Monday, 30 July 2012

Walking in the Mercantour - Sainte Etienne de Tinee and beyond.....

Chemin d'Energie - Mercantour - Saint Dalmas le Selvage
Walking in the Mercantour??  I should say
your intrepid explorers at spacebetween, have
been suffering again for the sake of their "art" -
and a reccie further north in the Mercantour to
a stunning area, which (rather shamefully) we'd
never got to before!!
After thee weeks of blazing sunshine, the expedition loomed large, and larger than most it seemed, with
 a rare wind from Lombardy (thanks Italy!), whistling down from the North East with enough gusto to destroy Denis Longfellow's sturdy barnum tent in Le Boreon at 1700m.

As we headed up the Tinee Valley we seemed to be taking the direction of the only cloud cover in the Alpes-Maritimes.....hey ho....going back to bed was not an option.....!!

The D64 leads, rather enticingly, to the Col de la Bonette, so at this time of year is awash with leather clad bikers, but we shall leave them to their fumes and head uphill.  The first parking lot in the Vens area is often full and quite remote, should you be worried about leaving your prize possession un-manned for a couple of days.  While there is also another area just up the track, the route up from here is a bit of a slog, straight up!!

Better to travel on an extra couple of kilometres to La Pra, where there's a resto (Le Pratois!, serving standard looking mountain fare), and a few humans to boot.  The pathway zig zags up before arriving at the gorgeous Plateau de Morgon, and then rises again to the Maison Forestiere de Tortisse.  From there we'd planned to tackle the Col de Fer, but given the "wet day out in the Lake District" weather we decided to head on down the the Vens Refuge and then take a wander out later in the afternoon.  Suitably "tea'd up" we headed up to the Col de Fer in the late afternoon, stunning landscape, and were rewarded with a load of furries in Marmot Alley, then the magnificent sight of some 50 of so mouflons just to the west of the col, running back and forth along the ridge like startled wildebeest.  The location of the refuge is quite stunning, and you can enjoy your evening meal having raised a glass to the donkey power which has provided you with your tasty repast!!!

We'd been keen to do the tantalisingly sounding "Chemin d'Energie".  Alas this is not a Chariot of the Gods moment, but rather, early efforts by EDF to exploit further the area's hydro electric power.   You may only want to do it once; its a flat, rather monotonous walk at 2300m, with incredible views of course, over the Auron and the surrounding mountains into Italy.

We'd missed a wetting on the first day but  there was no escaping the hail and stair rods just twenty minutes before we got to the Rabouns refuge (like the Facebook page!), where we were delighted to re-meet Hugo - the delectable guardian there.  Hugo has worked in various refuges in the Mercantour before being lucky enough to be granted his "own" summer gaff.  Madame Jones was very pleased with her vegetarian meal, and the genepy soaked, post dinner, sugar lumps....yum......

......could have done with a few more to cut out the sound of the (inevitable) snoring but such is refuge life.  There has to be some downside to the joys of being out in the great outdoors!!

The following morning, which loomed blue and clear, we wimped out of Mont Tenibre (3031m), thanks to bllstered feet (I should know better!), but headed happily downhill to the first car park and a welcome Leffe in Sainte Etienne de Tinee.

This week - Mounier!!!


Wild camp if you wish (bivvying is possible between 7 pm and 9 am) - but beware of the mozzies at lake side.

Don't light a camp fire - illegal anyway - but this year there are lots of park rangers about and they are within their rights to fine you up to €1500!!!

Take a spare bag and pick up any odds and sods that other scumbags have chosen to leave behind.

The Lacs de Morgon - as photographed by Bruno Hajjar - look wonderful - off piste so no-one much around.

If you are coming in from the Vens Refuge and planning to tackle Tenibre via the Breche, make sure you have an up to date map.  The earlier edition has paths which no longer exist.  Nice pic by Jean-Marie Bree.

Don't forget the earplugs!!


Map IGN Haute Tinee - Auron 3639

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Come on in - the water's lovely - wild swimming in the Alpes-Maritimes

Papillon at Lac Scluos - Mercantour
Good morning - it seems that water is on the brain at the moment...inspired by the four mermaids in a tank, from Britain's Got Talent? - perhaps not!!!  However Daniel Start has recently published a  Wild Swimming in France book which was featured in the Guardian recently.  Of course there are several recommended "swims" in the Alpes-Maritimes and just over the border into Italy - but rest assured there are many more secret and not so secret places where you can take a dip if you are hardy.....don't forget that the lakes are fed by snowfields - and the temperatures is appropriately cold.......later this week there's been a Top 10 Swimming Holidays feature in the interesting read as it starts out with sooper dooper places where you can get your cozzie on, to courses for the more devoted who can test themselves, around the world.  One of my favourite swim combos, on a four day horse trip over to Italy (can also be done on foot of course but it is a long way back uphill from Terme di Valdieri), is the ability to swim (or kayak) in the lake next door to Questa refuge, and then enjoy the warm sulphury waters in thermal baths. And below - the proof!!!!!
Enjoy..............get in touch with us - spacebetween - for more details...........

Lac - next to Questa Refuge
Terme di Valdieri - that is so good!!

Friday, 4 May 2012

In the spirit of we small and perfectly formed down shifters offering a great experience AND helping each other out - this is what Jacqui and Kevin are doing in Abruzzo. 

Love to have you in the Mercantour for the summer but we are kinda booked!!!!

KOKOPELLI CAMPING - this is what they are saying!!!

Active ventures, simple pleasures.

The smaller the campsite, the fewer the rules, the more the freedom Active ventures: Well off the beaten track in central Italy, the Majella National Park in the Appennines of Abruzzo is an idyllic play and training ground for any active adventurer. With its endless crags, gorges, lakes, wilderness and sweeping mountain roads, the Majella is just the perfect spot for climbers, hikers, bikers, cyclists and triathletes.

