Houses or apartments with swimming pools on the Côte d’Azur are hard to find and hard to afford. For many the swimming pool is the Med. But when La Fournaise - the heat of high summer - arrives, even the azur ocean water can lose the freshness required to cool down adequately.
The solution for some of the region’s inhabitants to escape the intense heat is to head into the folds of l’arrière-pays and swim in the luminescent, mineral-filled fresh water of the rivers that flow through the valleys. Their locations are not secret, but mostly a case of ‘if you know, you know’. (Sometimes when cycling you will pass a line of 10 to 15 cars parked in a random location and wonder if there is a birthday party or funeral nearby.) Nor is the internet overly helpful in providing information about the spots. You must look at an actual map.
Once you do, you’ll start to trace the many blue lines of the rivers that spring from the heights of the Alpes-Maritimes. Remember, this is where the mountains meet the Med. The Aigue Blanche, the Bévéra, the Bouyon, the Ésteron, the Gorodolasque, the Loup, the Maglia, the Roya, the Siagne, the Vésubie. Wikipedia lists 38 rivers in total for the region.
Finding your spot is one thing. Getting there is, of course, another. Unless you’re a cyclist who’s already out in the arrière pays. Cycling in La Fournaise is a question of lightweight kit but when hot becomes too hot, stopping for a dip is a perfect way not only to cool down but also to drink in the beauty of the surroundings.
Having dipped our toes in a few tributaries, we wanted to know more so we asked some local cyclists to take us to their favourite places to climb off, strip off (within reason), and dive in. Manon Hubert and Florent Icard were the first to volunteer. When not working in the mountain resort of Auron, they descend to Cagnes-sur-Mer just west of Nice and are always packing in as much riding as possible between the winter ski and summer mountain bike seasons up above.
In the high summer many cyclists located west of the Var river (the major one that flows into the Med beside Nice airport) go north via the Vallon Rouge, which begins at Colle-sur-Loup. This road traces the path of our first river, Le Loup. The high valley sides of the Vallon Rouge provide shade and shelter from the sun. It’s not only a nice gradual false flat of a climb, it’s also where Manon and Flo, without planning it, often find friends riding there at the same time.
At the top of the Vallon Rouge is Pont-du-Loup. Just before entering the small hamlet, the road forks right to Les Gorges du Loup. It’s on the Nice Ironman route, so relatively well known in the triathlon world. But those guys have already had their swim and they are on the clock. Not so Manon and Flo.
If they want to get a decent amount of training done, Flo and Manon first go north to Tourettes-sur-Loup and Gréolieres les Neiges before descending back through Cipières to the gorge itself. But after the work is done they find their spot just north east of Bar-sur-Loup. To access the best pools you must climb a little, so MTB shoes or an alternative is needed. The effort is rewarded with a choice of multiple pools with rocks ranging from two to eight meters high from which to launch yourself. Launching themselves whilst canyoning with friends is how Manon and Flo found their spot below the D6 road that winds its way parallel with the river.
Once the initial adrenalin of the jump and the cold water subsides, what is best is to sit with only the noise of the river and look up towards the mountains and let the freshness wash over you. Manon and Flo aren’t necessarily the best at sitting still though. Manon is a keen fly-fisher and often carries her kit to try and hook a trout or two when the season is right. This river is a seasonal solution to feed hers and Flo’s addiction to outdoor life.
The added bonus of their location, once dried off and re-mounted on bikes is to descend back to Pont-du-Loup to the famous Confiserie Florian. Find something for your sweet-tooth before the run back to the coast to dry off your maillot de bain and look on the map for the next swim hole destination. Laura and Amandine are now available to be taken to the river, or wherever you happen to be diving in.
Or simply check out our series of Take Me To The River swim holes.