Hiking in the South of France: The 5 Best Hikes from Nice

Located at the gateway to the French Riviera ―in the Mediterranean coastline of the southeast edge of France― Nice brims with charm and natural beauty.

With the sun shining almost 300 days a year, this vibrant city by the sea can be enjoyed all-year-round. Given its easy access through the Nice Côte d’Azur Airport ―the third busiest airport in the country, after the two in Paris―, Nice is the main hub to visit spectacular cities and villages in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, and one of the top travel destinations in France.

The legendary Promenade des Anglais, the world-famous art museums and the picturesque old town with its narrow streets are definitely among the city’s most popular attractions. But Nice lies where the Alps meet the sea and therefore, is surrounded by many interesting places to explore in short and exciting getaways.

Fabrice, an International Mountain Leader (UIMLA) who lives in Nice, is our local expert to unveil the endless opportunities that the South of France offers for those who want to enjoy an active holiday in nature.

‘The coastline of the French Riviera (Nice, Cannes, Antibes, Monaco) is just a small part of the huge Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region! There’s so much diversity and so much to see: National Parks, medieval villages and a wide variety of landscapes and atmospheres’, he explains.

‘In Nice you can ski in the morning and swim in the afternoon. That’s what my grandfather a ski instructor involved in the Chamonix Olympic games in 1924used to say’, he recalls.

With such a vast terrain, it’s hard to decide where to go. That’s why we asked Fabrice to list the 5 hiking adventures at a short distance from Nice that best represent the diversity of landscapes you can find here. Keep reading to find out which they are!

 

 

1| Mercantour National Park

 

Mercantour National Park
Photo courtesy of Fabrice Morel.

Mercantour National Park is one of the most famous protected areas in the country, stretching for over 650 square km along the French departments of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and Alpes-Maritimes.

The first you’ll notice on your way there is how the landscape begins to change: ‘In less than 1.30 hour from Nice, you can go from a landscape full of olive trees to an alpine environment with edelweiss, fir or larch trees, meadows and pasture’, says Fabrice.

The park comprises eight different valleys and a few alpine villages, and it’s a true alpine playground for hikers and outdoor lovers. ‘There are thousands of trails, it would take years to explore it entirely’, says Fabrice.

Some of the attractions in Mercantour include Allos Lake ―the largest lake in the Alps― and the Vallée des Merveilles (Valley of Marvels), which is home to a unique collection of Bronze Age petroglyphs, hailed as the second largest site of rock art in Europe. Other areas, like Tinée and Cian Valley, are known for their ski resorts.

Mercantour National Park
Photo courtesy of Fabrice Morel.

Fabrice proposes several itineraries in Mercantour National Park. One of his favorites is a 1-day hike along the areas of Vésubie Valley and Madone de Fenestre:

‘This itinerary takes us to a nice lake and to the highest peak in the park (Gélas, 3,143 m), where we can enjoy breathtaking panoramic views of both the sea and the Alps (once we were able to see Swiss and the Monte Rosa massif!). We can even step on the Italian border’.

From the Italian side, there’s another protected area: the Parco Naturale Alpi Marittime. After years of close collaboration, both parks became the first European natural reserve.

Wild animals like ibex, chamois, marmots or wolves, ignore frontiers between countries, and it’s no wonder to spot them on the park’s many hiking trails. About 50 wolves migrated from Italy during the 90’s and are now protected in a park that can be visited in Mercantour.

This hike is also a great opportunity to get to know small communities in this area, which are mostly dedicated to pasture and traditional cheese production.

‘I can tailor the trip for you, whether you are on a family trip or you are a sporty hiker. There are many trails, so everyone will find something to enjoy!’

If you are looking for a longer trip, you can venture on this 2-day hiking tour in the Vallée des Merveilles.


In brief

  • Starting point: the village of Saint Martin Vésubie
  • Getting there from Nice: you can easily reach the village by bus (1h 30m). Also, Nice Côte d’Azur Airport is 70 km from Saint Martin Vésubie and there’s a bus shuttle service from the airport to the village.
  • Best time for this trip: June to October.

Join Fabrice for hiking day in Mercantour National Park, exploring Madone de Fenestre


2| Saorge

 

Saorge, France
Saorge, one of the most beautiful of the perched-villages in the South of France.