Simple pleasures: To the back drop of the Majella mountains and stunning views whichever way you look, we have no electric hook ups, no marked out plots, no campervans. Just tents and camping as nature intended. Just pick your view, pitch your tent amongst the olive and fruit trees, explore, chill, relax. Opening May 2012, between us, a pair of downshifting climbers, we have a fair amount of experience of climbing, mountain biking, cycle touring, triathlon and skiing. We’re also aiming for a self-sufficient, minimal impact lifestyle.
We cook our own bread, grow our own veg, enjoy a good festa and live for the mountains. With Kokopelli, we will be pulling all this together in Abruzzo, the relat i vel y unknown, but truly spectacular, heart of Italy. And you don’t even need a tent to camp with us: Camping our way: if travelling with all the paraphernalia of camping life is difficult, or you just fancy giving it a try, then why not use one of our tents? Or stay in Rosemary, our quirky little VeeDub? Rosemary can comfortably sleep 4 friendly adults, she’s got a small kitchen, cooker and fridge. She also has a large awning which can be attached to her side giving bags of space and a separate sleeping compartment.

 Camping without camping: if camping really isn’t your thing, we do have a rather nice
en-suite family room in the house, or a basic, but very comfortable, room in the barn,
sleeping 2-4 people.
Whether you’re in Rosemary, the barn, or the house, all the outside living, sun
terrace, BBQs, communal barn, showers, laundry and so on are available to you as if you were
camping. This way you get the best of both worlds.  A few mod cons: Just because we’re “back to nature” basic it doesn’t mean we’re prehistoric. We’re walking distance from Serramonacesca with its
two “sell everything” shops, two bars, a butcher and a chemist. We have wifi,
power points and are happy to charge your mobile phones, laptops & other devices.
We’ve got a communal fridge-freezer, solar powered showers (with gas back up), cooking
facilities and dining areas. We’ve even got a TV that we’re happy to share for big sporting
events and so on.
A little bit extra: whatever your needs or passion, we can (within reason) fit in with you.
We can pick you (and your bike) up from Pescara airport, we can arrange bike hire, give
you maps, guidance, itineraries or work with you to create a training programme. We can
drop you off at the top of a mountain if all you want to do is hike or cycle down. If you’re
a climber, we can show you the crags and give you crag guides. We can make you
picnics for your daytime explorations and you can join us for supper, wine, chat and
laughter in the evenings. We can even show you the local bars, beaches, events, festivals
and fun.
How to find us:
FB - Kokopelli Camping
Twitter - @JaqsD

Dreamin'of the Dordogne????

As we in the Mercantour are pretty chocker for the season for accommodation and holidays, let me pass you in the direction of Jane and Steve Harman-Hunt, who have found the perfect location in the Dordogne.  
Jane and Steve have only been in the area for a handful of years, and we spacebetweeners have not yet been over to visit them (France is just too too big!), but (given that Jane is a Lord at heart) you can be sure of a great welcome.
They are offering 15 % off all holidays at their home the Ridge in May and June 2012...which can't be bad in these stringent times.....

At the Ridge they have a 1 bedroom cottage and a 2 bedroom gite.  The area is just perfect for great lower level walking and chilling.  If you can drag yourself away from your lounger, there are many  beautiful towns and villages to explore locally, and many activities for children. 
For bookings in July and quick!

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Wildlife holidays in France...wolf watching in the Mercantour

The BBC have done the cause of the wolf a great deal of good in its recent excellent documentaries "Land of the Lost Wolves".

Anyone in the UK can still catch a look at the programmes via IPlayer - a service European mainlanders have yet to benefit from! Closer to home many people might not imagine that wolves could possible exist in our forests - aside perhaps from in Eastern Europe where their exotic myths link well to tales of Dracula in his lair, and Little Red Riding Hood!

However, the wolf is alive and well, thank you very much, in Western Europe, in France, and most certainly in Italy where the wolf has been less feared as a predator, thanks perhaps to the positive slant gained from Romulus and Remus and so forth. In the Mercantour National Park, there are allegedly 20 or so wolves that roam free. This, given that the park extends over 685km2 makes the sighting of a wolf a rare occurence, but they are kind enough to leave plenty of evidence of their presence in their wake, in the form or prints (very easy to spot in the snow), scat, dens, and kills.

Spacebetween do offer walking holidays in this beautiful National Park (which few people have still never even heard of - just an hour North of Nice!), which combined with a visit to the Alpha wolf park in the Vesubie valley is an excellent lupine experience. Unfortunately spacebetween do not have the funding nor the time to spend weeks crouching in the Gordon Buchanan must have enjoyed - lucky devil! The wolf here in the Alpes-Maritimes has had a particularly bad press, and was only seen again in the early 80s - in the area around which the Alpha park is now based. On the Italian side of the frontier in the sister National Park, the Alpi Marittime Park has also recently opened a wolf park - which spacebetween hope to be able to visit this spring. Wolf adventures are also offered further north in the Ecrins, which is sandwiched between the Mercantour and the Savoy to the North.

For more information about wolf orientated short breaks, or week long holidays - wolf watching holidays in France.

Image courtesy of Dave Willis - Mountain Sport Photography and Paramo.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Good eating on holiday in the Mercantour!!!

