Ever wondered where to find the best hiking spots on the Côte d’Azur? Unsure how to plan your route and what to take with you? Monaco Tribune met with a hiking enthusiast to get all the tips and tricks you need to spend a summer in the Riviera’s mountains.
Exploring the hills of Slovakia since the day he learnt to walk, Michal Balážia loves everything about the outdoors. As soon as he moved to the Côte d’Azur two years ago, getting up into the mountains was his main mission.
“I asked a couple of friends and within two weeks we had a hiking group”. Since then, his Facebook group “Mountain Gang” have hiked along the French Riviera most weekends. A group open to everyone, from complete beginners to mountaineering pros, they have so far completed around 80 trails. Here is what Michal had to say about preparing for a hike.
Use an offline map
As they can be tricky to read and outdate quickly, instead of taking a paper map, Michal recommends planning a trail online via Carte Topographique IGN, plotting it in wandermap, and then downloading the route’s GPS into an offline smartphone app, such as MAPS.ME. As well as this, he urges people to pack multiple portable phone chargers to avoid being left with no battery and getting lost. “I always carry two power banks,” he says.
Make the most of trains and buses
For Michal, “having a car is a limitation and you may restrict yourself”. Often, to avoid returning to your starting point and repeating half of the trail, taking public transport is much better. From Nice, you can take multiple buses (90, 91, 720, 770, 790) and trains (Nice-Digne, Nice-Tende) designed to take you straight into the mountains, all year long.
Fuel up and look after yourself
Snacks are important to keep energy up and according to Michal, “nuts are best”. Anything from “almonds to cashews to walnuts”. If you can find energy bars “containing at least 60% nuts”, they will also set you up well. Remember to pack at least two litres of water too!
Embrace adventure and stay overnight
Who said hiking had to be a one-day affair? “Overnight hikes are just the best… it’s like another level of adventure.” Whilst extended hikes are more exciting, there are a few things to bear in mind. “Bring a lamp, a sleeping bag and book the refuge [small huts offering a hot meal and a bed] in advance”. Additionally, make sure to reach the overnight location by the check-in time: something Michal realised the hard way when staying in Refuge de Rabuons after a hike up Mont Ténibre.
“We were late and missed the 7pm deadline. By the law here, the keeper of the refuge has to make sure everyone is safe and because he hadn’t heard from us (we were really slow and had no phone signal), he called the helicopters out.”
Plan your outfit
If you go for a longer hike or an overnight adventure, a hip belt could be a good investment. “It takes about 70% of the backpack’s weight off your shoulders.” As for footwear, “people tend to overdo it with really strong, military type shoes and end up with blisters and sore feet… comfortable trainers will be fine.” Sun cream, sunglasses and a hat are also essential.
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Located in the foothills of the Alps, “the mountains are steep, so you gain elevation really quickly. If the weather is good, you can even see Corsica.”
Split over two days with a night spent in a mountain refuge, hiking through La Vallée des Merveilles here was a particularly memorable moment for Michal. Literally translating to the “valley of marvels” this route is full of wonders.
Refreshing swims in mountain lakes with wild goats accompanying you throughout the walk, there is plenty to admire whilst climbing your way to the 3,000m summits. “It’s like an encyclopaedia of biodiversity.” Marmots, vultures and even traces of wild boar are all visible on the route. Whilst the boars are hard to spot, Michal describes how they “use their nose to dig up little seeds and plant roots. If a path is completely destroyed, it’s often because there were some hungry boars there!”
Combining history with hiking, this valley is “like an open-air museum.” At one point, “you can see cave carvings from the copper and early bronze age on the rocks.” This was “the cherry on top of all the hikes we’ve had.”
So, what are you waiting for? Pack your bag, plan your route and head up into the mountains for some stunning views of the Côte d’Azur!
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