Ideas for Active Holidays on the French Riviera
Only 35 minutes from the Nice Airport at 550m above sea level, the peaceful village of Châteauneuf-Villevieille is a clear contrast to the dynamic French city. Set against the flank of Mont Férion in the préalpes, Châteauneuf-Villevieille is an excellent base for an active holiday near the French Riviera. The village has only had its current name since 1992, but there is a long history of human activity in the vicinity before Roman times. Although a bit overgrown, it’s possible to explore the medieval village’s ramparts and enjoy sweeping views of the Mediterranean.
Cycling and hiking are two popular activities from Châteauneuf-Villevieille. We asked the owners of La Parare, a charming 5-bedroom B&B, for ideas of things to do in the area.
Road cyclists familiar with the 8-day Paris-Nice “Race to the Sun” and the Tour de France will recognize some of the epic climbs near Châteauneuf-Villevieille. There is Col de la Bonette on the Italian border, the highest pass in Europe at 2,715 metres (or is it?). Not for the faint of heart or weak legs are Col d’Eze (Villefranche) often featured as the Paris-Nice finish, Col de Turini (1607 m), and Col de Braus (1002 m).
L’arrière-pays de Nice is a paradise for gravel bike riders. Here you find wide unpaved roads that are either car-free or rarely used. Gravel switchbacks snake up the hillsides from the Massif de l’Esterel (near Cannes) to the Italian border. Enthusiasts can find these routes outlined in detail on tracking tools such as Strava. Although the riding is never too far from the next town and often the Riviera is within view, make sure to take precautions (water, snacks, and don’t ride alone).
There are plenty of other options for cyclists visiting this part of the French Riviera, including mountain biking (VTT), downhill riding and e-bikes of all varieties. For a cardio-boost, try a mountain bike ride from the garden at La Parare to the medieval ruins in Châteauneuf-Villevieille.
The Côte d’Azur tourism website is a great resource for cyclists of all levels rental and repair, to guides, and route ideas. B&B La Parare has plenty of space around the house and safe parking for bicycles.
Hiking and Walking Holidays
After a leisurely breakfast in the garden at La Parare, it’s time to set off on foot. Start your hike from the house explore the Alpes Maritimes’ walking trails in any number of directions. Trail signposts indicate distance and approximate walking time to the next destination. The owners of La Parare have guides and hiking maps for your use.
Hike from the garden to Châteauneuf-Villevieille’s medieval ramparts, aside from the calorie burn, the sense that you have turned back history is your reward. Perhaps surprising to North Americans, the ruins are accessible. Please use common sense and caution. The ancient stone walls are not a playground for kids, nor a good choice for anyone with mobility issues. If that is not quite enough exercise, keep going to Mont Macaron’s summit at 806 m. Regardless of your destination, enjoy the stunning views towards Nice and the Mediterranean. Here is the map.
Walk from the seaside to Èze. Chemin de Nietzsche begins near the train station in Èze-bord-de-Mer and climbs 400m to the hilltop village. Only attempt the Nietzsche Trail if you have a reasonable fitness level. The ascent takes about an hour, and it’s quite a vertical climb. Avoid this hike during the summer heat. Once in Èze, don’t miss the botanical gardens among other sites.
On more or less level ground, head to Saint Jean Cap Ferrat and walk the 6.1 km trail along the peninsula. Start in St-Jean, leaving the port behind, follow the path along the outer perimeter of the Cap. Enjoy the Tour du Cap sites, including the Grand Hotel and an old lighthouse (rebuilt after WWII). This walk takes roughly two hours and ends near the Passable beach.
For real heart-pumping fun, try rappelling down a waterfall, canyoning or wild swimming in one of the local rivers. Of course, only attempt these activities with the appropriate level of fitness, safety equipment, and knowledge of the area. More details here.
Visit the Riviera Gardens
There are 14 gardens registered as Jardins Remarquables (Remarkable Gardens) near the Côte d’Azur. Visit any one of these verdant paradises created by gardening enthusiasts and get lost in the beautiful scenery. Spread along the coastline from Antibes to Menton and into the Alpes Maritimes’ hills, these Jardins Remarquables feature seaside and mountain views.
Today, the high season on the French Riviera is during the summer months. However, in the 19th century, it was in the cold winter months when wealthy foreigners escaped to the French coast. This stylish group left a permeant impression on the Riviera with landmarks such as the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, art-deco homes and gardens filled with mimosas. The mimosa, part of the acacia family, is native to Australia, not the South of France. Originally planted in the 1850s in gardens of the “Riviera Set,” mimosas bloom along the coastline in winter. The Route du Mimosa runs 130 kilometres from Bormes les Mimosas to the perfume capital of Grasse.
Spend a Zen Day
You are on holiday after all! The tag line for La Parare is “Between Zen and Provence,” so take advantage of the relaxing options at this 5-bedroom B&B. After a hot day of touring mountain villages or climbing hills on two wheels or two feet, take a dip in the heated saltwater pool. Perhaps your muscles are sore from all the activity; let the owners book you a massage. In cooler weather, enjoy the onsite sauna or a nap in front of the fireplace in your room.