With apologies for the attactive but not very appropriate picture of attractive micro flora in the Mercantour - but at the moment I can't access our rustic shots of farmers, cows and cheese.....use your imagination by all means......However the main point of this short note was to say bravo to Hugues, Magali and Yann who had a feature on FR3 yesterday - programmed originally for last week - but had dropped down the schedule - cheese making in the Tinee - visible on Itunes - and the piece is at around 15 minutes into the 20 minute programme. Worth a look for sure and it is great to see the efforts of farming starting to reap some success and interest by the powers that be, to support them and encourage more farmers into the area. You will never be disgruntled by the price of cheese again - as you realise all the work that goes into making your cheese - best to give your Euros to small local producers than the big supermarket chains. There's cheese produced in just about every valley in the Mercantour - and each has its individual taste - fear not about hygiene either as the production is strictly controlled.....for anyone living on the coast here - their farm in on the way north to Saint-Dalmas-le-Selvage - up a drive on the right hand side of the road. Cheese fans can also get their fill from the gargantuan cheese board served by Luc and Christine at the Grand Chalet in Valdeblore - it is justifiably famous! or, more modestly chez nous in Berthemont - where we have Jean-Francois' (well known in some circles for his dancing!) cheese on tap!!! Thanks to Kate Slater - I think - for the image.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Guns and roses (well mimosa at least!) - walking/riding and military history holidays on the French Riviera

While most of your time spent in Sainte Agnès might be spent escaping from the heat of the French Riviera some 800m below, and where many a happy hour can be wiled away in its tranquil streets admiring the craft shops or taking a jar in the Hotel Saint-Yves or the splendidly located Restaurant Le Righi, do spare a thought for the village’s rich history. For sure you might be surprised to see an excitable American chasing a troupe of horses round the village which will take you back to cowboy days, but Sainte Agnès conceals much more. In the 16th Century the House of Savoy built a fortification in Sainte-Agnès, which was a strategic location between the Counts of Provence and Genoa. The fortress hosted no small amount of action between the French and the Sardinians, and became part of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia between 1814-1860.
In the 20th Century the Maginot fortification was planned to defend the Bay of Menton and to prevent attack on the coastal cities from the north. In the SE of France, the Maginot Line became the Alpine Line or the Little Maginot line. Built between 1932 and 1938, the “ouvrage” in Sainte Agnès consisted of one entry block, two artillery blocks, two infantry blocks and one observation block which faced Italy, plus underground catacombs of more than 2000m2. Perched at 780m it was one of the most powerfully armed sites of the Maginot line and even today many of the guns are in working order.
Ste Agnès can be visited everyday from June to October and at weekends in winter months.
Military buffs might well be interested in the military relics of the Maginot Line in the Alpes Maritimes which gives details of all the military relics of the Maginot Line in the Alpes-Maritimes, in the late 1920s up to some 400 installations were being planned. Further images of the Maginot Line can be found on Many of the sites today do require some finding, and come right up to the Vésubie valley near to the base of spacebetween, Mercantour walking holidays and accommodation specialists, who don’t do specific military history targeted breaks but would be bound to help visitors to get the most out of their break in this lovely part of the world.They do also offer more general walking breaks around the beautiful village of Sainte-Agnes, which military history or not is a splendid base for a holiday, and further north in the Mercantour.
The photo is dusk returning to the Med, and Sainte Agnes after a day out on horseback. For local horse riding contact Denis Longfellow on 00 33 622 295 886.

Authion – walking in military history

Jo Sinnott from the Travel Channel, wild camped over night on the Authion Plateau, comfy’ed up in her tent with her steady (motorbike) steed parked just outside. The series “Wild Camping” follows her adventures around Europe on her faithful machine and takes her to some surprising places – where you might never believe she could camp outside!!

If you can pick up Travel Channel programmes, the summary of Jo’s time in the Alpes-Maritimes is a fascinating look-see at all there is to offer here in one of the sexiest departments that France possesses. The Mercantour holiday specialists, spacebetween, supported the filming team in their explorations of the Alpes-Maritimes.

The tranquillity of the place and its magnificent views rather belie its rather chequered history of skirmishing, which given its strategic look out point position is scarcely surprising.

The County of Nice had been part of the Savoy-Piedmont kingdom since 1388, and from a military point of view, Authion has its strategic mark made in earlier wars, such as the French revolution. In 1793 and 1794, weak Austrian and Sardinian forces retrenched there, held out against French troops, who were then forced to make a big detour via the Republic of Genoa to attack their rear guard.

In 1859, the Napoleon III and Cavour made a secret agreement: the French people would help Piedmont to cast off the Austrians, in exchange for France being handed Nice and the Savoy county. After the battles of Magenta and Solferino, the peace deal was signed and the County of Nice became French in 1860, despite the England’s opposition. Relations were always tense as King Victor-Emmanuel was determined to keep his fabulous hunting grounds further north in the Mercantour.

In WWII as part of the Maginot Line which stretches to Sainte Agnès, the Authion defensive system dissuaded Italians to attack from 1940.

In March 1945, General De Gaulle wanted the French army to take back territory which was still occupied by the Germans. The battle of Authion raged from April 10 to 24, and caused a massive loss to the French - 280 killed and 1,000 wounded, in comparison to 100 killed on the German side. All a last minute tragedy with the Armistice being but a few weeks away.

Visitors today can enjoy the ride up to the Col de Turini, and past the small family sized ski station of Camp D’Argent before, in the winter, parking up and donning snow shoes, for a relaxed snow shoe walk, or in the summer can either take a stroll on foot, or drive round a circuit from where you can appreciate the fort, an old tank which remains there, and the remains of barracks buildings. It rarely fails to impress on atmosphere. The site is easily reachable from the French Riviera, and from the Mercantour National Park. It is often used by the Mercantour’s walking and adventure company specialist, spacebetween, as a easy gradient day out during their walking holiday breaks.

Walking holiday in the Mercantour with 700 years of history

The walking and adventure company based in the Mercantour, Spacebetween, often drive south from their base in Berthemont les Bains to the Cime de Roccassiera for a great day out walking, in the French Riviera Back Country. This is often a surprise element of their Mercantour Reflections week’s itinerary and, for Christmas 2011 – their winter walking and snow shoeing in the Mercantour, week – the dearth of snow was rather more than made up for the clear blue skies and sunny days however!

