A nice change from the busy coastal strip of the Côte d’Azur
The department of the Alpes Maritimes is in the south east corner of France and boasts such famous names as Nice, Antibes and Cannes. These names conjure up images of glitz, beaches and everything synonymous with the Riviera jet set, bikinis and painted toe nails. However did you know that just an hour and a half inland, life is very different, a landscape of quiet forests and deep gorges?
So near but yet so far from the busy coastal strip, the rural way of life still prevails, eggs and goats’ cheese are sold direct from the farm, roads are single track and you are very lightly to meet a flock of transhumance sheep coming the other way. There is an impressive network of paths for walking (including the GR4 and GR510), whose gentle gradients date back to the time when all forms of commerce passed along these remote paths on the back of a donkey.
The paths are well sign posted, free of litter, well maintained. They take you through abandoned olive groves, across Napoleonic bridges, to hamlets that roads have yet to reach. Lavender and thyme grow wild everywhere and it is rare to meet another soul. The area is made up of many folded ridges giving wonderful ridge walks too with views south to the Mediterranean or north to the jagged peaks of the Mercantour National park. The area is heavily wooded so there are lots of forestry tracks to explore by foot, by mountain bike or on horseback.
Roads such as the one linking St Auban and Aiglun are narrow and wind through stunningly precipitous scenery, ideal for cyclists, with excellent surfaces, very little traffic and a good sprinkling of cols. The roads circumnavigate the abundant gorges which have made the area a base for canyoning and rock climbing. You can don a wetsuit and helmet, and follow your guide down one of the numerous canyons, abseiling and crossing wire bridges, jumping into pools several metres below you.
The Alpes Maritimes boasts 300 sunny days per year but if you do fancy a day indoors why not go round one of the many show caves that this limestone area has to offer, or if you want more of an adrenaline rush there is the worlds first ever under ground via ferrata and a forest of adventure where you can literally go on a tree top walk and slide down a 470m zip wire. If you are not scared of heights, there is plenty of opportunity to try paragliding at one of the many flying schools or take a tandem ride to get the best view of the area.
This rural corner of the Alpes Maritimes is littered with time forgotten villages, where narrow streets disappear off between closely huddled old stone houses, plants adorn every corner, step and balcony. Wandering around these quiet little streets it is so difficult to believe that the busy Mediterranean coast is only just down the road. The area has many wonderful little restaurants and auberges, serving real French food to a clientele that is by and large local.
If you would like to know more about the Alpes Maritimes inland from the busy Cote d’Azur have a look at the website www.pottyplace.com. The site has been written by a Scottish couple who live in the Alpes Maritimes.