Roquebrune: Hinterland Highlight

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Easy hiking in the South of France

Roquebrune

I might as well admit it: walking – or hiking – is not always and under all circumstances the best key for unlocking unfamiliar destinations.

You can, for example, get a good first impression of the French Riviera just by taking the eastbound local train from Cannes: a single one-hour journey will give you many gloriously scenic panoramas of the coast, a postcard overview of Villefranche-sur-mer and even a glimpse of the famous Russian Orthodox Cathedral just outside Nice Ville station. There is simply no way that an hour of hiking can provide you with a similar experience.

It is, however, equally true that some of the most splendid gems of the French Riviera are hidden in the hinterlands: many quaint and lovely villages are located a mile or two away from the coast, on the hills and slopes of the Cote d’Azur amid lush Mediterranean forests, and to catch a flavour of all that, you have – I am afraid – no other choice but to put on your walking boots. No train or bus is ever going to take you there.

Take, for example, the town of Roquebrune east of Monaco. From the train, it might easily look as though Roquebrune was nothing more than an undistinguished section of the indistinguishable sprawl of hotels, residences and private villas that lines the coast. The area around Roquebrune train station, however, is only one small part of the town, and further uphill, you can find a thousand-year old village with picturesque stone houses that were built at the foot of a once impregnable castle.

Leave the train station Roquebrune Cap Martin and turn left into the Le Corbusier coastal trail which runs between the railway tracks and the sea (the latter should be on your right hand side). Make your way past scenic views of the distant Monte Carlo skyline, unmistakable even through an early spring mist …

"View of Monaco from hilltop of Roquebrune Cote d'Azur"

… to the Dragonnière stage post just before Cap Martin, and climb the stairway all the way up (while the Le Corbusier trail continues around the Cap on your right hand side).

"Part of Dragonniere trail in Roquebrune Cote d'Azur"

At the top of the hill, turn into Avenue Herriott on your left. Upon reaching the main road, turn right for about 30 metres up to the roundabout and continue further uphill on Avenue General Leclerc. (This is the boring bit of the walk, through a not particularly attractive residential area, but see it like this: at least, you get a good first-hand – or, more to the point, “first-foot” – impression of the suburban sprawl that has blighted so much of this region.)

At the end of Avenue General Leclerc, cross the main road, turn left past the police station and take the next road on your right. Continue further uphill on the Sentier Pelissier that begins its climb almost immediately on your left hand side.

"Finger trail markers of the Le Corbusier trail in Roquebrune"

Continue uphill on this footpath and, near the top of the hill, turn right into the Sentier de Torraca. If you could peek over the stone wall on your left hand side, you would see the Villa de Pausa, one of the Riviera’s most spectacular properties.

The villa, surrounded by 2.5 hectares of parkland, was originally designed by and for the fashion designer Coco Chanel, although largely financed by her lover at the time, Hugh Richard Arthur Grosvenor, the Duke of Westminster. (She had met the Duke in 1932, aged 42, and kept the house when they separated 10 years later.)

Famous guests of the Villa Pausa through the years included Picasso, Dali, Stravinsky, Luchino Visconti and – after the villa was sold to the literary agent Emery Reves in 1953 – the Prince of Monaco and Princess Grace, the Duke of Windsor and Winston Churchill who spent many months here painting in the gardens during the late 1950s.

And even if you are not invited inside, you can share their panoramic view. That’s Menton in the distance.

"Menton seen from Roquebrune hilltop"

Soon after the Chanel residence, a cemented path will lead you past two pilgrimage shrines – La Pausa, a penitents’ chapel that was originally constructed during the days of the Black Death, and Saint Roch …

"La Pausa Chapel along the Roquebrune trail"

– to the “olivier millenaire”, an olive tree that may or may not be a thousand years old.

"Olivier millenaire in Roquebrune"

Now you have almost reached the highlight of the trip, the village of Roquebrune. Explore the Old Town a little …

"Old town of Roquebrune in the French Riviera"

… before eventually following the signs up to the Castle Medieval, an ancient fortress from where the Grimaldis, the mighty overlords of the Riviera (the ancestors of today’s Princes of Monaco), once controlled the Mediterranean Sea …

"The Garibaldi Fortress in Roquebrune French Riviera"

… and walk down the hill on the other side, turning left and immediately left again at the bottom of the stairway.

"Fraise et Chocolat coffee house in Roquebrune"

 On your right hand side, you will pass a coffee shop called Fraises et Chocolat that serves excellent home-made cakes and snacks. The place is tiny on the inside – big enough for three small tables only because the customers all squeeze in with their backs against the wall. Fortunately has an outside terrace for sunny days.

Leave the village by turning right into the main square and by walking down the stairway at the far end. Just before you reach the village church, turn right down another stairway ( the “Corinthilles”) all the way to the main road, the RD 6007.

"Exit stairs from the town of Roquebrune in the French Riviera"

Cross this road, turn left and immediately right again before taking the Sentier Massolin on your left, which will lead you back to the Le Corbusier trail. Roquebrune train station is now only a few hundred meters away on your right.

One last tip if you are doing this on a warm summer day: take a little detour down the path to the Plage de Buse on your left hand side. Nothing like a pleasant splash at the end of a hike!

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9 comments to Roquebrune: Hinterland Highlight

  • I’m happy to hear that, Karen. We also enjoyed that hike. And thanks for dropping by with your feedback. Happy hiking!

  • Karen Johnson

    My friend and I just got back from Nice, etc., last week. I took your directions for the Roquebrune hike with me; the two of us absolutely loved it! Your directions were so detailed and helpful. Made it easy. I will definitely use your website in the future.

  • I’d love to be strolling around over there right now. Naturally, my exertions would be followed by a meal of bread, cheese, and wine. :)

  • I’d love to get an invite to the Villa that inspired so many creative types but just doing this hike would be worth it. The old town looks beautiful.

  • I love the look of the entrance to old town and what fantastic views up high.
    That is partially why I go backpacking – to get to places no bus, car or train will ever take you.

  • Wow! What a gorgeous town. I’d love to hike there too!

  • I am completely in love with the idea of hiking in France now! I love France and I love hiking,but for some reason I don’t know, I’d never put the two together. The South of France has always been about exploring by car, beaches, great food, exploring little villages, but never occured to me to walk it. Now you’ve given me ideas! And the thought of French cakes and pastries at the end – wow! The coffee shop makes me think of the one in “Chocolat”!

  • I love the panorama shots from this scenic hike even with the spring mist. I’ve never heard of Roquebrune before but the Old Town and fortress sure look inviting. Beautiful!

  • What a good reminder to look for the less obvious! How many times have we zipped through – or stopped for a moment – at a train station and judged the entire place by what we saw in that brief time. And what a delightful treat you showed us!

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