Southern France, May 2024

In mid-May 2024 I was in southern France for a couple of days.

One of the first things I looked up was "Are there any ziplines in the area?"

It turned out that there was one in La Colmiane, about an hour's drive from where I was staying, so I went there.

The zipline is supposedly the longest in France. Thought that might be, as it is often the case with zipline superlatives, a case of special pleading.

While a length of 2663 meters is mentioned, there are actually two ziplines (one with 1879 meters and one with 784 meters).

Although the longer one (at 1879 meters length) might really be the longest free-hanging zipline in France, but it's difficult to find reliable data. There seems to be a longer zipline in France (at 1950 meters length), but that's supported by intermediate pylons.

Ultimately it doesn't matter much, as my goal wasn't to ride the longest zipline, but to have fun riding a zipline.

And that's more about location and views.

The ziplines at La Colmiane, located in the Alps, have nice views. At least on video.

The first zipline starts along a ski slope and then crosses a small, forested valley.

At the beginning of the ride, you are still close to the ground. Therefore you get a good impression of the speed you're travelling at (my highest speed was 117 km/h).

Zipline rider at La Colmaine

Then you go across the valley and get more of a 'soaring across the skies' feeling.

First zipline at La Colmiane

After arrival, you switch ziplines and ride the second one back to La Colmiane.

Second zipline at La Colmiane

The second zipline is less steep, so speeds are lower. And while that doesn't quite make up for the fact that it is less than half the length of the first zipline, the 'flight time' is about 2/3 of the longer ride.

The second ride is more over open ground and crosses two ponds (although one of them was drained when I was there).

The zipline rides are 'superman style', which means lying down.

The advantage (from a zipline operator point of view) is that it's more controllable.

Speed depends almost exclusively on wind and weight, so if you know how much the rider (or riders - they also do tandem rides) weigh as well as wind speed and direction, the operator can add a small sail to the ziplining rig and ensure that everyone arrives at the destination with the same speed.

On (the increasingly rare) ziplines where the riders hang in a normal climbing harness, the silhouette of the rider makes a large difference in speed, so if someone rides with arms spread out wide and legs hanging straight down, he will be much slower than someone curling up tightly. It can (though rarely) happen that someone does not make it to the end of the line and needs to be 'rescued'. which is time consuming and messes up the schedule.

So 'superman style' rides are becoming the standard now, but the downside for customers is that they can't move around much and don't see much of the scenery. Especially as you're wearing a helmet, so you can't put your head as far back as usual. And, somewhat annoyingly, the helmets they use at La Colmiane have a little protruding 'brim' at the front. You can't look 'forward' when you are riding the zipline, but only have a downward view, which is less exciting. So, ultimately, you take a video camera with you and enjoy the view afterwards...

Due to the way the ziplines connect to the ski trails, they also don't 'close up' well.

You start out next to the bottom of the chair lift (which brings you up to the start of the first zipline), but end up in La Colmiane. It's not a problem if you're doing only one ride (as the end point is only about 700 meters walk from the chair lift), But it makes things more complicated if you do multiple rides, as you can't carry the ziplining stuff with you and you need to be completely outfitted again for the next ride.

After ziplining, I did a 'short' (and ultimately pointless) detour to Roubion. (The 'short' is in quotes, as it's mountain terrain and short distances can take some time to cover. If your destination is 29 kilometers away and the satnav gives a travel time of 50 minutes, you can be sure that the road is not going to be a straight one.)


Roubion is a small village perched on the side of a mountain.

It has nice views, but the reason for going there was that it has a comparatively easy Via Ferrata.

I have been interested in trying to go on a Via Ferrata. But as I never tried it before, I don't want to go on one of the longer, more difficult ones, where you also have to cover a significant altitude difference. (For example, La Colmiane also has a Via Ferrata, but that requires about 450 meters of vertical climbing. And, in sections, it looks more like serious mountain climbing protected by a safety cable, than something suited for someone who has never done anything like that before.)

The Via Ferrata at Roubion seemed like a good 'starter experience'.

Up a rock face, then around a large cave opening, traversing at mostly the same altitude across the rock face and then over a cable bridge to a descent path. Total altitude to cover is 50 meters. And climbing gear can be rented at the local tourist office.

Via Ferrata at Roubion Via Ferrata approximate route at Roubion

But information about opening times was conflicting. According to some web sites, season was April to October, for others it was July to September or May until October or even 'all year round'.

I had tried to reach the tourist office by mail, but they never replied.

But as I was in the area anyway, I drove there from La Colmiane to have a look.

The Via Ferrata was still closed (at least there was nobody on it) and, more importantly, the tourist office didn't really exist, so I couldn't have rented any gear there anyway.

There was something that used to be the tourist office (but evidently empty and unused for some time) and a sign that it had moved to a location 50 meters further down the street. Where there was a poster on some wall stating "Enjoy Roubion" (or something like this), but nothing looking like a tourist office (and it wasn't clear whether the poster had anything to do with the tourist office location at all).

I had a look at the Via Ferrata from below, went back to my car and drove to Grasse.

