Hiking Up The Pic Des Courmettes
If you are ever staying on the Cote d’Azur in the South of France and want to get away from the crowds and bling of the coast for a while, the Pic des Courmettes is the answer to your need for a little peace. You can look down on the coast glittering in the sunshine while listening to the sound of the wind rustling through the grass, and smelling the scents from wild lavender and oregano as you brush by them. Even if you are not a hiker, you can take a stroll from the beautiful old buildings which now house a Centre for Environmental Education into the fields next door for a fabulous view over the whole coast. The photo below is taken at the bottom of the Pic des Courmettes, and as you can see, the view towards Nice is spectacular on a clear day!
And, if you don’t even want to stroll, you can just get out of your car, walk ten paces, collapse gracefully on a picnic blanket under a majestic chestnut tree in front of the Centre, and sip from a flute of champagne that your butler has already poured for you. From this languishing pose, you still get a decent view over the startling blue Mediterranean Sea. Ask the butler to hike up to the top of the Pic des Courmettes for you and take a few photos so that you can see the panorama better.
As our butler was on holiday the weekend we went, we had to walk all the way to the top of the Pic des Courmettes ourselves. Disgraceful! It’s so hard to get decent service these days (hmmm…I think I’ve been watching too much “Downton Abbey)! The hike winds its way from forest-lined fields at the bottom to the typical rocky terrain of Provence at the top. The ground is covered in small bushes of thyme, oregano and lavender. The perfume wafting from the plants transports me directly into a Marcel Pagnol book (if you haven’t read “Jean de Florette” or “Manon of the Springs” yet, go get a copy straight away!). If you’re lucky, or unlucky (depending on your love of dogs), you can meet a huge sheepdog or two guarding flocks of sheep in the fields near the parking lot. There are lots of signs warning you to keep away from the dogs as they are VERY protective of their sheep. So far, I’ve always taken heed of the warnings and not gone near them. If anyone has found out that they are friendly, please let me know!
It takes about an hour and a half to hike up the trail to the top. On a clear day, the view fans out to the horizon in every direction. It can be possible to even see the island of Corsica. It lies about 200 km off the coast of France, so theoretically, it’s not possible to see much of it, but under certain conditions, thanks to a physics concept called refraction, it seems to magically rise above the horizon in all its glory. I’ve seen it just once like that. It’s a little like catching sight of a bear in Yosemite Park. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, all the cynicism of being an adult drops away and you feel like a kid again.
From the summit of the Pic des Courmettes, you can turn your back on the coast and look toward the mountains and wild land that stretches out behind the Cote d’Azur for hundreds of kilometres. The tiny villages dotted through the mountains on this side are few and far between. The area around the Pic des Courmettes has been inhabited for tens of thousands of years, by humans in the Neolithic period, to Romans, to modern day farmers, so you can find ruins of buildings such as the one below scattered over the mountain.
A little practical information: to get to the Pic des Courmettes, you need to drive (or if you’re crazy, cycle) to the parking lot at the Domaine des Courmettes by taking a tiny winding road about half way between two villages called Pont du Loup and Tourettes sur Loup (the Loup is the name of the river that runs through this area). You will wonder where the heck you’re going as it is very narrow and hairpins its way up the side of the mountain. It’s not as long as it seems when you’re on it, and afterwards you’ll be glad you did it!
This is part of a monthly link up for Phoebe’s “All About France” group. Go check it out to find other bloggers who are writing about all aspects of living in France!
By Lisa Watson