Hiking in a French Riviera Hinterland

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Hiking in the South of France

Gorbio – A French Riviera Hinterland

Today’s walk is the perfect daytrip for visitors of the French Riviera who want to get a first impression of the arrière-pays, the mountainous hinterland of the coastal strip between Cannes and Menton. The trail leads – across a distance of roughly 6 km – from Gorbio to Saint Agnes. Both villages are connected to the bus network of Menton.

"Hiking from Gorbio to St Agnes, parts of the French Riviera hinterland"

The main feature of the French Riviera – responsible for both its great natural beauty and its warm climate – is the proximity of coast and relatively high mountains. It is one thing to know this, even to see how close the mountains are from one of the coastal towns, and quite another to actually experience it, standing in the middle of what can only be described as an alpine landscape and to look down on the near Mediterranean as well as on the church towers and high-rise buildings of its coastal towns. Occasionally, you have to look down to remind yourself that you are, in fact, just strolling from one suburb of Menton to the other. (The Parisian banlieue certainly does not look like that.)

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To share this experience, take bus no. 7 from Menton bus station, the Gare Routière (if you travel to Menton by train, take the left road out of the car park and turn left underneath the bridge), which will take you straight to the central village square of Gorbio.

Walk straight out of town with the village in your back until you arrive at the car park where you turn right, following the arrow on the signpost that points into the direction of Saint Agnes. From here, the trail is marked throughout by yellow rectangles, so all you have to do is ..

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… follow the yellow brick road. (If you want to see The Wizard of Eze, however, you have to take a sharp left turn somewhere along the way. Better leave this for another day.) The path at first slopes down, before crossing the river near the Saint Lazare Chapel …

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… and climbing up steeply for about 30 to 45 minutes. When the trail flattens out, the worst is already behind you. The wall-of-stone cliff face on your right hand side may seem daunting, admittedly, and yes, you will have to walk all the way up, but it is not as bad as it looks, far more gradual and less physically challenging than the first ascent.

Buses to Gorbio from Menton leave about every two hours, and the no. 10 from Saint Agnes – which will return you to the Gare Routière – has roughly the same frequency. This does not sound very promising, but turned out perfectly well for us.

We took the 9:25 from Menton, which takes about 30 minutes to get to Gorbio, and had a good look around the picturesque village (something we highly recommend) …

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… before setting off for Saint Agnes where we arrived at 1:45, with the next bus leaving at 3:05.

This would have given us plenty of time to walk around town and to have a bite, in theory at least. In practice, the only restaurant in town was full (a large group of bus tourists just having arrived), and everything else in Saint Agnes was closed, even the village grocer (from 1 to 5, would you believe), with the exception of the local souvenir shop.

So we bought an artisanal honey cake (politely turning down the lady’s offer of “wrapping it up as a gift”) and wolfed it down on a bench just outside. This was not the best lunch we ever had, but at least it wasn’t raining (as it had threatened to do all day – while Menton down below, as we could see from our alpine peaks, was bathed in sunshine for most of the afternoon).

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One last word of warning: this walk may be short, but easy it certainly ain’t. It’s not quite up there with the expedition to the lair of the aforementioned Wizard of Eze, the toughest hike we have so far done on the French Riviera, but neither is it a stroll through the municipal park.

Bring a rain jacket, even if it is sunny where you come from (you never know), pack plenty of water and something to eat in your backpack and put on the sturdiest shoes you have. And avoid doing this alone – between the two villages in the French Riviera hinterland, you may not meet a single person all day. But then again, that’s part of what makes this walk so utterly compelling.

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26 comments to Hiking in a French Riviera Hinterland

  • Trying hard to recall, but in reconstructing this from map and memory, I am pretty sure now it was the GR51.

  • ATT

    Hi The beyond.fr website talks about 2 routes from St A to Gorbio (one via GR51 and the otehr via Col de Bausson). Which route are you referting to? thanks

  • Thanks for your comment, Linda, and for the heads up about the trai. We’ve not yet been back there but we’ve come across hikers who have. And yes, the Nietzsche trail is somewhat challengIng. Mrs Easy Hiker will attest to that.