One of the most distinctive attractions of the French Riviera are its perched villages. This scenic medieval villages (‘the 100 villages’) hanging on the top of a mountain are scattered all along the countryside ―the ‘mid-country’, as the locals say― and were built as fortresses during the Middle Ages.

‘From all the villages, Saorge is one of the nicest to discover ―says Fabrice. It is perched right above the Roya river and it’s very special because of its spectacular rooftops covered with thousands of beautiful wild orchids’.

Wild orchids are an icon of Saorge, and can be best appreciated during spring time (specially in May).

Other recommended spots to explore in this area are La Brigue village, or Tend, next to the Valley of Marvels, explains Fabrice.

The itinerary he proposes goes through Peiremont route, hiking on narrow steep passageways and discovering the relics of feudal times, like old bridges, Baroque churches, fountains and monuments. For those with an interest in history and architecture, this hike is something you wouldn’t want to miss!


In brief

  • Starting point: Saorge parking.
  • Getting there from Nice: by train, to Fontan-Saorge station (1h 30m).
  • Best time for this trip: April-May, September-October.

Discover the perched-village of Saorge on a 1-day hiking trip with Fabrice!


3| Peille and Baudon Peak

 

Baudon Peak, France
Photo courtesy of Fabrice Morel.

Hikers in good shape and with a taste for glorious panoramic views will certainly enjoy this hike in the Maritime Alps, starting at only 30 minutes from Nice.

The medieval village of Peille is the starting point of this itinerary that leads you to Baudon Peak, a 1264 m peak overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and the Alps. ‘This is a trip recommended to fit people, as the trail is steep and rocky, although not too long. We quickly get to probably the most amazing mountain view around!’. The hike takes around 4 hours and afterwards, you have some to wander around the streets of the ancient village of Peille.

Pelle, France
The medieval village of Peille. Photo courtesy of Fabrice Morel.

Peille is (another) perched village located between Monaco and Menton. In the past, it used to be one of the main stops on the old Salt Road that went from the port of Nice to the northern Alps.


In brief

  • Starting point: Peille.
  • Getting there from Nice: you can get a taxi to Peille (30 min drive), or go by bus (1h) or train (40 min).
  • Best time for this trip: January-May, October-December

Book a guided hiking trip to Baudon Peak from Peille with Fabrice!


4|  Baou Saint Jeannet

 

Saint Paul de Vence, France
Photo courtesy of Fabrice Morel.

In the French Riviera, cliffs and hills are known ‘Baous’. This one, a 300 m high cliff in the small town of Saint Jeannet, makes an exciting getaway at only 30 min from Nice.

‘Very close to Saint Paul de Vence ―one of the most famous villages of the French Riviera, known for its art galleries― we find the village of Saint Jeannet, which is less touristy and hence, more authentic’, explains Fabrice.

Saint Paul de Vence, France
Photo courtesy of Fabrice Morel.

This trip is a good option for families and those who want to discover how was ancient life in this rural part of the French Riviera. From the top of Baou Saint Jeannet, which is often visited by locals, you’ll catch amazing sights of Nice, Antibe, Cannes and the alpine mountains of Mercantour National Park.


In brief

  • Starting point: Saint Jeannet Village parking.
  • Getting there from Nice: you can get there by taxi (30 min) or bus (around 1h).
  • Best time for this trip: January-May, October-December

Discover Baou Saint Jeannet, near St Paul de Vence, on this hiking trip with Fabrice!


5| Esterel

 

Esterel red rocks, France
Photo courtesy of Fabrice Morel.

Located at only 30 min from Cannes, the Esterel massif is a group of red volcanic rocks surrounded by forest. The contrast between the intense red of the hills and the blue Mediterranean Sea makes this one of the most scenic landscapes in the French Riviera.

‘This place is really enjoyable during Fall, Winter and Spring. The red rocks give a little touch of a western landscape and we can enjoy the sea as well. It’s a must do, especially in winter! In February, mimosa is blooming and some places are turning all yellow’, recommends Fabrice.

Esterel red rocks, France
Photo courtesy of Fabrice Morel.

One of the options he proposes involves climbing to the top of the Cap Roux Peak, where you can find some of the best views in the area.

