Sunday on the Esterel

It’s actually quite hard to avoid geology in the south of France (it’s a bit harder to explain it, but that’s another story). The hinterland ranges mostly involve epic amounts of limestone; there’s a belt of fairly soft sandstone where we live; and then there are the two coastal ranges of ancient volcanic rocks, the Maures and  Esterel Massifs. (In Britain, we would be perfectly happy to call these mountains but here, especially where the serious mountains of the Alps are visible on the skyline, people tend to give these areas the more modest title of massif.) But what they lack in height they make up for in style, as the hard and brittle ancient lavas have few lines of weakness and give rise to steep and frequently bizarrely shaped hills. (If you want to see the massifs on a map, here is a good link.)

Last Sunday, the weather being bright, sunny and full of the promise of summer (one or two hardy folk or possibly escapees from an asylum were actually swimming), we took a long road back home from church. We drove westwards from Cannes not along the A8, the speedy inland motorway, but along the road that spectacularly snakes around the Esterel coast. It’s not an easy road to take in summer because there’s so much traffic, and even on a Sunday in early March there seemed to be an awful lot of motorcyclists riding in a fashion that suggested they had ambitions to be organ donors.

At one point we stopped and got a splendid view back across the Bay of Cannes over to the real mountains at the French-Italian border: actually you may well be looking far enough to see Switzerland.


The Bay of Cannes with the Alps behind. Below is the same taken with a telephoto lens.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne particularly striking feature of the Esterel area is that the rocks are mostly a very vivid orange colour. The juxtaposition of jagged rocks of such a colour with a deep blue sea is irresistibly photogenic.


Having cunningly put our walking stuff in the car before we left for church we did a quick change and then set off up the mountain. It wasn’t a great walk but very pleasant. It’s the sort of area where walking in summer is a hot and sweaty business, so March is almost an ideal time. Whether it’s because there isn’t much surface water on the Esterel or for some other reason, the range seems to be rather short on bird and animal life. However it makes up for it with the views.

At one point we got a good view over towards the Pic de Courmettes, which nicely highlights the contrast between the relatively unspoiled scenery of the upper half of the mountain (almost all of which is managed by A Rocha) and the extraordinary sprawl of the coastal plain.


Pic des Courmettes with the sprawl of Cannes coastal strip


We actually went up to Courmettes for a day on Tuesday to sort some things out and meet up with the new team. It was all very encouraging and a high point was a flyover of over twenty Griffon vultures. It’s a pity we didn’t have a dead cow to feed them but it’s not the sort of thing you tend to have to hand. However, in case you’re feeling terribly envious, we should say that we have started a short rainy period which looks like it’s going to go on to Tuesday and which has put spring on hold for a bit.

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