  • Linda

    This is not a reply but a comment. You can walk from Gorbio to St Agnes. We just walked it yesterday April 29th 2016. We were told that a small path has been formed by hikers just above the original, now non existent path. You ignore the closed barrier and proceed with caution. A small section is a little testy but their are trees to hold on too. We enjoyed the walk, it is challenging but not as challenging as the Nietzsche Trail. We loved the village of Gorbio. St Agnes is also lovely especially with it’s spectacular views. France has so many beautiful walks. I recommend a small but informative book called ‘Walk and eat Nice’. There are some beautiful walks listed with the journey planned by public transportation and good maps and directions to follow.

  • Booking a restaurant in France from down under, eh? I can see you are not leaving much to chance.

    Unfortunately, however, there is only so much that you can plan in advance, Anne and if I am telling you that – as per this very moment in time – everything between Gorbio and Menton is hunky dory, this can change in the time between now and my next lunch, never mind the date for which you have planned yours.

    So here is a general word of advice: while it can rain any time of the year in this part of the world, the sort of downpour that can cause erosions, block country roads and cut off entire villages is generally restricted to the months between November and (early) March.

  • Anne Macdonald

    Hi Michael,

    Can you please tell me whether the path from Gorbio to Ste-Agnes is passable again? I know there was heavy rain in the area again last year so I just wanted to check before planning a day’s walk and booking at the restaurant in Ste-Agnes.

    Many thanks from down under.

  • Hi Colin,

    Thanks for your interest in our site.

    Based on my own experience and on what I think I know about the area, I would not recommend to go on a long-distance hike along the coast. Between Menton and Nice, the coast is essentially one long road, and I am not sure whether there is any connected footpath further inland that would allow you to hike from one town to the other avoiding the coast altogether. (I don’t think there is.)

    Much better to pick one town as a base and make several day trips in the area. I would recommend to mix it up a little, something in the mountains (around Castellar, St Agnes or Gorbio), something along the coast (Villefranche or Beaulieu), and something across the border in Italy (Dolceacqua or Apricale for the mountains, Alassio or Sanremo for the beach). If you speak a little French, have a look at the Guide Randoxygene on the Internet, they offer quite a few walks in the French mountains, also near Grasse and beyond where we rarely go.

    If you have seen our site, you probably will have found that we also feature quite a few easy hikes, mainly between Nice in the west and Sanremo in the east.

    For such an itinerary, Menton or Ventimiglia would be the perfect base. Trains up and down the coast are generally frequent (provided the French railway workers are not on strike), and there are buses, too. Transport away from the coast is more of a problem, so any trip into the hills requires a bit of homework.

    Have a great time!

  • Colin Adams

    Hi there,

    Am interested in a 4/5 day walk around Mediterranean hinterland and down to coast with my 15 year old daughter; we are looking to walk for about 5 hours a day and stay in villages if possible. Thought about starting in Mentone and walking to Nice; any suggestions on itinerary would be gratefully received; this will be the first time we have done this, though my daughter is a budding hiker.

    Best,

  • Glad you did the hike, Anne Marie. Sorry to hear that a passage has disappeared. We suspected as much after the winter storms earlier this year. Thanks for dropping by.

  • Anne Marie

    Thank you for inspiring me to do this trip today! The path is still closed, a large passage has just disappeared downhill. But it’s perfectly possible to do the (slightly longer?) version by following the yellow signs uphill, choosing the left path where the right one is signposted ‘closed’.
    Had a wonderful trip today, including great lunch at the Hostel de Sarrasin (?) in Agnés.

  • I’m afraid in rural France, particularly in the South, it is traditional that they close shop around lunch time (except eateries, of course, which would close around 14h30-15.h). Some reopen around 15h30.

  • Candace

    Thank you. That helps. I think I will stick to Gorbio to Sainte Agnes. Is everything in Sainte Agnes always locked up from 1-5?