With many different trails available, this is a great destination for families and sporty hikers. The only advice is to avoid visiting it in the summer months, because it can get really hot!


In brief

  • Starting point: Agay
  • Getting there from Nice: by train (1h 30m). There’s a also bus shuttle service from Nice Côte d’Azur Airport (1h).
  • Best time for this trip: January-May, October-December

Join Fabrice on an exciting hiking tour in the beautiful Esterel red rocks!


While world-wide famous for its majestic coastline, the French Riviera boasts incredible natural landscapes and ancient villages awaiting for you to explore. If Nice is on your radar for the next holidays, make sure to add this recommended hikes to your list!

Contact Fabrice for a guided hiking tour and set out on a unique journey in the South of France!

 

Heliskiing in Turkey: What Are the Best Spots?

There is a lot of intrigue surrounding Turkey, the intercontinental country straddling Europe and Asia. It is well-known as a cultural crossroads, blending peoples and communities together for centuries. Istanbul, once Constantinople, is the largest city of this melting pot, which combines more than just history and heritage. One of the most fascinating parts about Turkey is its winter sports following – most notably, its world-class heliskiing along the coast of the Black Sea. Whether it comes as a surprise or not, there are many reasons why Turkey is one of the top ten European countries for heliskiing adventures.

In the northeastern part of the country, heliskiing has become a way of life. The Ayder Highlands are fast becoming the go-to spot for this thrilling sport, providing nearly all of the bells and whistles you could imagine making your dream ski vacation come true. With spa service, hotel helicopter access, and in-lodge chefs, Turkey holds nothing back when wooing adventurers to its coastal communities in the Kackar Mountains.

There are other places to visit within Turkey, too. To the south of the Ayder Highlands, Mt. Palandoken has a ski resort with a couple heliskiing options. While it isn’t as accommodating as the former, it does offer a chance to experience the sport without committing to a more substantial trip.

 

Helicopter access in the Kackars is far reaching. Photo: Alex Grechman.

Just south of Istanbul in the west, near Bursa, is the Uludag ski resort. There is a difficult run from the summit of Zivre that is accessible by helicopter. Again, while not considered a full heliskiing experience, it does boast a challenging line with helicopter access that is within a couple hours of the bustling metropolis of Istanbul.

So why has Turkey become the mecca of heliskiing? Here’s a little more info to check out before booking your next heliskiing adventure in this incredibly captivating country.

Why Is Heliskiing in Turkey So Great?

 

  • The low pressure storms off the Black Sea come into the northeast part of the country and dump high-quality snow along the Pontic Mountains and its subranges. The considerable snowpack in the Kackar Mountains has created alluring runs and lines across the region, with the Ayder region being notoriously hospitable to skiers and tourists.
  • The remote area around the Rize Province is seemingly designed for heliskiing. The Kackar Mountains stretch 130 kilometers along the coast of the Black Sea, providing a wild environment that has nothing but fresh, untouched snow during the winter. No waiting in lines. No difficulty in access. Just heliskiing from hundreds of drop points around the more than 150 summits.

 

Untouched powder occurs daily thanks to the storms across the Black Sea. Photo: Raphael Richard.
  • The best part about heliskiing in this region is the terrain. It is loaded with Alpine bowls and steep open runs. Tree skiing can be found in some areas, too. There are runs anywhere from 500 meters to 1,400 meters, so spending a few weeks in this snowy paradise may not be enough.
  • Depending on what you were planning for your getaway, the country has a wide variety of trips that cater to your particular wants and desires. Some programs offer basic accommodations – usually including food, lodging, and seamless helicopter access with an allotted amount of air time. Others provide personal cooks, massage therapy, thermal baths, and more. Select a guide and program that suit your needs and work with them to get the trip you’ve been waiting for.
  • The mountains themselves are spectacular. The highest peak is Kackar Dagi at 3,937 meters, and the surrounding summits aren’t too much shorter. Characterized by the remote countryside, these crags are peaceful and serene when blanketed with fresh snow. Each one of its charming features helps bolster its position as the premiere location to heliski.
  • Heliskiing in Turkey isn’t just a ski trip – it is an experience. You will most likely spend a week or more immersed in the stunning environment in the north, which means you will get a heavy dose of enchanting Turkish culture and hospitality. It is a great opportunity to really learn about a country while in the midst of a grand adventure.

