Southern France, June 2011

I got a weekend to spare in southern France and didn't quite fancy to sit at the beach of the Côte d'Azur.

So I decided to do some walking instead.

Someone told me of the web site, which is a site that lists walks and hikes in the Alpes-Maritimes district of France.

So I decided to do some easy walks from that site during the weekend.

My hotel was in Juan-les-Pins, so the obvious choice for a nice evening walk was the "Tour du Cap d'Antibes". It was also useful for 'calibrating' the information on the web page, since most of the walks in the higher regions don't have total distances (since these can be very misleading in the mountains), but an estimated walking time. And doing a small walk, just to see whether the times are overly careful or overly ambitious, seemed like a good idea.

The walk around the cape was a bit dull at the beginning, since I started from the 'wrong side' (coming from Juan-les-Pins instead of Antibes. There is a part of the coast that is not accessible for 'ordinary folks' (that part belongs to the grounds of a fairly expensive hotel), so you need to walk inland along the streets, mostly with high walls to the sides.

But once you actually get to the coast, it's a fun and relaxed walk.

Tour du Cap d'Antibes Tour du Cap d'Antibes Tour du Cap d'Antibes Tour du Cap d'Antibes

The next day I had a bit of a drive first. I wanted to do the Sentier Planétaire walk, which starts in Valberg in the western Alps. Partly because it looked like a nice and reasonably easy walk in the mountains, but mainly because I'm a sucker for science presentations and combining a walk with some stuff about the solar system sounded great.

(Note about timing: For the other walks, the time given for the walks pretty much matched my walking speed, but this one was a bit off. Admittedly, I can't read French, so I didn't stop that long at the info signs, but it probably is more a three hour walk than the five hours given as an estimate.)

Doing that walk turned out to be a good decision. From a walking point of view there were nice paths, good views and a fair amount of different environments to walk in.

And from a 'Solar System Walk' it turned out to be (though I am aware that I am spreading stereotypes here) very 'French'.

And in a good way.

The usual trouble with walks like this is the pure scale of the solar system. If you start with a decent sized sun (often it's a meter diameter or so), you probably wouldn't notice most planets by themselves.

Earth has a diameter of less than a centimeter, so if you just model Earth somewhere, you have to look for a small marble somewhere.

To avoid this, most walks have some sort of big marker stone standing at the proper place with the planet size represented as some small half-sphere or disc on that marker. Even for big stuff like Jupiter, you're looking for a ball the size of an orange. Accurate, but not very impressive.

The other problem is empty space. If you put things at 'proper' distances, you meet the inner planets (and even Jupiter) reasonably fast, but after that, it's more of a kilometer between planets. (And, if you still count Pluto as a planet, it's a kilometer walk from Neptune to find a sphere the size of a pin's head.)

So the designers of this Solar System essentially decided to ignore 'scientific' correct representations, but went for art instead.

So instead of having a small sphere as Jupiter, they had a disc with a stylized lightning bolt through it (taking its cue from the deity Jupiter being associated with throwing lightning bolts).

And Mercury / Mercure, who was, according to myth, a messenger, the planet was hidden behind a 'You have mail' sign.

For Saturn, the ringed planet was just the eye of a large face-like sculpture.

They didn't disregard the scientific bits, but limited them to an info table next to the sculpture, but instead of going for 'realistic' representations of the solar systems, they went for an artistic representation instead.

Which I liked a lot.



















Not only did it free the walk from visiting just small spheres a kilometer apart, it also turned it into a sculpture walk as a bonus.

And, to avoid predictably empty spaces between the planets, they added extra astronomy info bits about constellations, early astronomy, calendars, moon phases, galaxies, moon phases and other related topics along the way.

For example, there was some viewing point with 'telescopes' (just metal tubes without lenses) being aimed at mountain sites where early astronomical and geographical measurements were taken.

Iron 'telescope' Iron 'telescope' Iron 'telescope' view

There were also a star along the way, a lookout for an 'unknown planet' and a bench to relax and think about meteoroids.

Star marker Unknown planet lookout Meteoroid rest bench

So it was not only a nice walk, but also interesting in an unexpected kind of way.

And even ignoring the planet system walk, it was still a good (and easy) walk in the mountains with a couple of nice views.

Valberg mountain panorama Valberg mountain panorama Valberg mountain panorama Valberg mountain panorama
Valberg mountain panorama Valberg mountain panorama Valberg mountain panorama Valberg mountain panorama

The weather started out nicely, but it went a bit weird on the way back, turning from sunshine to heavy rain to hail (in June!) back to sunshine in the space of about five minutes.

The GPS track of the walk as a Google Earth KML file is here.

I finished the walk much earlier than anticipated, so I looked for things to do in Valberg. There's a fun 'luge' track there (similar to the ones I had seen in New Zealand), but since there was a thunderstorm expected (the weather changing again...), they just closed it when I came back. There's also a nice looking rope course nearby with some good zip lines, but that was also just closing due to the weather conditions.

I tried to drive to some cave (near Saint Vallier-de-Thiey) after that but arrived a bit too late and they were just waiting for the last group to come out and leave. So while that didn't quite work out, at least the navigation system sent me along some interesting mountain roads along the way, so while reaching the destination wasn't really worth that part of the trip, the process of getting there was.

