There 2 ways to do the South of France in the summer. The first one is to rent a probably small, overpriced apartment built in the 80’s and located on the coast, spend your days at an overcrowded beach and your evenings in too touristy restaurants. The second is to go inland, in the Arrière Pays. This second option means that you’ll be more inclined to visit picturesque villages, charming restaurants, typical markets and go explore the surrounding nature, rather than spend your day at the beach.
When my best friend told me she was going in the South of France in August and wanted us to come along, I wasn’t quite sure what to answer. She forwarded me straight away the pictures of the house she was going to rent and I was immediately sold! She knows me very well 😉
Yes, we spent a lot of time in the pool, by the pool and our evening were as perfect as it gets when you are in good company and rosé is flowing all night! But we also explored many of the perfectly charming villages around. And when we weren’t enjoying our little piece of heaven on Earth, Mr A and I were going hiking. The Massif de l’Esterel quickly became our favorite place.
The Massif de l’Esterel
The Massif de l’Esterel is a volcanic range of coastal mountains of striking beauty which can be found between Saint Raphael and Cannes. Everywhere you look the red orange color of the rocks contrasts with the green of the vegetation and the perfect blue sky. Depending on where you are, you can also admire the deep blue of the Mediterranean sea. It is one of the very few preserved natural environment on the Mediterranean coast and a sight to not miss.
The Esterel was a hiding place for smugglers, pirates, bandits & thieves as well as prisoners who had escaped the nearby Toulon prison. There, they could find shelter and numerous hideouts for their treasures. Today it is mostly a paradise for hikers and mountain bikers.
We started our first hike in the early morning. The quietness of the surrounding was astonishing. We were alone and it felt surprisingly good and a little scary at the same time. The air was still fresh on our skin and smelled like a mix of salty sea breeze and refreshing pine trees.
We choose a path a bit randomly and hiked for a while, admiring the beauty of every trees, the changing colors of the rocks and the mountains peaks in the distance. We were heading toward the sea and as my expectation was growing, it finally appeared in the distance. The sight was as magical as expected and I couldn’t wait to get closer…. Unfortunately, the path we were on soon came to an end!
It was already close to midday and the sun was starting to burn. The air had turned scorching hot so quickly that, instead of trying to go further, we stopped for our picnic. Some pine trees and eucalyptus provided some much appreciated shade while we lingered there, just enjoying ourselves.
Later on, we rushed back quickly to our car as the heat had become unbearable to us and our skin was taking an undesirable pink color. Despite not reaching the sea, and despite being a bit sunburnt, this hike remained our favorite one!
A surprising sight in the middle of nowhere!
A cork oak above (yes, this is where the cork on our bottle of rosé came from!)
Eucalyptus tree below
The next time, we hiked around the Saint Baume source. An easy although steep hike leading to the cave where Saint-Honorat took shelter in the 5th century.
The spring water Baume fountain above and the Baume Chapel in a cave below
The 3rd time, Mr A took his mountain bike and I hiked by myself, getting lost the beauty of the place and my thoughts…
The Technical bits:
www.esterel-cotedazur.com only in French
The massif de l’Estérel is a fragile eco-system. Be mindful of plants, where you walk, etc. And obviously all types of outdoor fires are prohibited year-round.
Bring a lot of water, a lot!! And good shoes of course 😉