When Is the Best Time to Go?

 

The best time for a heliskiing adventure is at the beginning of the year, from January to March. Snow during this time is particularly dry, so each day presents a new canvas to explore. Most of the helicopters servicing the region are in operation from January to April, so finding a program outside of this range may prove difficult.

 

A group poses in front of their chopper. Photo: Thierry Gasser.

How Much Does a Heliskiing Trip in Turkey Cost?

 

Heliskiing programs are affordable, particularly when considering the logistics of flying people to various parts of the Kackars. Prices can vary based on what is included, the size of the group, and whether or not it is a private or group program. The cost of a seven-day trip starts at €6,880 and generally includes food, accommodation, and in-trip transportation. A nine-day trip starts at €9,250, also with incentives included in the price.

The isolated location of the Kackar Mountains and the minute-by-minute use of the helicopter means most perks are included in the price. Heliskiing in Uludag and Palandoken will require extensive planning for drops and allow for less wiggle room on the itinerary, but the programs are fewer days and considered affordable compared with other international heliskiing rates.

How to Get There and Where to Stay

 

Though the region seems troublesome to reach, it is a relatively straightforward journey into the Pontic Range. Almost all flights will go through Istanbul – and if you are headed to Uludag, congratulations, you made it – before heading east.

There is an airport in Trabzon about two hours away from the Ayder Highlands. It serves as the gateway into the region with direct flights from Istanbul. Dusseldorf, Germany, also has two direct flights to Trabzon a week. London, Paris, and Berlin connect through Istanbul and get can you to Rize within seven hours.

For anyone traveling to Palandoken, getting there by way of Erzurum is available by flights from both Istanbul and Ankara.

 

Heliskiing on slopes of untouched powder. Photo: Raphael Richard.

Bus service runs to Trabzon as well, though the train is unreliable and the route does not go directly to the region. Taking the train to Ankara would be an option, though you would have to take a bus from there. Bus service directly from Istanbul to Trabzon takes about 18 hours.

Once you have arrived, you will most likely want to get to your lodge and get to the slopes. Most programs will include the lodge with your trip. The hotels and accommodations are spread out through the region. The Ayder Plateau has hotel stays with relaxed and comfortable amenities. It is close to the ski area with both private and group programs.

For a more luxurious stay, Ikizdere Town offers thermal baths and an abundance of spa options. It still has remarkable open terrain available from the air and the same Alpine awe that persists throughout the Kackars.

Certain lodges in Eider come equipped with a bar, sauna, gym, and in-house Turkish chefs to give you a full-on Turkish vacation. The best way to find the best choice for you is to work it out with your guide to suit your entire party.

Peaceful scenery awaits once the helicopter takes off. Photo: Raphael Richard.

What Else Is There to Do While in Turkey?

 

The fun doesn’t have to end once you’ve finished your run from the helicopter. If you have a little more time in your schedule, you can parlay your adventure into other exciting programs as well. Spending a few days in Istanbul either before or after your trip is highly recommended. It is a one of a kind city steeped in history that is sure to inspire your next expedition.

Rock climbing is a popular sport as well. Datca and Geyikbayiri both have amazing ancient rock formations to explore, the former with routes running above the Aegean Sea and the latter within 25 kilometers of Antalya. Look into these great rock climbing programs and see if you want to add one on to your heliskiing expedition.

 

Start making your dreams come true by heliskiing into Turkey’s most beautiful mountains and dropping in to the ski vacation of a lifetime!

 

 

Best Resorts for Off-piste Skiing in the French Pyrenees

Lining France’s southern border with Spain, the Pyrenees have long been a popular off-piste skiing location.

The ancient mountain range stretches for 500 kilometers from the Bay of Biscay all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. For tourists from around Europe and the rest of the world, the Pyrenees serve as a smaller, less crowded and cheaper alternative to the Alps.

That being said, there is not much of a dip in quality, in spite of the dip in price. Numerous parts of the mountain chain, especially along the northwestern section in France, receive massive amounts of snow in the winter, making the numerous resorts dotted throughout the range perfect for off-piste skiing adventures.

