The Challenge of a Hike to the Summit of Tete de Chien

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"challenge of a hike to summit of Tete de Chien"

Granted: nobody would mistake the Alpes Maritimes for the Himalaya. After all, the mountains which line the coast of the French and Italian Riviera are easily measured in the hundreds of metres rather than the thousands.

They can, however, look intimidatingly high when seen from the ground up. When you stand by the sea – as most people do when they look at these mountains – 500 metres above zero mean 500 metres above your head. This is a real difference to the (proper) Alps where most people peek at the peaks from a “base camp” which itself is already fairly high up in the clouds.

Here is another difference: nearly all of the summits in the Maritime Alps can be walked up rather than climbed. You will need no ropes, no snap hooks, no oxygen masks. And no snowshoes, not even in winter. On some of those mountains, you can stroll all the way up in a pair of robust hiking sandals. This is a fact we should celebrate rather than sneer at.

Over the next few months, we will climb a few of those peaks: this will be our winter project, so to speak. Not least because winter is a good time for such an undertaking.

It is true that you have to start early because days are short (not significantly longer than in northern Europe), but you can continue to walk during the mid-day hours and will, at the end of the day, have had more hours at your disposal than in late spring or summer.

Between October and March, you can have a wonderful time on the lower slopes of the Alpes Maritimes, provided you pick a sunny day (of which, fortunately, we have many over here any time of the year).

And to begin our little project with a bang, we will first conquer the most famous and visible of all the peaks in the region: the Tête de Chien which towers high above the principality of Monaco.

"view of Monaco from hike to summit of Tete de Chien"

Taking the challenge to hike to summit of Tete de Chien

We start our hike in the small town of Cap d’Ail, taking Ligne d’Azur bus no. 100 (the stop is called Beaverbrook) rather than the train, saving ourselves the 15-minute uphill walk from the station to the trailhead.

Walk approx. 100 metres to the east (the direction of Monaco and Menton), turn uphill into the Chemin des Mimosas and then take a sharp right at the first corner.

From there, follow the Chemin all the way up to the Moyenne Corniche and cross this busy road at the traffic lights to your left, continuing straight into the Chemin Romain before, after a short ascent, taking the steep stairway on your left.

After a quarter mile or so, you will need to cross another, less busy road. This is the RD 37 from La Turbie to Monaco which became famous all over the world when Princess Grace had her fatal traffic accident here in 1982.

The actual spot is located just a few hundred meters on your right. You get a better view of the hairpin curve once you are a little higher up the slope.

"hairpin turn where Princess Grace met her death"

You will need to cross this road two times more as it winds its way up on the mountain slope. Just follow the yellow trail markers. After your final crossing, you will be able to see the route to the summit more clearly.

If you only look up, it looks quite a long way to go, …

"getting there with a hike to summit of Tete de Chien"

… but looking down, you will also realize how far you have already come. In fact, you’re almost half way there. Courage!

"views from the hike to summit of Tete de Chien"

The mountain slope is covered with the region’s typical blend of thorny bushes and the occasional wild olive tree. This is still a recognizably Mediterranean rather than an Alpine landscape, not the barren and stony wilderness that you get in places like St Agnes (near Menton), 800 metres above the sea.

The trail is generally well signposted and excellently maintained, but make sure that you do not miss the path that leads to the summit itself.

At some stage, you will see the ruins of two abandoned houses (I wonder why the inhabitants left: perhaps they did not like the view) …

"abandoned house seen on hike to summit of Tete de Chien"

… but if you spot them from the footpath that passes underneath – which is what happened to us the first time around – you are actually walking right below the summit.

We eventually wound up on the asphalted road to La Turbie and had to retrace our steps. Which is what you should do, too, in the event.

Climb back uphill until the road ends, all the way to the fence of the Observatory, and take the footpath down on your right hand side.

After 200 metres, pass through the tunnel …

"end of our hike to summit of Tete de Chien"

… and you will find the summit on the other side of the rock.

The panorama of Cap Ferrat on your right may be familiar by now, having accompanied you all the way up, …

"view of French Riviera on hike to summit of Tete de Chien"

… but the sight from the peak to the other side, over Monaco and Menton all the way to Italy in the far distance, is unique and one of the best views on a coast which is not exactly short of spectacular visuals.

"3-country view on hike to summit of Tete de Chien"

Now return to the asphalted Route de Tête de Chien for a 10-minute walk to the centre of La Turbie. If you started your hike early in the morning, you may still arrive in time for lunch (the town has some well-known, high-quality restaurants). Otherwise, just grab a cup of coffee or an ice cream at the Cafe La Terrasse.

While you’re already there, you can also visit the Trophée des Alpes, the region’s most important Roman monument.

Buses to Monaco (line no. 11) stop at the Town Hall (Mairie) opposite the Cafe La Terrasse. They leave in roughly hourly intervals, but be aware that there is a gap between 1:30 and 3:30 pm.

Don’t let the height intimidate you! Challenge yourself to hike to the summit of Tete de Chien!

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