Waterfall in mountains View from street View from street

The next day started out fairly rainy (thunderstorms again), so I decided to go underground.

So I drove to the cave at of St.Cezaire and went on a tour there. Not a big or unusual cave, but a very good tour nonetheless, due to the presentation style of the guide. (Haven't heard a cave described in terms of "A stalactite is limestone. Like in your washing machine. But more romantic." before...)

St.Cezaire cave St.Cezaire cave St.Cezaire cave St.Cezaire cave St.Cezaire cave

I then drove on to visit the cave at Saint Vallier-de-Thiey (the one that I was too late for on the previous day), but nobody was there, so it seemed like it was closed for some reason. (I assumed that might have been due to being Sunday, but there was no indication on site. And having a look later at their web site I didn't find any reason for being closed either.)

It didn't matter much, though, since there is another interesting walk from the site nearby, which I wanted to do anyway (though I would have preferred to do that after the thunderstorm, especially when you are not sure whether the fact that the lightning strikes were 2 km away in most directions means that you are in a relatively safe place or just right in the middle of it...)

Mountain weather

That route takes you down along the side of a gorge to a river that goes through a natural bridge in the rock (Arche du Ponadieu). A nice walk, but a fair amount of altitude change is involved.

Since it's usually considered a bad idea to go walking in the mountains in a thunderstorm, I was actually quite glad that I was walking downhill quickly and wasn't too much a target for random lightning strikes.

There wasn't much shelter on the way down. The only dry place was a bit of a rock-overhang and that was already occupied by two mountain goats...

Mountain goats Mountain goats

The natural bridge was clearly worth a visit and I had the whole walking track (and probably most of the mountainside) to myself.

Arche du Ponadieu Arche du Ponadieu Arche du Ponadieu Arche du Ponadieu

But I also got fairly wet in the process of getting there and back.

Me and Arche du Ponadieu

The track then goes uphill back along the same route for most of the way, but shortly before being back to the starting point, there is the option to take a detour along some of the water canals that are common in the area.

View from water canal Grasse area water canals Grasse area water canals

The GPS track of this walk as a Google Earth KML file is here.

Afterwards I drove over to La Turbie (halfway between Nice and Monaco, but a couple of kilometers away from the coast) for another walk.

A bit of an uphill walk from the parking place, but after that it was mostly going around the side of a hill on a level track. A bit dull at the start, since you walk in parallel to a big highway, so the sight is not that great, but later on there are some great views of the coast and nice places on the hill itself. (And by then, the thunderclouds had moved on and there was sun and clear blue skies.)

As usual, if there are just good walking trails, pleasant weather and scenic views, there's little to tell, so here are just some pictures.

Nice airport Cap Antibes in the distance Info stone at viewpoint View towards the Alps
Well maintained path Scenic bench La Turbie

As for the other walks, the GPS track of this walk as a Google Earth KML file is here.

And that would have been it, as far as tourism was concerned.

But during the meeting week that followed that weekend, an afternoon session essentially disappeared from the agenda and a small group figured that Monaco was nearby and none of us had ever been to Monaco, so we decided to drive there for no good reason (except for adding Monaco to the list of countries we've been to).

The Formula 1 race in Monaco had just been ten days earlier and it was a bit of an odd moment, when, stopping at some traffic light, the odd markings on the street turned out the starting grid of that race.

So it turned into a bit of a 'following the course of the Formula 1 race' walk in Monaco before heading back.

Sightseeing stops include 'the tunnel', a stack of stacks of tyres, the starting grid and the finishing line.

The Tunnel in Monaco Tyre stacks Starting grid Finishing line

Also racing related, but not quite as recent as the street markings was the stature of Juan Manuel Fangio and his racing car. I'm not quite sure whether it's allowed to sit in the 'race car', but there wasn't any obvious sign against it and nobody stopped me, so I did it.

Fangio and car statue, Monaco

Something I didn't enter, however, was this building - the casino.

Monaco Casino

Then it down a pedestrian tunnel, which was nicely optically 'widened' by the generous use of mirrors, back to the car and time to return to Antibes for dinner.

Mirror tunnel

Side remark:
Antibes has some quite good restaurants for dinner and, specifically, dessert...
And it's even labelled, in case you forget what it contains.

Antibes Dessert Antibes Dessert

And, surprisingly, on the last day the meeting finished pretty much on time and since there was some 'emergency buffer' built into the schedule, there was sufficient time to have a short walk in Nice before going to the airport.

I tried to indicate the time on the large sundial in Nice, but the sun was still fairly high, so I'm casting not much of a shadow. Also, the sundial does no adjust for daylight-saving-time, so the local time was around 15:45 as opposed to the 16:45 the shadow seems to point at.

Me as gnomon

Enough time for a walk along the coast and through the old town.

Nice coast Old Nice

Even enough time to head up Colline du Château. The waterfall there was good for a bit of refreshment (though the ice cream stands down in the old town do a good job at that as well).

Colline du Château waterfall Colline du Château waterfall Colline du Château waterfall and me

But the main attraction was not the waterfall, but the view along the coast and over Nice (which has, from above, a remarkable clear delineation between the 'old town' and the newer areas).

Nice coast Nice old town Nice old town Nice cathedral

But then time was running out and I needed to get back to the airport and catch my flight home.

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