It is a pleasant and not too strenuous circular walk, with the reward of a view of the Med and on a good day, Corsica from the 1400m peak. For guests who are able to step out a bit is it also possible to do a short loop south to visit the ruined village of Rocca-Sparvièra (Hawk Rock) which has Coareze to the South.

It is hard too imagine that such a lonely place once house up to 350 inhabitants. Unfortunately it was damaged by a series of earthquakes in the 16th and 17th centuries, which changed the course of the water supply to the village, and created a mass exodus to other local places of shelter.

Now a ghost village of some splendour which rather more resembles a Tibetan monastery than a quaint village in the Alpes-Maritimes – whose keep and a variety of buildings are surprisingly well preserved.

However lovers of culture will also thrill to the knowledge that the infamous Queen Jeanne of Naples has made her mark here with a Christmas myth whose elaboration over the past 700 years scarcely makes it worth the recounting.

However it is pleasing to know that this Queen, who remains one of Provence’s most appreciated (despite the trail of blood she may have left behind her in her path to success), leaving with her husband King René, a legacy of fine buildings such as the castles in Pertuis and Salon, is etched into the history of this fascinating place.

It is scarcely visited now so it is very easy to forget your walking boots and fleeces for a second and immerse yourself into the political shenanigans of days gone by, and the adventures of the Royal court that was briefly based here.

The approach from the South and more images.

Grande Randonnee walks in France - fabulous trail walking holidays

Looking for some top adventure? – wonder what your hiking friends are talking about when they mention GRs?? (jeee….air – for the unitiated!!)…Look no further….

Right back in the early 1900s, a chap called Jean Loiseau apparently created the forerunner to the GRs in his so-called “highways for walkers”, but it wasn’t until after WWII that the French Touring Club and the Alpine Club joined forces to enable people to be able to get out on the hill. Hard to imagine but paid holidays were only first offered from the mid 1930s, so with increased freedom and time post war – and yes – the demand was there!

The first offering was, surprisingly, the GR3 (the Parisians keeping the iconic GR1 & GR2 numberings for the capital’s prestige!). This was a shortish continuous routes up near Orleans. Over the past 60 odd years the numbers have now grown to some 369 – with perhaps the best known being the tough GR20 in Corsica, and straying into the European arena, the GR5 (E2) which starts in Belgium and finishes on the coast on the French Riviera.

If you’re looking for a walking holiday in France with a purpose, rather than just enjoying all the natural splendour on offer and enjoy the sun also, you could do worse to come down to PACA (Provence, Alpes, Côte D’Azur), and the Alpes-Maritimes which is traversed by no less than six GR routes, and 800 kms of great tramping

Here we go – in numerical rather than recommendation order….

GR 4 Haute Provence to the Gorges du Verdon by way of the Alpes-Maritimes from Puget Théniers to Grasse.

GR 5 Tinée to the Vésubie... and to Nice
Hits the A-M at St Dalmas le Selvage in the Tinée to Saint Dalmas de Valdeblore and then the Vésubie to Levens through the Niçois back country to get to Nice. A side walk is possible to the GR 52 and the magnificent Vallée des Merveilles (
Valley of Marvels or Wonders) in Saint Dalmas de Valdeblore and the GR 510 towards Utelle.

GR 51 Balconies of the Mediterranean...parallel to the coast this magic route follows some of the E7 – Zagreb to Lisbon.

GR 52 Vallée des Merveilles (Valley of Marvels or Wonders). Don’t miss the famous Vallée des Merveilles in Mercantour via Saint Dalmas de Valdeblore, following the Bévéra to Menton.

GR 52A The GR52s little mighty sister, what a panorama over the Mercantour...heads west to east from Entraunes to Tende, passing by spacebetween’s base in Berthemont les Bains.

GR 510 The Moyen Pays - from the Italian border to St Cézaire sur Siagne through eight valleys - the Roya, the Bévéra, the Vésubie, the Tinée, the Cians, the Var, the Estéron and the Siagne

If this little lot doesn’t whet your appetite – don’t forget there is the Grande Traversée des Alpes, and the Via Alpina.

The Grande Traversee have just brought out new documentation for 2012.

Spacebetween who specialise in accommodation and walking holidays in the Mercantour can offer advice on tackling the local GR's, and there is also plenty of information on search engines.

The photo is taken in GranParadiso in Italy - in fact - but that's another story

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Flora in the Mercantour

The skies may be grey here today in the Mercantour, plus Nice Carnaval and "all that jazz" finishes on the coast of the French Riviera, but we are getting geared up for the portents of a great and early spring. It is always strange to imagine mimosa blossoming in February, when we are up here in the snow, but such is the charm of the Alpes-Maritimes department in France, sandwiched between the Med, the Ecrins and the Savoy, Provence to the West and Liguria in Italy, to the East. This fine region is unique and, away from the flim-flam in Nice, it boasts about half of all the plant species in France plus 40 or so which are endemic to the area - including both the Mercantour and the Italian Alpi Maritimi, across the border. The fine picture was taken a couple of years ago in the Valmasque, up the Roya Valley and in July when we are very pleased to be offering a Flower Power short break holiday. Not boasting of a huge awareness of flowers but enough to satisfy most people's interest in the glorious coloured (or not so coloured) fellows!! The other photograph was the following day - much higher up!! For hard core botanists we would hope to be able to muster the knowledge of our local expert Alain Creton who also does guiding in English and what's more has a teepee available in the splendid Merveilles Valley. Another interesting trail was established by an Englishman, Christopher Betts, some decades ago and although the trail is now looking rather neglected, it does form a rather formidable section of a superb walk during this holiday week. More information about Christopher Betts' work here. Following a tributary of the Bevera river south - is most fabulous for hard core canyoning as well as having a mass of "dingly dell" type flat sections to enjoy. One of the most joyous sights is to reach the Pas de L'Arpette from the Gordolasque (some 1000m of ascent) and to then look down to the glittering lakes of the Vallee de Merveilles or Valley of Wonders if you must!!, and a carpet of blue spring and trumpet gentians - as uplifting as a copse of bluebells in the UK, but with views. Edelweiss and the rare white blooms (currently not allowed to be picked) for the making of genepy are rarer sights - but we know where they are.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Spring has sprung - come take a walking break in France!!

