As a family we love to go hiking and we certainly live in a great part of the world to indulge in this outdoor activity. The French Riviera and surrounding countryside in the Alpes-Maritimes département offers the keen walker plenty of choice ranging from coastal paths to mountain hikes, river walks to forest treks and more, catering to all ages and levels of fitness.  This is one of my favourite walks, not so much for the walk itself which is short but for what lies at the end. Here you’ll find a magical secret area of crystal clear rock pools on the river Cagnes near Vence and St Jeannet, deep in a gorge, surrounded by cliffs, silent except for the sound of rushing mountain water, you’ll feel like you’re in paradise.

secret paradise river  | Lou Messugo

At the start of the path you’ll see signs warning that it’s narrow and dangerous and I must admit that the first time we ventured here, with a 3 year old, I did wonder if we were being foolish.  The article we’d read in a local paper said there were frequent accidents, that you should take extra care and only good walkers and sporty types should attempt it.  Perhaps this explains why we have nearly always been alone and even on a hot, sunny public holiday there have only been two other couples.  All of which, in my opinion, makes it extra special.  I don’t think it’s dangerous and recently went with four children between the ages of 5 and 9, all of whom managed it perfectly.  But you have been warned and you do this walk at your own risk….

bridge on river cagnes

Once off the dirt track which serves as a road to the last property you cross a small metal bridge over one of the tributaries which provides the town of Vence with its drinking water and from now on the walk is pure pleasure.  The narrow path starts high above the river with open views towards craggy mountain cliffs and a background noise of crashing water running through the narrow gorge. For the first part you’re out in the open, surrounded by wild flowers teeming with butterflies before the path drops down into shady forest.

secret paradise river walk

Depending on the time of year the air is filled with the scent of a pretty flowering tree (photo above) or ripening figs from the wild fig trees all around. Suddenly the river is there, to your right, you catch glimpses of it through the trees. Don’t think this is it; while there are plenty of shady spots for picnics, push on five minutes further, up and over a small rise and you’ll be rewarded with the most glorious sight.

 river near Vence

Ahead of you is an area of outstanding beauty with deep crystalline clear pools in varying shades of turquoise, trickling water running down a series of man-made steps, larger waterfalls and shallow paddling areas.  This perfect river is surrounded by smooth flat boulders and high cliffs with bursts of pink and purple flowers clinging perilously to seemingly nothing.

cagnes River cliffs and boulders

The water is temptingly lovely and the pools are ideal for plunging into though even in high summer it remains pretty chilly.  The water is so clear that you can see fish darting about easily and we’ve seen frogs, toads and even a snake.  Children make dams, float sticks, throw pebbles and squeal in the icy water while adults lie back on the hot rocks and recharge their batteries. Well that’s what we do at least!

secret paradise river walk

This walk is so unknown that part of me doesn’t want to give away the location and I even thought about saying if you want to go there contact me and I’ll give you directions, thinking that would deter enough people.  But then I figured it won’t be over-run with gangs of my blog readers either, and hey, if it is, well then at least I know I’m reaching and inspiring lots of people!

River Cagnes near Vence

So, to find this idyllic spot head out of the town of Vence (on the M2) following signs to the Col de Vence. Look out for signs to SPACA (animal refuge) on the right about a kilometre along. Turn right here and continue straight for about 4 kms passing houses (it’s hard to believe you’ll soon be in such a remote area), always following signs for SPACA.

kids at river

The view along here, over Vence, surrounding villages and all the way to the sea is absolutely lovely.  After a while the tarmac finishes and it gets pretty bumpy. Passengers may have to get out and walk for the last few hundred metres. There’s enough space on the left of the track for about 5-6 cars to pull over and park just before the SPACA which has always been plenty as there’s usually no one around. From here it’s about a half hour walk to the pools with young children in tow.  If you don’t want to drive down the gravel track, park at the end of the tarred road and add another 45 mins or so to the walk.

snake in river

walk to river cagnes

secret paradise river walk | Lou Messugo

wild flowers

secret paradise river walk | Lou Messugo

secret paradise river walk

view of Vence

Do you like hiking with your children?  Have you got a favourite walk to share?  As always I love to hear from you.

Related Reading:

3 of the best adventure activities near Nice

Hill walk: the St Barnabé plateau

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secret paradise river walk Côte dAzur France


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