The Côte d’Azur is of course well-known for its beaches, the “azure coast” sounds so wonderfully inviting, but did you know there’s so much more to this area than just coast? The arrière pays or back country is really what makes this part of the world so unique. There’s a clue in the name of the département (county), the Alpes-Maritimes or maritime Alps. Yes, this is where the Alps meet the coast resulting in proper big mountains right on our doorstep, with all the fun that this entails, from skiing in the winter to hiking and adventure sports in the summer.
Recently my little kid spent a few days with some friends in the small town of St Martin Vésubie, only an hour from the coast, and when I went to drop him off our local friends showed us around pointing out its many attractions. The village itself is a pretty jumble of narrow alleyways, colourful squares and a surprising number of churches, fairly typical of the many hill villages around, but what makes it unusual is the tiny gushing stream running through its main street. This was originally constructed as a way of cleaning out the town’s daily rubbish with everything swept into the waterway to be washed downstream into the Vésubie river and ultimately out into the Mediterranean sea. Thankfully times have changed and St Martin’s garbage is no longer dealt with this way but the little canal remains.
The peaks immediately around St Martin Vésubie reach heights of around 2400m, with the village itself at an altitude of 715m. When the heat is overwhelming on the coast escaping for a day of adventure in the mountains is very refreshing; the air tends to be around 4-5°c cooler according to our friends. So what can you do in and around St Martin? I was impressed by just how much there is to do, covering many different tastes and interests and it’s going to be even better soon as a huge indoor sports centre is being built – it should have been ready for this summer but is running behind and will be open in 2017. This complex will not only house a pool, sauna, hammam, massage area (ordinary enough….) but indoor canyoning and caving! Sounds a little crazy, but I know two boys who are already chomping at the bit for it to open.
Back to what’s available right now. This is what my kid and his friend got up to in 3 days:
Summer luge in La Colmiane. Just 10 minutes away in a little ski resort a ski slope is transformed every summer into a toboggan run accessed by chair lift. We’ve done this before en famille and love it. Just the right amount of thrills for me!
Nearby there is an accrobranche (adventure climbing in trees with zip wires, rope bridges etc, like Go-Ape in UK) and a mini golf, both of which they enjoyed.
They went climbing on an outdoor climbing wall in Boréon (photo below), just outside Alpha Parc Wolf reserve and swam in a naturally filtered “organic” swimming pool in Roquebillière (photo above). And all this for the very reasonable price of 19€ for a 3 day pass which covers all these activities and more, available to buy at the tourist office in St Martin Vésubie (and undoubtedly other nearby towns).
What they didn’t do but we have done at other times as a family in the surrounding area: swim in mountain rivers, visit Alpha Parc wolf reserve and hike from la Madone de la Fenestre (a mountain refuge, photo below, looked down on by the highest peak in the département, le Gélas 3143m alt, first photo in this post).
What they didn’t do, nor have we done as a family, but more daring friends have experienced: Via Ferrata, a kind of permanent climbing route along cables and bridges which requires stamina and strength, neither of which am I overly endowed with! You can read more about it here and see two photos from two different Via Ferratas near St Martin Vésubie. The photo below is in La Colmiane and the photo to pin at the end of the post is taken on the Via Ferrata in Lantosque.
Nor did they try out the newest attraction in the area, the longest tyrolienne in France, a crazy 2663m long zipwire where you can “fly” at up to 130 kmph, something I know I’ll never be able to do! You can see the starting platform in the 3rd photo from the top and some brave friends setting off in the photo below.
The drive into the mountains along the gorges de la Vésubie is attractive, with just the right amount of frisson to make it exciting but not too scary (the drops over the edge are never too high and the road isn’t too narrow campared with some roads in the area). It takes about 90 minutes from Lou Messugo gîte (similar time from downtown Nice) and is defintely worth a day trip, whatever your interests.
If you’ve enjoyed this you might like to find out more about other local mountain activities such as skiing in the Alpes-Maritimes: skiing with a sea view, white water rafting: rafting an extreme family sport or canyoning: 3 of the best adventure activities near Nice.
What activity would you like to try? Could you “fly” on the zipwire or would you rather go for a mountain walk? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
Here’s a PIN for later!