The uncertainty of the French elections, plus the rather late dawning realisation that France may be affected by the global economic crisis, seem to be stopping the French from booking accommodation or walking holidays in France.

The British however, perhaps gee'd up by the excitement of the prospect of an extra Bank Holiday in early June, which falls the very week of school half term, seem to be very keen to move. Apparently a large number of holiday makers have transposed their summer holidays to the mega early Easter (early April - a month away!) and early June, rather than hanging on in there until July and August, when no doubt in the lure of the Olympics will keep them at home - here's hoping that Londoners in particular will be glued to a TV screen rather than taking their chances out on the roads - I imagine it will be bedlam!!

We happy chappies in France will be avoiding all that and are looking forward to welcoming the early escapees from the old country. To this end we've added some extra dates for our spring short breaks - trying to squeeze in holidays between the few expensive days for flights, plus if you must come and do via ferrata (yes that is me Liz on the VF!) you would be welcome to book just accommodation only here in Berthemont. The short break holiday packages - there's a handful of them appeal to families, couples and single travellers and include special interests, such as wolf watching, and for, later in the year, the Merveilles Valley and ogling the fantastic array of botany we have in the Alpes-Maritimes.

We had the very cold snap but are now back to enjoying blue skies and temperatures of up to 20 degrees (it's been foggy on the coast recently - yay!!). Long may it continue - the fair weather may have put paid to our winter walking and snowshoeing holiday season but one door shuts and another one opens....after the pizzazz of the Carnaval and the Lemon Festival which end shortly - March is usually a quiet month here in the Alpes-Maritimes - although there is often a good time to be had for Saint Patrick's Day.....thanks to the numerous ex-pats from the Emerald Isle and the French alike. This year it is on Saturday March 17 - also notably the day of the Wales/France match in the rugby Six it could be a hot sort of evening!!!

Monday, 27 February 2012

The sun is warm and the ice is cool!! Winter activity in the Mercantour

The Mercantour has just made winter activity holidays much easier for you!! The snow was late here in Southern France – you know, that department which has not only the fab French Riviera, but also a great National Park just behind it, but now it is the French half term holidays in PACA and things are a’swingin…….
Alpine, cross country skiing and ski mountaineering a’plenty plus snow shoeing, of course - but get here soon as the temperatures are un-seasonally warm.
Our cunning friends in Saint-Martin-Vésubie have just had an ice climbing structure raised, just next to the wolf park.
In the past your resident holiday team at spacebetween had to venture into the Tinée valley to have a stab at ice climbing as part of their winter activity holiday - see the pic! ( However now there is safe ice, with four different “walls” all within five minutes of your car, and a self congratulatory vin chaud afterwards. The wall can be used on your own, if you have the kit and the confidence for an amazing €8 for two hours, or hire a hunky mountain guide and benefit from some great instruction for just €40. It is also possible to get a season ticket, and group rates. More information here.
Local residents are justifiably excited about it as it is the most up to date system in France – the other one in Champigny-la-Vanoise further north, has been installed for some time.
It is an excellent way of finding out just how tough ice-climbing is (looks so easy from the comfort of your sofa!!), and doing it in a safe environment with no icy water pouring down on your head, nor falling rocks. It really does give you a full body work out, that is for sure, never mind the adrenaline involved!!! The O à la Bouche restaurant open all day too, has a fireplace and an interesting menu.
The system is at 1700m, and the tower mainly well shaded so climbing should be possible until Easter this year – well it is very early in 2012…..given the vagaries of the weather in Europe this year, check it out before you come on down with your ice axes, and wrap them carefully in your luggage.
However, and as always, there is lots going on, Mardi Gras, and the best Carnival in Europe, plus of course there is the Menton Lemon Festival and countless Mimosa festivals…..
Contact spacebetween walking and adventure holidays for more information for more details on how to make the best of all that is on offer in the South Eastern corner of France.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Denis le cheval devient Denis la vache!!!

Hi - everyone's favourite Mr Denis - now has expanded his "herd" with two cows - no not for riding - well certainly not yet - currently "settling" in Sainte boys!!!

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Carnaval!!! in Nice

Anthony Peregrine in the Telegraph recently stated that he felt that the Nice Carnaval (no I don't know why it is Carnaval with an "a" either - but it is!!) was the best in Europe....who am I to argue...I think that unfortunately for us locals it is more of a time when we might choose to avoid the streets of Nice (and Menton too - where there is a lively Citrus Festival at around the same time) due to the influx of the great and good to the town!! However that said - it is a fantastic spectacle - running this year between February 17 and March 4 - the Nice Carnaval website gives details of all the events and how to get tickets - you many choose the join the throngs on the streets or take your chances with a €10-€20 ticket in the seating areas. The theme for the Carnaval changes every year - this year it is sports orientated, and around the parades which take place, there are beauty pageants, flower battles and all sorts of mayhem. It's a great time of year to be up and about in the early morning with your camera with more that just a note of Blade Runner in the confetti strewn streets and surprising towering papier mache figures around every corner......always surprised that most people don't seem to understand that it is - Mardi Gras - a pancake day sort of indulgence - feasting and letting your hair down before the rigours of Lent. It is non tacky - and must cost the town a huge amount of money - which must be more than made up for by the tourist dollar!!! If you have February flatness (and/or fatness!!), get yourself on a plane or train to Nice and come and enjoy some mindless fun.....street party sensation..... for us at spacebetween - we are occasionally minded to escape from our mountain idyll - the organisation of walking holidays here in the Mercantour and so forth - and to get down to the coast to woop it up. If anyone has been over to the Venice Carnival - I'd be delighted to know!! although I gather it is almost impossible to get any sort of transport booked at that time- never mind a hotel room!!!! Enjoy .......