In spite of is small size, there are quite a lot of resorts throughout the range. Most guides will take you around to sample a few of them during a trip, but no guides could possibly reach all of them.

To that end, we’ve compiled a list of the top resorts in the French Pyrenees, in order to save you some time.    

Le Mourtis

 

Receiving fantastic snow and located in a picturesque forest just a few minutes away from the village of Boutx in the central Pyrenees, Le Mourtis is a classic Pyrenees resort.

With several large, but not very challenging vertical runs and superb mountain views, it is an ideal place for beginners to experience the fun and excitement of off-piste skiing. There are also tougher spots for more advanced skiers to enjoy as well.

Grand Tourmalet / Pic du Midi / Barèges & La Mongie

 

Pic du Midi offers everything an off-piste skier could want: excellent views, a hot meal and unbeatable slopes. Photo courtesy of Stéphane Monari.

Making up the largest off-piste terrain in all of the French Pyrenees, the resorts around Grand Tourmalet offer plenty of challenges for intermediate and advanced skiers alike.

Located roughly a half-hour drive away from Bagnères-de-Bigorre, this resort connects the villages of Barèges and La Mongie. It contains more than 50 lifts that take you to tree-lined slopes and allow you to ski right back down into the villages.

On Pic du Midi, you have the options of skiing the north face, along Combe de l’Ours or Taoulet. Or you can head to the south face and enjoy the Blanche or Jaune runs. Regardless of the route you choose, you’ll enjoy spectacular views of the surroundings.

The fields of Tourmalet is another famous freeride spot complete with excellent views of Pic du Midi. Overall, the resorts around Grand Tourmalet are a great starting spot for any off-piste adventure.

Piau Engaly

 

Hopping off the ski lift at Piau Engaly brings you into a quite wild and remote environment for off-piste skiing. It is not uncommon to be able to speed down the slopes, waist deep in snow to the backdrop of incredible views.

Located just 30 minutes away from Saint-Lary-Soulan, Piau Engaly is the only high-altitude resort in the Pyrenees and is recommended by many guides for off-piste skiers who need to improve their technique and get some practice.

It is also a great spot for those who want to escape the crowds of some of the more popular resorts in the area.

Both of these factors make Piau Engaly a great spot both for beginners looking to get into the sport and families who want to enjoy some quality time out on the slopes together, with a view.

Superbagnères

 

Situated 18.5 kilometers above the sleepy town of Bagnères-de-Luchon in the central Pyrenees, Superbagnères is considered by many to be one of the best resorts in the whole mountain range.

The resort is the perfect getaway for ski tourers, with its only point of access via a gondola from the town. Once you arrive, there are more than 1.000 meters of slope that usually have excellent powder.

With a local guide it is even possible to ski through the forest all the way back into Luchon. Although this requires appropriate snowfall and skiing skills.  

Sometimes there are lifts and sometimes to get to some top off-piste spots you need to strap on some skins and climb! Photo courtesy of Martin Elorza Alday.

Peyragudes

 

Nestled in between the towns of Peyresourde and Les Agudes in the center of the range, Peyragudes offers more than 60 kilometers of runs.

The resort sits at the foothills of the range, so unlike some of its counterparts, many of its slopes enjoy more sunlight for longer throughout the winter months.

The highlight of this resort – other than the chairlifts that come right into the carpark – is the epic 6-kilometer long Vallée Blanche run.

While far lesser known to its homonymous counterpart in Chamonix, Peyragudes’ Vallée Blanche offers a great ride with some awesome views along the way.

Saint-Lary-Soulan

 

Blending incredible skiing with unbeatable mountain views, Saint-Lary offers more than 100 kilometers of terrain down which to ski.

Located in a spectacular little valley along the D929, this spot is great for adventurous off-piste skiers looking for some thrills – and views.

The resort is perfectly suited both for beginners as well as those who are more advanced. The Col du Portet Snowpark is a great place to hone your off-piste skills while pausing intermittently to enjoy the scenery.

For more advanced skiers, taking the lift through the forest of the Lac d’Oule is essential. Once the lift drops you off, ski down an incredible run and take advantage of a secluded spot overlooking a dammed lake.