  • Thank you for dropping by and your interest in our blog, Candace.

    I think the closure of the Gorbio trail was weather-related, something that had to do with heavy rain and landslides in late winter. I am fairly certain this has been addressed by now, but you can of course never predict any further closures. September should be fine, however, it is normally rather dry with a lot of sunshine.

    We never hiked from Menton to Saint Agnes, so I can’t help you there. I suspect that the hike from Gorbio to Saint Agnes is “better value”, however, because you will not have to trudge through the Menton suburbs before you hit the trail proper and are immediately in the countryside. I would only suggest to do it this way and not the other way around (from St Agnes to Gorbio) because there are fewer buses from Gorbio to take you back in the afternoon.

    Eze is a great hike: short but intense. Bring a lot of drinking water: you will need it.

    Have a lovely hike!

  • Candace

    Thank you for sharing your blog. It is very informative and helpful in planning our upcoming September trip with my husband. We plan on doing the hike up to Eze on the Nietzsche Trail one day and would like to hike to Gorbio and Sainte Agnes on another. I see that Gorbio trail was closed. Has it been re-opened? Looking at Menton to Sainte Agnes (is it difficult to follow and how strenuous? 4 hrs? or Bus to Gorbio and then hiking to Sainte Agnes? Up to a 4 hr. hike… your suggestions appreciated as well as news about the Gorbio trail.
    Thanks, Candace

  • Disappointed to hear that, Margaret. Gorbio was closed after the terrible damage caused by landslides around February-March. It seems they’ve not yet secured the path since then.

  • Margaret Evans

    Went to Gorbio today April 29 and this trail was closed, didn’t find out the reason.

  • I’m really glad you chose to do that hike in Menton, Kevin. It’s one of the most satisfying hikes we’ve done in the South of France.

  • Kevin

    Miwchael, We did the hike from Menton up to St Agnes. We did great until we lost the trail markings and took to the road. We found it a bit later and got back on and completed it in about 3 1/2 hours. We had lunch at the St Yves restaurant (a delight in itself)and took the bus back to Menton. We enjoyed the hike and will have much to talk about when we get back to Minnesota. Thanks Kevin

  • There is the final section of the GR5 – perhaps Europe’s premier hiking trail, going from Holland across the Alps to the Mediterranean – which leads from Menton to Sospel. It is probably easiest to take the bus to Sospel (there is one in the morning and one in the evening, I believe) and hike back, mainly downhill.

    For easy day hikes, I would otherwise recommend the Guides Randoxygènes, published by the local tourism board. There are several, although we have found the one on the Pays Cotier most useful. Have a look here: http://www.cg06.fr/fr/decouvrir-les-am/decouverte-sportive/les-randonnees-guides-randoxygene/catalogues-interactifs/les-catalogues-interactifs-randoxygene/

    These guides are also available in hard copy, but not all Tourism Office have them at all times.

    I would assume you’ve checked out the hikes we’ve done in the area, where we did some easy hikes and walks in and around Menton: http://easyhiker.co.uk/category/europe/france-trails/french-riviera-walks/

    Thanks for dropping by, Kevin, and happy hiking!

  • Kevin Kennedy

    Heading to Menton this Saturday 1.11.14. Looking for day hikes throughout area any recommendations or books, maps to assists me. Thanks

  • This walk looks absolutely gorgeous! I couldn’t help smiling as I read your post! Thank you for the brilliant recommendation! I only wish that I could be there right now!

  • It is indeed a great hike, Leigh. And less than an hour from the beaches of the French Riviera.

  • I wish France didn’t feel so far away. This looks like a great hike but wouldn’t have been happy not being able to buy something. I’m surprised to hear that shops still close for such a length of time in the middle of the day.

  • We’ll have ready easy hikes for you when you and your family come, Lisa.

  • Lovely photos – I love this area of France! My husband and I spent a week in Eze on our honeymoon and returned for a day with our daughters many years later while vacationing in Provence. I’d love to return and spend more time in the French Riviera – and maybe do some easy hiking!

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