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

France in pole position still!!

According the the United Nations Tourist survey, France still tops the lot when it comes to attracting the most tourists every year - coming in at a staggering 76m++. Behind France comes the US, China, Spain, Italy and then the UK. It is a shame to see the UK (despite the sometimes unsure weather and high costs) lagging so far behind - despite a growing feeling that London has much more to offer spectacle wise, and culinary wise even (sorry French friends!) than Paris itself....hopefully the Olympic Games 2012 and the Queen's Jubilee will give a bit of a filip to proceedings. The Olympic Park certainly looks impressive - cheek by jowl with some of the poorest housing in London - this must be so strange for local inhabitants - although I remain unconvinced about the raison d'etre of that ghastly red metal centrepiece!! The arty among you could perhaps enlighten me - PLEASE??? The French are keen however to work their way up the rankings in the spend category where they come in at a meagre third. So far this year from our reservations at spacebetween ( for holiday accommodation and walking and adventure holidays in the Mercantour and beyond - it is the British who seem to have cast off their gloom (happy at last that the UK have their own currency?) while the French seem much more circumspect about spending money - hardly surprising perhaps with the uncertainty of the Euro and the elections this year where there doesn't seem a lot of choice other than the bitter little guy and the extreme right.

The image is of Nice Carnaval a couple of years ago - the Alpes-Maritimes continues its year round sense of fun!!!!

Monday, 30 January 2012

Snow cleats!!!

You may have thought that owning a pair of snow cleats said as much about you as possessing those must have frumpy checked shirts advertised in the back pages of the Press, tilting chairs, and crimpolene (or is it crimpalene?) tabards, but away with you, they are a great and inexpensive way to prevent yourself inadvertently featuring in the World Ice Skating Championships!!! We have bought several different kinds and come back to the Stabilicers type brand (we found that the Yaktrak [with coiled metal foot plate] didn't last very long and easily pinged off) which is a rubber galoshe which slips over the toe of your boot/shoe and has studs on both the ball of the foot and heel section. They come in various sizes and cost between about £10 and £15. Make sure that you have secured the cleat over both your toe box and the heel so that it is gripping where it should be. These little fellas are great to keep in the car to cope with the kind of weather that the UK is now "enjoying", the type that creeps up on you and you just haven't remembered to put your snow shovel, and luminuous padded coat in the car. Be forewarned - why not!?! In the mountains - the cleats have a superb function on days out, as we have seen in the Mercantour during our winter walking holidays, where is has been cold but there is no snow, with occasional icy patches, especially in areas with have no sunlight in the winter months....easier to pop the cleats on and walk deliberately, planting your feet firmly that to end up scrabbling around the undergrowth trying to avoid the spectacular ice!!! Of course for more serious stuff, snow shoes, half crampons and full crampons give much better purchase. Have a browse on a search engine - I've even seen ones suitable for high heeled shoes - for the fashion victims who don't mind breaking their necks and ruining their Louboutins in snow and ice!! - or get yourselves over here to the Mercantour where we have assorted rubber wear (!) plus plenty of lovely mountains abundant in snow and ice of every shape imaginable.
The picture was taken on a trip in JULY - in the Valmasque - there's a refuge at the far end of the left hand lake - we started out in wonderful Alpine pastures, knee deep in flowers, slept in the super friendly Valmasque refuge - and then slogged up to this view point the day after - be prepared for any weather in the South of France when walking, even in the summer......Enjoy...

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Snow - Now there will be snow shoeing!!!

At last the Alpes-Maritimes is able to join company with its friends in the North and throw open its doors for some snow activity. Traditionally, it seems at least, there has been enough snow for the Christmas and New Year period to make it worthwhile to dig out your gaiters and gloves, but this year the sun just kept on shining - almost three months with just two grey days. Our winter walking holidays over the festive season were a great success, thanks to fabulous guests who were delighted with the clear blue skies, a variety of walks, excellent food and good company....what we do at its best and most satisfying....since then the department has been rather holding its breath - with the higher ski resorts hanging on by the skin of their teeth, offering hard grainy snow chucked out by snow cannons - not always a perfect solution either given the dearth of rain fall in recent months. After a tense month, where did January go?, there has been a flurry of activity on Facebook this weekend, all movers and shakers in the Alpes-Maritimes being cock-a-hoop about the precipitation.....and the dull weather offering the perfect excuse to sit down and watch one of the most exciting tennis matches ever!!!! Not sure that the horses were too thrilled about the concept but they did have a good roll around in it before realising that munching the hay was a wiser idea.....we are looking forward to our two weeks in mid February now very skies are promised from the middle of next week...and we may even add a further week in March if there is sufficient interest. Flights from the UK to Nice, given that it is not a "destination" ski airport remain good value - plus if you time it correctly you can enjoy the Nice Carnaval and the Menton Lemon Festival too.....we may have all the tools to create perfect walking holiday in the Mercantour for you but don't forget that the mimosa will be out soon on the coast on the French Riviera. Check us out!!

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Gran Paradiso - summit or tour it - knocks the socks of the Tour de Mont Blanc!!