Ax 3 Domaines

 

Enjoy skiing with a view regardless of which resort you and your guide choose to visit. Photo courtesy of Manu Noiran.

Located in the sleepy comune of Ax-les-Thermes, Ax 3 Domaines presents the perfect combination of excellent skiing and relaxation.

There are three main levels from which off-piste skiers may begin, each more exciting than the last. The main ski station is located at 1.400 meters and offers plenty of smaller runs, perfect for beginners.

Further up are the Campels at 1.800 meters and Saquet at 2.100 meters. These can be reached by lifts, but more intrepid skiers may want to strap on some skins and climb to the top. However you get there the views of the surrounding mountains and valleys are phenomenal. As are the runs right back down.

After an exhaustive day of skiing, go for a soak in one of the local thermal springs, from which the commune gets its name.

Ascou Pailhères

 

Sitting just to the south of the commune of Ascou in the very eastern reaches of the Pyrenees is the marvelous resort of Ascou Pailhères.

As far as scenery goes, you could not ask for a more picturesque place to put a resort. Sitting in the shadow of Tarbesou, the resort has six lifts that take you to all sorts of different runs.

Views from the top of Tarbesou, which rises up 2.364 meters, are spectacular as are all of the runs that lead you through winding forested trails.

Once you finish up here, Ax 3 Domaines is also close by offering more excellent skiing with similarly spectacular views.

Best time to go there

 

By the end of December, there is plenty of snow up in the mountains. Photo courtesy of Martin Elorza Alday.

The best time to visit the Pyrenees for ski touring is from January to March. However, many guides offer trips from December to May as well.

By the end of December, everything above 1.600 meters should have an excellent coating of snow for off-piste skiing purposes.

Due to the mountain range’s unique location, the weather varies across the chain. The western end receives much more snow due to the cool and moist air that blows in from the Atlantic Ocean.

The eastern end of the range tends to be a bit drier, but the snow that it does receive generally sticks for the duration of the season.

Throughout the chain, average daily temperatures are about -2ºC, which is perfect for long days spent out on the slopes.

Average cost of a ski trip with a guide

 

The average cost of trips depends largely upon how long the trip is, how many people are included in the trip and what is included in the price.

That being said, for a one-day off-piste skiing private trip, you may expect to spend between €100 and €400 per person. The lower end of this spectrum will only include the guide fee and group equipment, while the higher end tends to also include accommodations, lift tickets and entrance fees as well.

Larger group trips are generally cheaper and last a bit longer. However, those are open only on certain dates and fill up on a first come first serve basis.

Always confirm what is included and how costs are divided among participants with your guide prior to booking.

How to get there

 

Many guides will take you to more than one resort when you go off-piste skiing in the Pyrenees as several are located in quite close proximity.

The four main starting points for most off-piste skiing adventures would be from the towns of Ax-le-Thermes, Boutx, Saint-Lary-Soulan and Bagnères-de-Bigorre.

The first step of getting to these villages is largely the same: a flight into the airport at Toulouse (TLS), which offers connections from just about every major European city.

From here, you could rent a car, which is probably the easiest option and make the scenic drive into the mountains. The drive takes about two hours to most of these resort towns.

However, if you don’t want to deal with the hassle of renting a car, there are some other options available too. When heading to Bagnères-de-Bigorre, you can take the Bayonne – Toulouse-Matabiau train line from Toulouse city center, getting off at Tarbes. From here you take a bus to the Bagnères-de-Bigorre. This takes about three hours.

For Saint-Lary-Soulan, you would take the Bayonne – Toulouse-Matabiau train line from Toulouse city center to Lannemezan Gare SNCF and then take a bus to your final destination. This takes about four hours.

For Boutx, you take the Pau – Toulouse-Matabiau bus from Toulouse city center to Gare de St-Agne, walk to the Saint-Gaudens stop and take another bus on to Boutx. This takes about four hours.

For Ax-le-Thermes, you take the Ax-les-Thermes – Toulouse-Matabiau train line directly to Ax-le-Thermes. This takes less than two hours.

The fields of Tourmalet offer some pretty awesome off-piste opportunities. Photo courtesy of François Delas.

 

So what are you waiting for? Book your next ski holiday in the lovely resorts of the French Pyrenees and enjoy sun, scenery and, of course, great skiing!