At Grasse, there is a rather nice go kart track. Or, more specifically, three of them. a very simple oval for kids, one with a bit more curves for older children and a difficult one with lots of tricky curves for everyone else.

The location is great as well. I haven't seen a go kart track with such a spectacular view!

Grasse go kart Grasse go kart

After all the driving in the mountains, it was fun to drive around corners where you could see beyond the corner. And where you could be sure that there wasn't a car suddenly coming the other way. (Driving mountain roads is exciting, especially when you have a small rental car, which handles well in corners. But it can be nerve-wracking at times.)

In any case, the next day I was taking it a lot slower.

I took a ferry from Cannes over to Sainte-Marguerite island.

Like many islands that are located not too far away from coastal towns, this one has a mostly military history. With a large fortress and some fortified places along the shore.

The point of that eludes me, as ancient canons weren't that precise, so the threat to any approaching fleet was probably neglectable. And given that the range of canons around 1650 (when the fort was built), anyone planning to invade Cannes could simply have sailed around the island out of range.

Sainte-Marguerite fortress

It seems that the "Fort Royal" never saw any military action in any case, but was more like a French Alcatraz - a prison island.

Though its most famous prisoner is famous for being unknown. It was the "Man in the Iron Mask", a prisoner during the reign of Louis XIV, who spent about a decade imprisoned on the island.

Nowadays the main fortress, "Fort Royal" is a museum, while smaller military buildings, like the Batterie de la Convention, are scattered around the island.

Batterie de la Convention

There's no military presence there and all the watching is done by seagulls.

Seagull watching from battlement

It was still pre-season, so there weren't many visitors to the island.

And those that came over with the ferry either went to the beaches or the museum.

The paths through the interior of the island were deserted and I had them to myself.

Deserted Route de la Convention Deserted Route de la Convention

I walked until I reached the eastern end of the island, took a few pictures and then walked back along the southern coast.

Island Sainte-Marguerite view towards Cannes Island Sainte-Marguerite view towards Cannes
Island Sainte-Marguerite south coast Island Sainte-Marguerite south coast

There was another museum on (well, technically, near) the island, which I wanted to see, but I wasn't properly equipped.

On the surface, it looks like this:

Ecomusee sous-marin

Which, admittedly, isn't much.

The more interesting bit is below the surface.

An artist has taken portraits of six local people and then created two-meter-tall sculptures of them. They are reminiscent of the big heads on Easter Island, but differ stylistically. The heads near Sainte-Marguerite island are all split in the middle and both parts are slightly more than half a head, so the left and the right side of the head don't line up and most of the faces end up with two noses.

The heads are approximately four meters below the surface, roughly a hundred meters from the shore.

The intended way of viewing is that you swim there with fins and a snorkel and then dive down to the sculptures. (There's a ring of buoys around the site that you aren't allowed to enter with a boat.)

I had been hoping that someone would sell or rent out snorkeling gear somewhere on the island, but there wasn't. You need to bring your own (which I didn't). And it didn't make any sense to swim out there and then dive down without a mask, not being able to see much. And, more important, the water was still fairly cold, so I didn't feel like going for a swim anywhere. I actually had been looking whether there were places renting out wetsuits in Cannes, but didn't find anything. (I only realized afterwards that I shouldn't have looked for diving places, as there aren't that many. I should have looked for places renting out stand-up paddling boards or windsurfing equipment, as there are a lot more of those. Although most of them were probably still closed in May.)

In any case, I did manage to see only the surface area of the museum and nothing of its hidden depths.

After a few hours on the island, I took the ferry back to Cannes and tried to drive out of town...

...which took a while.

In the morning, I had parked the car in the garage underneath the Palais des Festivals, where the big 'red carpet' events for the Cannes film festival happen.

The festival didn't start until the next day and traffic was normal in the morning. In the afternoon, however, preparation for the festival was in full swing, with one side of the road in front of the Palais being closed, to allow fans to put up their step-ladders and allow technical crews to set up their equipment.

Cannes festival fans getting ready early

This caused a deadlock situation. Cars coming along the road from the western side needed to turn left, as the straight road was blocked. And cars going east needed to turn left at the end of the harbour, as they weren't allowed to go right. Both lanes blocked each other. Everyone needed to drive through traffic on the other lane. Which didn't move, as the traffic was blocked by the opposite lane. And both times, the line going straight had the right of way.

That security directed trucks from the area around the Palais right into the gridlocked area didn't help things either.

It took me 28 minutes to cover the 850 meters along the harbour front.

I didn't mind much. I wasn't in a hurry.

But I was a bit surprised that there wasn't any attempt at traffic control.

It probably wasn't the first time it happened (it's the 76th edition of the festival, after all). So it's not like they were taken by surprise. It would have helped a lot if they had let the cars move 'in blocks', letting the cars on one side go through and then creating an opening and let the cars on the other side through.

Or, even more sensible, direct the cars to the other side of the road, so both can turn left without intersecting with traffic on the other side.

Maybe people enjoy being in the traffic jam, as it gives them time to look at the big festival posters and enjoy the sunny day.

Palais des Festivals a day before the festival Palais des Festivals a day before the festival

At least it didn't bother me.

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