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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.)
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 …
… 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 …
… 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.