On y va! Hiking though the Alpes-Maritimes by train

I have lived in Nice for the past few years, learning French as I go, as I didn’t speak a word when I arrived. Through On Va Sortir (OVS) I have discovered a love of hiking and the riches of the countryside even without a car, with the added bonus of being able to improve my second language.

The site www.onvasortir.com offers a range of group activities, from cultural to entertainment and sports, for individuals to meet and go out as a group. I started timidly with a Marche Rapide along the Promenade des Anglais, thinking that even if I couldn’t join in the conversation I could, well, promenade … The conversation was as sparkling as the sunlight on the sea and many of the group have since become friends.

When I posted my own event to exchange my English for French conversation, I met a woman who introduced me to the hiking groups within OVS. I have since spent most weekends in this incredible landscape of natural beauty.

One particular group hikes by train, often the Train des Merveilles or the Train
de Chemins des Fer de Provence. A favourite of mine is a hike from Airole to Sospel, taking the Train des Merveilles from Nice to Breil-sur-Roya at 8:33am, with a chance to gaze out of the window (be sure to look out for the pictorial village perché of Peille).

Train des MerveillesTrain des Merveilles
Photo credit: www.tendemerveilles.com

At Breil we change trains catching the 9:55am Italian line to the second stop, Airole, arriving at 10:27. In this charming village, we stop for an Italian hot chocolate in the square before beginning our hike, direction Fanghetto, clearly signed with a yellow marker from the village square. The footpath follows the river to Fanghetto, about an hour, before crossing the bridge over La Roya.

We head up the hill to a main road where we buy sandwiches and cakes from the local Italian café. Once stocked up, we cross the busy main road and walk up the footpath directly opposite. This is the steepest part of the walk and heads toward Olivetta (look for the red and white marker). Before reaching Olivetta, after another hour of walking, we stop for our picnic, finding a spot with magnificent views. This really is one of life’s simple pleasures.

Restarting the walk, we arrive in Olivetta. The sign for Sospel is easy to miss, turn right up a cemented track just before a house over the footpath (in other words, don’t go under it). Enjoy the walk to Sospel, another two hours or so from Olivetta. From Sospel there are several trains returning to Nice, but take some time to explore Sospel, also a delightful discovery.

Hike: Airole-Sospel
Level of difficulty: Medium
Total kms: about 15
Total Walking time: 4h15/4h45
Cost: Train €30 full fare return
Highlight: The train journey, visiting the villages.

The hike is a memorable day away from it all – but remember it isn’t a stroll in the park, wear walking shoes, take warm clothing, water and sunscreen. It’s worth stepping out to discover the Alpes-Maritimes ... and you might just learn some French along the way.

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