Five easy walks on the French Riviera

The urban, the remote and the poignant

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Michael Schuermann

Michael Schuermann
HomeAway travel expert


Gorgeous view of Nice, Cote d'AzureOnce you have played the slot machines in Monte Carlo and posed on the red carpet of the Palais de Festival in Cannes, there is only one thing left on the must-do list for your trip to the French Riviera: to have a proper experience of the Mediterranean Sea. Such an experience can take many forms. You could, for example, hire a yacht for the day. Or search a secluded bay that you can make your own for a few hours, playing “oligarch for an afternoon” with a somewhat smaller outlay of funds.


Alternatively, you can experience the coastline on a walk – or set out for a beauty spot with a panoramic view of it. There are many walks and promenades around the French Riviera. Here are five of the best: all conveniently accessible by public transport and easy enough for everybody to enjoy.

 

Michael's guide to easy hiking on the French Riviera


   

Promenade des Anglais Promenade des Anglais

Everybody who visits the French Riviera sooner or later spends some time in Nice, if only to change trains or to board a plane. If you find yourself with a couple of hours to kill in Nice, hurry to the beach – no matter how many beaches you have already seen or will be going to see. Because this one is special.

The Promenade des Anglais is to the French Riviera what the Champs Elysees once were to Paris: the region’s most elegant street, but also the place where everybody meets everybody else, a truly civilized space without any airs. Everybody is welcome here: the old folks on the benches, always dressed too warmly for the time of year; young people zig-zagging on roller skates through the crowd; well-dressed ladies with their equally well-dressed dogs – the sidewalks are wide enough to accommodate all known forms of urban life. Even the architecture, not normally the strongest point of the French Riviera, is marvellous: you can marvel at the opulence of the Negresco and the restrained elegance of the Palais de la Mediterranee.

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Mala Beach Mala Beach

Believe it or not: there are still unspoilt beaches on the French Riviera – places which can make you feel that they have lain in waiting just for you. Mala Beach to the west of Monaco still has that slightly rough feel of a genuine and untouched piece of nature, although it isn’t, of course, having become famous long ago. Tsar Nicholas II promenaded here with his favourite ballerina, the formidable Mala Ksesschinska (after whom the beach was eventually named), while more recently, James Bond used to be a regular visitor (when he was still called Roger Moore.)

To get there, take the trail from the Marquet Beach in the Fontvieille district of Monaco. The trail is relatively short (about 5km), asphalted throughout, full of nice views and so unchallenging that even old folks and small children can easily master it. For your way home from Mala Beach, climb the stairway to the small town centre of Cap d’Ail – where you find cafés and a few restaurants – and take bus no.100 (frequent service) to either Nice or Monaco and Menton.

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Hills of Beaulieu Hills of Beaulieu

This is another way of seeing the French Riviera – from high up. Take the train to Beaulieu-sur-Mer and climb the Montee des Mandarins past suburban gardens and swimming pools, before continuing on country lanes and finally a rocky path all the way to the very top (the plateau) of Saint Michel mountain.

At every level of the walk, more of its unique visual drama will unfold in front of your eyes: your initial view of the Beaulieu-sur-Mer yacht harbour will soon widen to take in the entire Cap Ferrat peninsula, then the bay of Villefranche-sur-Mer and finally, the Baie des Anges with Nice and the coast all the way to Cap d’Antibes.

Bring some sandwiches for a picnic on the plateau, watch the planes in their final approach to Nice airport, seemingly skimming the surface of the sea like flying fish, and the helicopters on their way to and from Monaco. The French Riviera – and life in general – does not get much better than this.

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Iles des Lerins Iles des Lerins

Cannes, to paraphrase the legendary Hollywood wit Dorothy Parker, is the place where used-car salesmen from provincial towns mistake each other for movie stars. It may not be to everybody’s taste, but fortunately for those who are not too keen on Cannes, there is an easy way to get away from it all.

A short boat ride away from Cannes harbour, you can find the islands of Sainte Marguerite and Saint Honorat, easily the most isolated spots on the entire Cote d’Azur. Sainte Marguerite, the bigger of the two, was used as fortress and prison for centuries – this is where the Man in the Iron Mask was held in custody. You can easily walk once around the island in a couple of hours and spend another hour at the Fort Royal, now a museum – the perfect antidote to the town which is a mere 15 minutes and a million miles away.

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Menton cemeteries Menton cemeteries

It is often forgotten that the first tourists on the French Riviera – those who really discovered the place – were not the Jazz Age Americans of the 1920s, not even the pleasure-seeking aristocrats of the Belle Epoque, but the lost souls who came here in the belief that its mild winter climate would help them to beat their tuberculosis, only to find out the hard way that it did not. There are many corners on this foreign coast that will be forever England, Russia or Germany – and there is a whole patch of them on the cemetery of Menton.

Walk from Menton station through its prosperous New Town, much of which was built in the 19th century to accommodate Northern Europe’s wealthy consumptives, into the Old Town and follow its narrow lanes uphill until you reach the cemetery which was constructed on the grounds of the old (no longer existing) castle.

Dedicate some time to studying the inscriptions on the graves – many of them are in English – and take in those splendid views over the Mediterranean for that perfect “Et in Arcadia ego” moment.

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Images


Promenade des Anglais by Jimmy Harris
Iles des Lerins by Luca Conti
 

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