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Mont Vial: Nos montagnes à la carte #10
Mont Vial is one of the few peaks of the backcountry behind Nice that is recognisable from the sea, and cyclists riding towards the Var valley can orient themselves by it, too: it will float in and out of view as the roads dip and turn.
Do not get confused, however, with the Madone d’Utelle, which lies a few kilometres to the east and which also has a man-made construction on the top. Whereas Utelle seems to be a flat plateau above a sheer wall of rock, Mont Vial is more traditionally mountain-like and points narrowly to the sky. And whereas Utelle is home to a chapel, Mont Vial is the location for a TV aerial.
At 1549m, Mont Vial is also higher by some 400m. What that says about the relative priorities the modern world places on television and heavenly salvation, make of it what you will.
Mont Vial stands at the confluence of the Tinée, Esteron and Var valleys, where the three rivers combine. After so many steep kilometres of deep gorges and imposing cliffs, they combine forces and head along a straight, flat parcours to the sea.
There is a cycle path the length of this valley, which is crowded with motels, auto shops and large roads, but the winds in the Var can be cruel and we would recommend, if you’re heading to Mont Vial, taking a more serendipitous route, and climbing along the valley sides.
For the villages here – classic medieval villages perchés – are a sign that people have long been sheltering under Mont Vial’s peak.
Le Broc, with its galleried square, is a natural coffee stop, as is Gilette, which affords a foretaste of the view you’ll get when you reach the peak. In Revest-les-Roches, where one of the walking trails to Mont Vial starts, there is a massive oak tree, 800 years old, that has stood impassively as generations have passed on their climb to the top. What it must think of the newest fashion – running the 15.5km, 1,000m trail to the summit – can only be imagined.
Although Mont Vial can seem ubiquitous, cyclists have to travel far into the backcountry to find the turning, which is tucked away somewhere between Toudon and Tourette-du-Chateau.
Those who search will be rewarded, however, with a deserted, small, irregularly surfaced scrawl of switchbacks up the rocky mountain face. (The slopes of Vial contain many rare species of plants in their wildflower meadows, but you wouldn’t realise from the road.) Perfection, in our eyes at least.
As you near the top, there are views into the Var’s tight defile, with its huge, striated rock walls, and into the wooded depths of the Esteron.
Nice, Monaco and Cannes on the coast are all visible, and if you ascend the day after a Mistral, when the icy wind has scoured all the moisture out of the air, you may be blessed with Corsica’s dark profile on the horizon.
Dismount at the antenna and climb to the cairn at the summit, and the Mercantour National Park opens out, a panorama of jagged and often snowy peaks. One of our other favourites, Turini, can be seen under her deep green cloak of forests, waiting for your bold advance.
Photography : Greg Annandale
Words : Max Leonard