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France TRAVEL

Explore off the beaten tracks in the Alpes Maritime

If you are seeking solitude, alpine adventure, breath tacking nature at its best and getting up close with wild wolves then the Alps Maritime in southern France is for you. We found it stunning!

We set out for our alpine trip from Roquebrune-Cap-Martin on the cotes d’azur coast, which we have been calling it home for the past three weeks staying at my partners’ families apartment in the old grand hotel du Cap Martin. Once a striking hotel in its hay day and now has been turned into private apartments; it still holds its charm and art nouveau character.

We stop off at the local Marche des Halles in the small town of Menton which is literally right next to the Italian boarder. The market is filled with wonderful citrus and Italian produce; I can hear a mixture of French and Italian being bellowed from the stallholders, a cultural mix of food and language.

The simple citrus has become a central fixture in the town, beautify pruned lemon trees covered in lemons line the streets. So it is no wonder the village holds an annual citrus festival with statues and floats completely made up from citrus to celebrate the history of the simple lemon in the region.

We stock up for the journey on cheeses, fresh tomatoes, prosciutto and a baguette for a picnic on the roadside.

The road up to the Alps from the coast is windy and narrow, and has been a favorite route for the local Monte-Caro rally over the years due to the hair pin twisty roads. As you take each tight zig- zag turn up the mountain you get glimpse’s of the sheer drop offs to the valleys below and breathe taking views out across the ocean of the cotes d’azur.

 

 

The road up to the Alps from the coast is windy and narrow, and has been a favorite route for the local Monte-Caro rally over the years due to the hair pin twisty roads. As you take each tight zig- zag turn up the mountain you get glimpse’s of the sheer drop offs to the valleys below and breathe taking views out across the ocean of the cotes d’azur.

The little medieval village of Sospel is our next stop with its trompe l’oeil facades of houses that date back to the early XIXth century. The village is surrounded by alpine forests and the Bevera river that runs straight through the village cutting it in half, while an ancient arched pedestrian stone bridge called ‘Vieux Pont’ unites the two sides of the town. The crumbling buildings only adding character to the atmosphere that the village hasn’t changes in centuries.

 

After our espresso stop at Sospel we climb the road up to the Alps following the Bevera River that’s far below. The mountains on either side are covered in terraced olive trees that have been abandoned years ago. Snow starts piling up on the sides of the roads and we start to see glimpses of snow-capped mountains in the distance.

We arrive at dusk to the quite Saint Martin-Vesubie village and our typical alpine hotel. Sitting down to dinner in the restaurant, we are surrounded by copper pots on the walls, wolves skin, stuffed animals of every description, and an inviting open log fire burning away.

Our meal translated to be ‘’blue pond trout’’, which is exactly what is served – yes it is blue! and it is delicious, not at all how it is described. We soon find out the trout was still alive only fifteen minutes ago and was caught from the restaurants trout pond out the back. This typical local way of farming and serving fresh trout from a pond is a dying art; the hotel is one of the only hotels left in the area that keeps up the tradition. And for the blue source, the trout’s skin turned blue after it was cooked!

After dinner we were relaxing and chatting with the chef and owner while tasting his family’s home made liqueur and he suggested we undertake a hike, around the local Alpine Parks. We decided to take up his suggestion and explore the mountain area of the Mercantour National Park, from Bore’on, along the beautiful river on one side and the Alpha Park’ Wolves’ park on the other side.

 

 

We set out early to the Alpine National Park with an altitude of 1500m and surrounding higher peaks. You feel a thousand miles away from the coast and yet it is only an hour and a half from Nice and the buzz of the French Riviera.

Light snow begins to fall as we slowly hiked with our racket snowshoes through the deep snow along the edge of the river. The scent of the pine and spruce trees lingers on the breeze.

Making it to a pine log cabin in a clearing at the base of the higher peaks, we decided to break for our packed lunch of the local bakeries specialties. The park was completely quite; we had the whole park to our selves, there wasn’t a sole to be seen apart from a few birds.

Racketing through the snow as the French call it, is hard work, so we decided to make our way back after lunch through the thick snow.

As we trudged through the snow, stopping at a clump of spruce trees I notice a flash of something running behind a tree on the other side of the Boréon River, then the eerie howling started. We completely froze; it was a pack of wolves extremely close by.

Safely to say there was a fence between them and us on the other side of the river, which we couldn’t see but hoped it was there.

It was their feeding time!

We made it back to our car in one piece and headed straight for the log fire back at our cabin and a warm cup of hot chocolate.