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.
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.)
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 ..
… 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 …
… 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) …
… 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).
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.