Promoting French and American friendship and understanding…
One of the great advantages of living on the French Riviera is that as an outdoors lover, you can really take advantage of the ~320 days of sunlight per year. In particular, this means there is absolutely no excuse for not living an active life of hiking, biking, swimming, jogging, tennis, diving or other physical activities. Compared to my rural New England homeland where you have the choice of running under a brutal sun with 100% humidity in the summer, or having your breath form frost crystals on your face as you try to keep from slipping on the sheets of ice in the plowed breakdown lane in the winter, the Riviera is truly an athlete’s paradise.
Working in a French company, I am always amazed to see the number of employees who run, swim, play a team sport or perform some other physical activity during lunchtime. Although the French may officially work less hours than in other countries, many certainly take advantage of their relatively long lunch hour to keep in good shape (this can vary between 1-2 hours depending on daily responsibilities and job contract). Incidentally, I’m convinced that these activities also offset other more sedentary lunch breaks spent leisurely eating a three course meal at the local “bistrot” or the occasional game of petanque.
As an avid runner, I find it’s so important to find beautiful, inspirational places to enjoy that endorphin high. I’m always amazed to see the number of joggers next to an asphyixiating traffic jam under a burning noonday sun or choosing a route where they lose all of their cardiovascular rhythm waiting to cross multi-lane roads with speeding cars. People are really crazy sometimes!
So for those of you who are also working or living on the “Côte d’Azur” (the Riviera), I have decided to share a list of my favorite secret nearby running spots. Not only are these routes inspirational and convenient, but you can also run at full speed, not worry about crossing the road and truly enjoy the unique beauty of the Mediterranean Provence. All I ask is that if you share these secrets with friends, please be sure to also give them the web address of my blog…
Le Cap d’Antibes
The Antibes peninsula is truly an inspirational running route. Starting from the sandy beach of “La Salis”, you have beautiful views of rocky coves and crashing waves along the coastal road until the hidden beach of “La Garoupe” (~3 kms). The entire route follows a well maintained sidewalk with very little traffic. On weekend mornings there are literally swarms of bikers that follow this road, so don’t be taken by surprise from behind! For the ambitious runner, there is also a small boardwalk portion of the peninsula’s coastal hiking path starting at “La Garoupe” that you can jog down until it narrows into a rocky trail. An added advantage of this route is that it is lit with dim, unobtrusive street lights and therefore perfect for those early summer evening runs. Incidentally, for travelers on a budget, the Antibes “Auberge de Jeunesse” (youth hostel) is also located nearby.
The “Canal de la Siagne” (in the Grasse area) is one of those hidden jewels that has somehow managed to survive the massive concrete urbanization that has swept through the Riviera. Built in 1868 to provide water for the growing city of Cannes, the canal starts in the village of Saint Cézaire where it is provisioned from the mountain river “La Siagne”. It snakes along the foothills of the alps through terraced olive groves, pine forests and old oak trees until finally arriving 44 kms later in Cannes.
The actual path is not listed on any of the French IGN high resolution maps (only a thin blue line indicating the waterway) and finding an access point requires a bit of exploration down some very narrow roads. Not only is the canal’s landscape strangely beautiful with its old bridges and varied vegetation, but it’s much less destructive for your knees to run on a dirt path. There are also no sudden uphills or downhills, so you can push yourself at a fast, steady pace without jarring your joints. And in the dry summer months there is also an abundance of shade and water-cooled air. Only two small suggestions: keep an eye out for the occasional snake and don’t fall in!
Cough cough, gag! Well, for most of the daylight hours that basically sums up what it’s like to run or walk on the famous “Promenade des Anglais”1. Although in photos it may look spectacular, Nice is a notoriously congested city and ”La Prom”2 also designates the six lane road that borders the wide sidewalk, which is pretty much a non-stop traffic jam for most of the day. On the sidewalk itself, there are designated biking and roller-blading lanes mixed in with street performers, tourist trains and baby carriages. All of this activity and potential obstacles can make it very difficult and dangerous to have a good workout.
Fortunately, there is a simple solution to really enjoy the beauty of jogging the “Promenade des Anglais” - just get up early enough! So, roll your butt out of bed, put on those running shorts and be inspired by the stunning turquoise waters, the grand hotels and the Provencal yellow and pink colors of Nice’s old city and castle hill.
“L’Etang de Font Merle” (in Mougins) is a beautiful preserved pond ecosystem and bird sanctuary surrounded by a huge, grassy meadow. The surface is almost completely covered with the massive leaves of thousands of lotus plants - the greatest concentration in Europe! Lotus flowers are a divine symbol in many Asian religions, a metaphor of spiritual growth and beauty from our ignorant, muddy origins. When all of the flowers are in full bloom3, ”L’Etang” is a dazzling display of serenity and inspiration.
There is a well-worn, dirt running path that follows the borders of the meadow, with one full loop equaling ~1.5 kms. Because of the intense sun exposure, running here is recommended during the spring and fall seasons. The surrounding meadow is also completely overrun during the weekends, with limited parking and families mashing into every square inch of grass to picnic and play games.
Le Cap d’Ail - With an unspoiled panorama of jagged rocks and frothing surf, the coastal path of the Cap d’Ail is an inspirational place for a run. The only real issue is the almost inexistent parking and inconvenient access (not really near anything unless you live in Monaco). And in the summertime the path can be a real mob-scene!
Forêt de la Valmasque - Many office workers in the Sophia-Antipolis area enjoy a brisk run in the nearby regional forest of “La Valmasque”. Unfortunately, there are no available maps and trails are not well indicated, so it’s important to follow other runners the first few times you plunge into the forest. Also beware of wild boars, forest fires in the summer and twisting your ankles on roots and rocks (which is why I prefer to run elsewhere).
Parc des Bouillides - In the middle of Sophia-Antipolis is a thoughtfully landscaped park perfect for running or teaching children how to ride their bikes. There are also tennis courts, basketball courts, soccer fields and even skateboard ramps. In the summer there is also abundant shade under the tall, ancient trees for a cool jog. To access, take the right to “L’Auberge de la Source” immediately after the traffic light on the ”route du parc” before the Bouillides rotary. Drive past the restaurant and stop at the entrance to the park.
La Croisette - This is the famous seafront in Cannes, where you run to be seen. I suppose that it is convenient for people who live in Cannes, but for anyone else it’s a nightmare to park the car, not very long and not very inspiring! Wear sunglasses and they’ll think you’re a star…
Saint Laurent du Var Seafront - There is a wide pedestrian-only seafront promenade that starts at the CAP 3000 mall until the marina. Not only is parking easy, but at less than 1km from the airport, you can watch the planes taking off and also buy bread afterwards at the ”Paul” boulangerie in the mall!
Carte de la Valmasque - A PDF map of the “Valmasque” national forest. If you look closely, it also includes “L’Etang de Font Merle”. Where was this when I needed it??
Courir pour une Fleur (Run for a Flower) - A “Nice-Matin” article about the annual October Antibes 10km/20km road race around the peninsula. With over 2500 annual participants, if you make it to the end you get a rose (although some water would probably be nicer)!
Canaldelasiagne.org - This is a site full of photos and historical references about the “Canal de la Siagne”. It’s really worth browsing some of the stunning pictures in the “galerie”.
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