Hiking in the southern Esterel Massif

Red Esterel Massif cliffs

This is a magnificent hike in the red Esterel Mountains offering great views to the Mediterranean Sea. We did this hike on a warm February Sunday. It also happened to be during school holidays and the trail was extremely popular.
The soil and rock of the Esterel Massif is of volcanic origin, hence the peculiar red terracotta colour.

The hike we did ran inside Réserve Biologique de l’Esterel in the southernmost part of the massif in the Var Department. We planned a loop hike with Pic du Cap Roux (453 m) as the highest point.

We started the hike from the parking called La Pointe de l’Observatoire on the D559 road between Theoule-sur-Mer and Agay.

We first ascended along a paved road about 2 km (closed for regular traffic) as far as to Rocher St-Barthélémy.  Here we exited the forest road, hit the trail proper and ascended along it to Col du Saint-Pilon. We then descended to Sainte-Baume where we passed a water source and started a long ascent along the northern flank of the mountain, passing the short side trail to a chapel.

Note that compared with most trails in Alpes-Maritimes, signposts here were sporadic or non-existent but the trails were marked with yellow and/or blue. So, we first missed the ascent from Sainte-Baume.

We reached the crossroads just under the summit of Pic du Cap Roux, climbed up to admire the views. The day was clear, but some coastal fog started to form during our picnic on the top, making the visibility somewhat reduced.

We then descended to Col du Cap Roux. Here we forked left, following the yellow-marked trail. At the next crossroads we again forked left (yellow signs, no signposts). We continued along the trail that ran in the southern incline of the massif, with the Med in sight. We forked left for the third time at the next crossroads, crossing a valley. At one point we thought we might end up too much east but no worries: we eventually reached a wider path not far from the main coastal road and the railroad, turned almost 180°, and headed southwest. We crossed the above-mentioned valley again, now lower, and soon reached our starting point.

Distance: 12 km

Climb: 610 m

Duration: 4h 20

Map: IGN 3544 ET Fréjus St-Raphaël Corniche de l’Esterel

Our GPS track in shown below. Just ignore the small marked detour at Sainte-Baume!


Sauce Niçoise

Sauce Niçoise

Recently the local newspaper, Nice Matin, wrote about a 24-year old talented chef from Nice, Julia Sedefdjian, who only a year after opening her restaurant Baieta in Paris got a Michelin star. The menu in her restaurant reflects her roots in Nice. One of the dishes is her version of bouillabaisse; steamed fish served with sauce niçoise.

But what is sauce niçoise? Julia’s recipe is of course her secret so I googled sauce niçoise and it seems that there are several versions with different vegetables. I tried and modified different French recipes and settled with the following recipe which I think goes best with white fish fillets and at the same time reflects the choice of typical ingredients here in Nice.
By all means add some seafood to your choice of baked or steamed white fish fillets if you wish your dish reflect more bouillabaisse. You can also use more anchovy fillets if you like. I used them sparingly because I didn’t want them to overpower the delicate taste of fletan, halibut, which was my choice of fish. Serve your fish with some greens and new potatoes, lentils or grains. In the photo, the fish is served with wilted spinach and panisses, local chickpea cakes.

2 servings sauce niçoise

2 small and tasty tomatoes
1 shallot
1 clove garlic
4 anchovy fillets
4 black olives, pitted
2 tbsp. olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Dip the tomatoes into boiling water for 1- 2 minutes, then peel and coarsely chop them. In a small casserole, warm olive oil over medium- low heat. Peel and chop the shallot and peel and mince the garlic. Add them to the casserole and sauté for 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, anchovies, olives, and black pepper. You can first soak the anchovies in water for 10 minutes to reduce the amount of salt in them.

Let all the ingredients simmer for 5 minutes. With a hand-held mixer, purée the sauce. It will be quite thick, you can add 1- 2 tbsp. of boiling water if you wish. Place the fish on the plates and divide the sauce around it.


Walk above Théoule-sur-Mer


Théoule-sur-Mer (36 km from Nice) is a small coastal town between Mandelieu-La Napoule and Miramar. The landscape here is already more provençale and the Esterel mountains with their typical red colours add a special spice to the surroundings.

This easy walk called Circuit d’Aguille starts from the Esplanade of Charles de Gaulle in the town centre.

We walked along the paved promenade Pradayrol to Plage de l’Aguille where the trail forked uphill. We first ascended to signpost #515 and then descended to Pointe de l’Aguille. After admiring the magnificent pebble beach of Gardanne we took the same path back, continued to the coastal road RD6098, turned right, and followed it about 100 m. We then forked left and continued along rue de l’Allée des Pins then rue A.Ballif.

At signpost #518 (pointing to St Hubert, Théoule Supérieur) we forked right and followed another good trail to the highest point of this walk. Best views were to the north and east (The Napoule Bay and Cannes). The trail continued towards St Hubert above Théoule-sur-Mer, and we soon reached paved streets. We took Chemin de la Calade (steep stairs down), crossed the main RD 6098 road again before reaching our starting point.

We hope our GPS track shown below is useful, as well as the description in the Randoxygène guide (in French; link above)

Duration: about 1h 35

Distance: about 5 km

Elevation gain: about 200 m (includes detour to the Gardanne beach)

Map: 3544 ET Fréjus St-Raphaël Corniche de l’Esterel

Théoule-sur-Mer trail image
Signposts along the trail above Théoule-sur-Mer