In brief

Water hiking: a refreshing way to explore the French Riviera

water hiking river trekking French Riviera
Les Pirogues via Facebook

After motorcycling, biking and walking, here we continue our discovery of the region’s best “routes” to discover, no matter the means of travel. This time? So-called water hiking.

Water is found everywhere in the Alpes-Maritimes region. Whether the blues of the Mediterranean Sea or the rivers flowing down from the highest points of the department, there are many options for water sports and activities which never fail to please when summer starts heating up. One such example is coastal water hiking which has been a great success in recent years. Think: hiking through in rivers and streams with the water roughly up to your chest. It is an ideal way to refresh yourself one these hot Riviera days, as well as getting in some exercise. Other trendy aqua activities include the electric water bike, which has just arrived in Bouches-du-Rhône and the Var, paddleboarding, water yoga, Aqua Stand Up and water hiking.

Walking in the river with a wetsuit

But beware, behind these hikes a real challenge lies. Robin Zavala is a guide for Les Pirogues, a company based in Nice which specialises in water sports and climbing. “Water hiking is actually like base level canyoning. You walk in the river with a wetsuit, you swim, jump, slide down natural waterfalls. It’s not a small hike. You don’t have to be a great sportsman, but you do have to be able to spend two hours in the water and move around.” Hence the need for a guide to lead the group.

Fun and sporty at the same time

“There are a lot of things you need to know, like how you get over obstacles, how you jump into the river, where you go in, where you come out,” Zavala continued. A guide for roughly ten years, he also explained that water hikers do need some slightly more technical equipment, so he is also available for advice on the right footwear or wetsuit to protect against the cold.

Having a guide is necessary on these hikes to ensure the safety of each intrepid explorer. Those leading the walks must have a recognised qualification in being a guide for rock climbing, mountain climbing or canyoning to be able to lead groups through the waters. All this to enjoy the many advantages of water hiking, which, as Robin tells us, is a real source of fun.

“It’s ideal for summer; we are in the water, there are beautiful places, it’s varied, the journey itineraries are not repetitive, it is fun and sporty at the same time, there’s abseiling, water slides… Basically we have fun!” And all the more so too in Alpes-Maritimes which is full of great spots for water hiking, such as the Tinée and Vésubie valleys, or the Gorges du Loup.

A way to raise awareness of environmental protection

Not only are these ideal areas for water hiking but also for raising awareness of environmental protection: for one cannot go without the other, as Robin Zavala explains. “There are more and more problems with the increasing number of tourists each year, which leads to problems with parking, unsupervised hikes, and unsuitable equipment, as well as having repercussions on the fauna and flora.” Zavala has criticised the increase in disrespectful, irresponsible behaviour each time a group goes out or an article appears in the press.

Sometimes even basic principles have to be reaffirmed to visitors. “People need to be made aware of everything, for example that you cannot throw rubbish in the wild. It’s important to tell them again and again. We don’t use sunscreen in canyoning either, sunscreen is very damaging to the water.” There is little doubt that water hiking represents much more than just a recreational activity.