers of people. We were there in early October, which means late in the hiking season and roughly 6 weeks before skiing takes off in earnest, but the place was packed with tourists. Venice in August cannot be much busier.

This is probably inevitable, taking into account that Bolzano (Bozen) is the capital of a province which mainly lives off its tourism industry. Everybody who visits the Val Gardena or one

Continue reading The Hub of the Dolomites

The Hills Are Alive …

15537353865_6bb7f18732_q

… with the sound of sizzling frying pans on our Selva-to-Monte-Pana hike in the Dolomites Something I forgot to mention in the report from our first hike in the Dolomites: for the hiking guides, that hike served as their “orientation tour”, intended not only to familiarize the hotel’s newbie guests with the landscape but also to sort out the more resilient hikers from those who would probably be a danger to themselves in the hostile world of the high mountains. So what did Pauli and Thaddäus make of the Easy Hikers’ manner of handling a proper Alpine trail?

They were unimpressed, I am afraid, and we were among those who were politely approached and gently nudged towards the “easy walk on next day’s programme” – the one we had laughingly dismissed as a “granny’s walk” when we had first seen it on the programme.

Continue reading The Hills Are Alive …

Made it, Ma: Top of the World!

15516019255_cefd90fc94_q

In terms of drama, scale and majestic beauty, few areas in Europe can rival the Italian Dolomites

For us, one way of rating the quality of our hikes is simply to count the number of pictures that we have brought home.

On some of our hikes in the past, we have made no more than 20 or 30 shots, sometimes with half of them showing the same motive – a lake or a particularly picturesque water mill, let’s say. After hikes like that, it can be difficult to pick the six or seven photos that are the bare minimum for a viable post – and to find something meaningful to say about them, too.

At the other end of the scale, there are hikes that leave us simply speechless, but for the exact opposite reason.

From our first hike in

Continue reading Made it, Ma: Top of the World!