Gran Paradiso, for the uninitiated, is the highest peak in Italy at 4061m and nestles in a splendid amphitheatre, in a stunning triangle of cross border peaks – including Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn. With 700 square kilometres to gambol in (and Italian food!), it really is a paradise on earth.
Previous visits to GP have been based around the very fine Hotel Genzianella at Pont in the Valsavarenche valley. When we were last there, the new owners were keen to up the ante in their traditional Alpine hotel with good home cooked food and a friendly atmosphere. Always enjoy that slightly frizzante white wine on tap too! They looked after us, with our varying levels of fitness, allowing us to enjoy the sun and the splendid views, to the max.
With guests whom are always a pleasure to welcome back, the creation of a long weekend in Italy this year was no arduous task at all. No summit attempt required but a good work out for a couple of days combined with some time dabbling in the snow.
Arrival day dawns hot and clear as we meet the famous four at the airport in Turin. An hour and a half later, under the only rain that we see all weekend, we finally arrive at the Hotel Belvedere in Gimilian, just outside Cogne. A “belvedere” indeed, towering above Cogne with a mega view over to Paradiso, but also a towering radio mast. Hey ho – such is modern life.
However do not hesitate to come here, but diet first, because the six course menu, is solid home-made mountain food, with one unifying ingredient - CHEESE……in all its forms and presentations, delicious, and the source of much hilarity amongst us all. We might have been too embarrassed to refuse much food but would have needed to have been climbing Everest to do justice to all the calories that were being enthusiastically passed our way.
The next day dawns dramatic grey and blue so we decide to have a non snow shoe warm up day – and one which is preceded by a scarey “Italian Job” zig zag road – and one, we discover after, we shouldn’t have been up in the first place. We have headed slightly south east from Cogne, to Lillaz and then up to Gollie. The walk is under typical Alpine weather – five minutes of spring sunshine, followed by some cold blasts and threats of snow and sleet.
We manage to have a calm lunch in the former, before heading off towards Loie lake where Tony, the keen bean photography course student, heads off in search of an old ibex which has, rather tantalisingly, just disappeared behind a bluff. The rest of us wait, donning all we have with us, in the cold, before our leader Mel also disappears into the gloom.
Fearing that end of the world scenario, or perhaps we have seen too many cheap horror films, we were very pleased to see our two Musketeers appear over the horizon, armed with some great shots of a whole pack of ibex – result!
A great intro day with all safely gathered in, a bit weary, after a stunning round of local beers in a more than stunning location looking up the Val Nontez valley – where a wedding is taking place in the hotel next door. There’s not too much in Cogne so have a wander round and look out for a modern bar, with a row of beer pumps on the left just as you go in – and a huge picture window at the rear. Gratis nibbles and pretty bar staff too if that is your fancy!
Ordered specially, day two dawns bright and clear and we drag our cholesterol ridden bodies out on the hill in search of snow; snowshoes clattering reassuringly on our backs. A beautiful but not the most exciting of schleps takes us up to the very friendly Bardze refuge where a cup of tea with plenty of sugar is very welcome, as well as some foraging for food instruction as we leave.
A clutch of lycra bedecked Italian mountain bikers have munched their way through a vast quantity of food and a litre of wine (of course) before mounting their steeds and pedalling off into the distance. There is a feeling of relief among our merry bunch in anticipation of the snow, so we get geared up and head off towards what seems like a very near col – with much deception involved as ever, as we hit false col after false col!! However we are rewarded with stunning views at the top, before the hardy among us head off to a Col at nearly 3000m to try to get a view of the must be seen triangular peak of Mont Viso, and the green valley of Camiglia below. And there she was!! Job done……
I shan’t mention the C word again but suffice to say after a goodly day and a slogging 1300m of ascent, the belly full was rather welcome, and the young ones put a spring in the step of their older companions, by being the first abed! The “youngs” however are much more used to tarmac than tufty terrain, so they did very well and were unfailingly cheerful about it.
In Aosta, after a bit of retail therapy for family and friends, we regret the demise of an interesting snack bar, due to refurbishment of the paved street, but enjoy a (slightly) less (than what we have become accustomed to) calorific lunch before heading back to Turin. The name is lost in the ether but succumb to the charms of an Italian man on the doorstep at the Western end of this major pedestrian thoroughfare, and you won’t be disappointed.
Sound interesting? Our next foray is for two weeks at the end of August, with New Zealanders who are well used to their own impressive Alps, doing a two week circuit around GP. Think we can hardly wait?? Correct!!! A snow shoeing trip – on the cards for later in the year!!
Instituto Geografico Centrale – Italian maps
Gran Paradiso National Park
Aosta Valley
Turin airport
Spacebetweeen – based in the Mercantour in France – also provide Gran Paradiso trips – summit and circuits
Hotel Genianella – Pont
Auberge Belvedere - Gimilian
Cogne Snow Forecast

Get on your horse......real horse riding adventure

If you like big Nature and big adventure for your holiday experience - you could not fail to be entranced by this great short video - (edited by from a French TV programme "Des Racines et des Ailes" which concentrates its programming on innovative people who are making their living in positive ways in the countryside. Astonishing to see the natural beauty of the landscape just behind the French Riviera and a one-off guy who enables you to enjoy all this from the back of a horse. Denis Longfellow is a characterful Californian who has lived in France for thirty odd years and loves his troupeau, his winters in Sainte Agnes and of course his summers in Le Boreon, near Saint Martin Vesubie, in the Mercantour. If you are fit and confident there is no reason why you can't join Denis on his exploits in the Alpes-Maritimes. This is not a a dull plod on the back of a de-motivated riding school pony - but a horse riding holiday that you will never forget.

Sainte Agnes based walking holidays!!

