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A day at the seaside

Alpes MaritimesSometimes there’s nothing more relaxing than a nice day at the seaside: sitting in the sun, reading a good novel, and enjoying a glass of something cold and refreshing. Often, it’s how you get there and what you’ve been through that makes a day on the beach such a satisfying experience and even a well-earned reward. This is particularly true when you’ve spent the previous few days climbing mountains and wandering through rugged valleys, spurred on by the thought of finally dipping your hard-working feet in the warm soothing waters of the Mediterranean.

I’ve just come back from a holiday on which my wife and I walked from the Alps to the Mediterranean. This may sound rather a grand claim but we began in the mountain village of La Brigue, deep within the Alpes Maritimes (north of Nice), and then followed the spectacular Roya Valley and over to Sospel, before climbing high into the mountains again for a final dramatic descent to Menton on the coast. (I say 'holiday', but I was also checking our route notes for this itinerary, and so had to walk every available option which made it a little bit tougher than the standard version.)

La Brigue is an enchanting medieval labyrinth of narrow cobbled lanes, colourful houses and surprising squares, where the locals congregate in the early evening to pass the time of day. There are no cars in the centre of the village, just children playing, old men arguing, women gossiping and dogs doing what dogs do.

Pont du Coq, La BrigueOur hotel, Le Mirval, was accessed by a wonderful arched bridge, and we were to encounter many such structures on our walks, the most spectacular being the Pont du Coq which we passed on our way to visit the truly incredible 15th-century frescoes in the isolated church of Notre Dame des Fontaines.

After two days here, on which we also walked over the ridge into the neighbouring valley to visit the bustling town of Tende, we were ready to move on. Our next walk was somewhat unusual in that we had to catch a train at the end of the day to Sospel. Would we make it in time? What if we missed the train? What if the train never came?

Completely unnecessary worries as it turned out. By lunchtime, we were in Saorge, another captivating hill-top village which commands magnificent views along the valley - and down to the station at Fontan. We could have caught the train here but we decided to press on and add a few more miles - and a few more hills - by walking to the next station at Breil-sur-Roya. This was a challenging walk, under a blistering sun, with several ascents and, on occasion, we began to question our sanity. However, all was well and our efforts were rewarded with more outstanding views, time for a cold beer at the railway station and the train arriving on cue.

Piene Haut, Alpes MaritimesOn our day in Sospel, we chose to walk along a beautiful river gorge that led us to the Italian border - and yes, we took the obligatory photos of ourselves with one foot in France and the other in Italy - before climbing up to remarkable Piène Haute - a tiny community perched on a high ridge in the mountains. The views were remarkable, too, and the pretty, brightly coloured houses make this a real jewel among the mountain villages of the region. The only downside - there was no café, simply a tap offering ‘potable’, drinking water.

Our final walk began after a short transfer into the mountains from Sospel. We chose the ‘high route’ to Menton which involved a steady climb to 1200m - and then a steep descent to the beach, the sea - and maybe an odd lager or two!

Menton, Cote d'AzurThe climbing is quite tough but rewards with fantastic views, initially back into the mountains to the north, and, later, down to the dazzling Mediterranean. Our anticipation grew as the coast became more defined and we gazed out over a calm turquoise sea and the red pan-tiled roofs of the old town of Menton. To be so high, and yet so close to the sea was exhilarating and a wonderful way to arrive at our final destination. Admittedly, the descent was long and winding but the sense of achievement when we finally dipped our toes in the sea was immense.

No more ‘ups’, no more ‘downs’, no more trains to catch, just plain sailing now as we strolled along the promenade, contemplating all we had achieved to get here.

Was it worth it - all that effort, up craggy hills and back down the other side, the dream of a day by the sea beckoning us ever onward? Absolutely! Worth every moment! No pain - no gain, as they say. Well, we may have suffered a little ‘pain’ along the way, but the ‘gain’ was immeasurable and hugely pleasurable.

Menton on the Cote d'Azur

Posted: 15/09/2010 09:55:35 by | with 0 comments
Filed under: France, nature, walking


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