Excellent to see this great reportage about the hanging village of Sainte Agnes - just behind the Italianate town of Menton on the French Riviera. The winter base of spacebetween's horse partner Denis Longfellow, the village is stacked full of charm (and lovely people as the video shows!) and it remarkably unspoilt - given its proximity to the coast - about 4 miles as the crow flies but a windy (full of bends not wind!!) climb to about 1000m. It is justifiably renowned as one of the prettiest villages in France, and makes a perfect centre for a walking, or riding holiday, rolling hills with excellent views down to the Mediterranean to the South and the magnificent Mercantour National Park to the North. What a place to be!!! Finish the day with a mooch around Fred's lovely stained glass shop and a traditional meal (no frozen ready meals here) in either the Hotel Saint Yves - a family run friendly hotel and resto, or the Righi - with a Michelin star view and great value prices.

Contact spacebetween for more details - details of their holiday week is here plus there is also the possibility to rent a house for up to 10 in the summer months.

Horse riding holidays in France - riding on the wild side!

If you went through the pony mad phase as a youngster but are now feeling a little timorous, or get hot under the bridle at the thought of riding the range and sleeping under the stars, there is a solution for you, without having to trot around a ring with a rosy-faced instructor barking at you.

If Guardian journalist Kevin Rushby can overturn his pre-conception that all equines are biting, kicking, foul tempered beasts, (after a break with his wife and gung-ho six year old daughter in the Alpes-Maritimes) - so can you.

The Alpes-Maritimes has it all; and much more excitement lurks behind the hedonistic strip which is the French Riviera. Denis Longfellow, a native Californian, has lived in “06” for the last 30 odd years, and has shepherded a variety of animals around this fantastic countryside during this time. He now has a troupe of about 25 horses which spend their time between Sainte-Agnès and the Mercantour National Park further to the North.

In the sleepy village of Sainte-Agnès, it always pays to keep your eyes peeled, as there is sometimes more than the hairpin bends to contend with!!

At about 1000m above the Med and Menton, the village has immediate “kerb appeal” for walkers, cyclists and riders and is the highest hanging village on the Mediterranean. Despite its proximity to the coast and “honey pot” villages such as Eze, Sainte-Agnès has maintained an unspoilt character. No five star hotels and villas here.

The said “perils” to traffic - the horses - are often grazing in the fields around the village and are rounded up when they are required to earn their keep. The saddling up process takes place in the lower village square, and the prospect, interspersed with lycra clad sweaty cyclists, and would be horse whisperers, is quite a scene!

During the winter, Denis usually just offers rides at the weekends, plus courses during school holidays. However, if you have a group of six or so, he will set up a tailor-made trip.

Don’t be nervous as you eye up your half ton of horse flesh, the team is obedient, sure-footed and nice natured. The saddles are comfortable, and hackamore bridles are used, preventing novices from tugging too much at the poor mount’s sensitive mouth, while allowing that great “John Wayne” sensation. Denis is on hand to give instructions, but be prepared to “get on with it”. This short video,

an extract from a recent programme - Des Racines et Des Ailes on FR3 – gives a good taste for what to expect!

The low lying hills around Saint-Agnès are ideal for horse riding and are laced with forestry tracks and pathways including the Grande Randonnée (GR) 51; but resist the temptation of turning your steed onto the super groomed greens of Monte Carlo golf club – it could be a very expensive five minutes of anarchy!!

Between the beginning of October and the middle of June, the weather is usually pretty good, (although – November 2011 – we have just had four solid days of rain and astonishing storms). There is only one “funny” – in the form of sea mist in the spring time, which adds to the atmosphere but does little to dampen the spirits.

With a solid animal doing most of the hard work for you, although do not imagine that riding out with Denis is merely just sitting aside your mount!, this is the most wonderful way for nature lovers to enjoy a different perspective.

While you may not see all the minutiae on the ground, you are free to enjoy the movement of the horse, and take a good look around you. And there is no shortage of things to look at – 360 degrees of splendour – from the Mediterranean glittering in the distance, to the stunning massif of the Mercantour to the North.

As the sun sets to the South, riders can reward themselves with chilled glass of rosé in the Michelin starred view (but non Michelin priced good food) at Le Righi restaurant, and exchange tall tales.

Your “sea legs” gained, consider taking the three day ride (sometimes more) from Sainte-Agnès to Le Boréon, which is Denis’ summer base. The ride is arduous, peppered with great picnics, and super home made food in the evenings, but a real adventure. You will be astounded by the fitness of the horses, and your own ability to hang on in there.

The summer season is in Alpine terrain in the Mercantour National Park, which the horses hasten to get to, for all the lush grass they can feast on. This is after all a “transhumance”, the traditional movement of stock to pastures new during summer months.

Visitors can enjoy short rides around Le Boréon, or take off on a four day trip up and over the Mercantour ridges, into Italy. Denis’ chalet is located just next door to the Alpha wolf centre and the picturesque village of Saint Martin Vésubie.

Information & Contact Details
Denis is in Sainte Agnès from the end of September each year to the middle of June. In the summer months he stays in Le Boréon valley above Saint Martin Vésubie, where visitors can stay in his chalet or yourtes. In addition to day rides, and the “must do” bi-annual Transhumance between the two sites, riding courses and tailor made trips are organised throughout the year.

Denis Longfellow
Tel: 00 33 (0)622 295 886

Places to stay and eat


Le Righi – good home made food and a great view
Avenue du Château
Tel: 00 33 (0)4 92 10 90 88

Le Saint-Yves Hotel – family run hotel with traditional fare
76 rue des Sarrasins
06500 Sainte Agnès
Tel: 00 33 (0)4 93 35 91 45


O à La Bouche – restaurant above the Alpha wolf centre – well cooked food
Tel: 00 33 (0)4 93 03 33 77

Chalet Longfellow – chalet for up to 13 people during the winter – summer accommodation in the chalet and yourtes.


Spacebetween Berthemont les Bains
Tel: 00 33 (0)4 93 03 48 57

Christian Lorenzetti Valdeblore

Tel: 00 33 (0)6 22 068 63 93