This was a day that I doubt I will ever forget, it was a day that two men set out on a route not known by either man. All we had was a plan…a vision, unflinching determination and just a bit of madness.
This story began with one intrepid Gentleman Traveller searching for a hike to do whilst on holiday in Cap D’ail. Staying at a hotel in the port of Cap D’ail, searching Google Maps for a good long hike to do. Why do such a thing you might ask?…Well to be honest and it will sound for all the right reasons…MAD. Having a love of the Alps and the French landscape is said to be rather stunning and quite beautiful. I wanted to see this for my self, and my friend who lives in the area was also rather intrigued, lets call this willing adventurer…Ingvar…so as to not reveal his true identity. Being an avid fan of Liverpool Football Club, he followed true on their motto…I Didn’t Walk Alone.
I happened to have come to the south of France for a few days holiday, not with just my beach gear…but also all of my hiking gear:
- Collapsable Hiking Sticks
- Light weight backpack complete with hydration bladder
- Hiking boots
- Waterproof Jacket, etc
So the one thing on that list that you might think would not be essential…aside from all of it, that is would be the jacket, this became essential as this day ended up being rather a mixed bag weather day.
Having glanced at Google maps and seen this rather pretty looking town called Peille not too far away as the crow flies from my hotel, (how wrong I was) Google Maps claimed it would be 3.5 hours there by foot. So I thought, seven maybe eight and a half hours round trip if we stopped for lunch and a bit of sight seeing. Below you can see the image of the route showing the topographical map of the route that I got from Google Maps.
Leading up to this…poor Ingvar had this rather horrible English girl whom had just moved to the area and was somewhat infatuated with him. This particular girl I had the great displeasure of meeting and I will not shame this person by naming her. I will describe her to you, put it this way she was no Lady, more Ladette than anything else. Not too long after I arrived she met Ingvar and I in a lively pub in the area. She proceeded to get horribly drunk, shamefully drunk in fact and became louder than Maria Sharapova in full grunt on Centre Court. After this some poor soul told her to either shut up or to leave as she was disturbing him…she proceeded to punch him…needless to say I got the security to escort her from the premises and I apologised for her behaviour to the gentleman.
She wanted to join us on this hike…you can see why I needed to insist that she didn’t join and Ingvar couldn’t agree more with me on this. So we told her it would take considerably longer than what Google had told us…(we thought we were lying at least), as she was not the fittest girl in the world…more of a beached whale than active hiker. We had been talking about the day before, sending messages back and forth saying how we didn’t believe she would even be up at that time. We tried said we would meet earlier than we thought was necessary, when she started complaining that it was too early….she was in fact the one who had woken me up… we had the terrible feeling that we would have to bring her. Until what Ingvar and I was sure to be an act of GOD, she didn’t have a back pack and wanted one of us to carry her 3 litters or so of water…not one of us had the space in our bags we were thrilled to tell her: “That if she wasn’t prepared, it wasn’t our problem and that it was her fault for not being so”. It was that one moment just when all looked lost, meant that we started the day off overcome with relief, UTTER JOY and an unmistakeable spring in steps. Yes, no matter what today was going to throw at us we were going handle it, now that the threat of Big Bertha joining us had passed…we were thrilled and nothing was going to dampen our spirits.
The day that was chosen for the hike was a Saturday, it turns out that the weather was somewhat over cast when we set off. As we began the hike with our backpacks loaded, ready for most of what mother nature could throw at us…we were off with our iPhones fully charged and an idea at least of where we were going.
The hike began earnest as we made our way up through Monaco, to the first section of the journey up to La Turbie. This hike we had done a few days before and we had forgotten how steep it is. A good, tough hike challenging for most this we managed to do with out too much bother and it is a good ninety minutes up. This part of our hike was with out a doubt the steepest climb, a truly beautiful hike up over large rocks, gravel, dust and varieties of plant life. So surprising to find out that so close to a place such as Monaco, you can be on the side of a beautiful mountain with in half an hour of walking. An absolutely stunning view of Monaco awaited us at the top even with it being so overcast, the whole of Monaco laid bare before us it was about 9:30 am by the time we reached the out skirts of La Turbie. Still that view…it never gets old realising how far we had come. Only more determined to continue on ward on our journey, like two boys we urged our selves to continue on ward…after a quick coffee at the local coffee shop in La Turbie that is.
This photo from our route up from Monaco to La Turbie, will give you some idea of what we saw and the view that was laid out before us and how stunning it really is.
During the time we sat down to have our coffee, it had begun to drizzle slightly small spots of rain had begun to fall. Whilst we sat there enjoying some light refreshment we contemplated the weather and considered the possibility about carrying on. With the weather seeming to be intermittent, with spots of sun and light rain.
It was at this point during our contemplation that the sun shone through, Ingvar and I then looked at each other…both of us thinking the same thing “Will the weather hold out or will it turn out to be a disaster and somewhat dangerous?”
However when the sun decided to shine, it was like being given a sign from the sun God Apollo himself as his chariot separated the clouds (for those of who don’t know about him read up on your Greek and Roman Gods), revealing to us the promise of a beautiful day to come.
At this point we both looked at each other and said those immortal words, “SCREW IT, LETS DO IT”, and so we became excited for the challenge up ahead and were amped up. As only two men can make each other, when a challenge has been set…the challenge was gleefully and somewhat foolhardily accepted, our blood was up and adrenaline set to maximum.
So we departed La Turbie with renewed vigour and determination on the road to Peille, our adventure had begun a-new, from this point on we were heading out on paths unknown. Full of guile and with the image of the Lord of the Rings in our minds, and to quote Bilbo Baggins “We were off on an adventure”.
Luckily the temperature was cool and not as hot as it could have been a rather balmy 10–15 degrees Celsius (for those who use fahrenheit…start using the global measurement). We were actually very grateful for the weather being what it was, namely perfect weather for a going on an adventure.
So we left La Turbie following the road signs to Peille, we managed to maintain a good strong pace as this first stretch of the route was entirely on the road. Ingvar and I from here all we had was my iPhone and Google Maps as our guidance….after all who uses paper maps these days any way….perhaps I should also mention that my iPhone was about a month old at this moment, which would explain why the battery actually managed to last all day. I still had every function turned off (internet, etc you name it) and taking photos was saved for moments and views that were unique. We like sailors navigating our way, would check our position every now and then on Google Maps…which somewhat surprisingly and much to our joy we discovered had every hiking route on our journey, without which we would not have made it back, so a big THANK YOU to the guys at Google for adding that in to their maps application.
Along this road the D53, we continued at a good pace towards Peille conversing about all manner of things along the 5 kilometres from La Turbie to Les Lacs. This is where we were to turn off the main roads and back on to some beautiful hiking routes in the French country side. With only having to contend with light rain along the way, which soon ceased and became a pleasant combination of sun and cloud. The two of us, laughing all the way and thinking that we were completely and utter mad for undertaking such a task, but now that that we were this far the thought of turning back never even entered our minds….we were going to Peille, NO MATTER WHAT.
Turning off this main road we were greeted but routes that were so beautiful that, we had to stop and the feeling of crossing this one bridge crossing the river La Paran, felt like we were leaving the Shire (La Turbie) and were on the way to Rivendell (Peille). I know that its probably sounding a little bit dramatic but for us that is exactly how it felt. If you look at the photo bellow you will see exactly what i mean.
Walking along this beautiful landscape, it felt like taking a step back in time to a time when these where the high ways. These roads are how people used to get around, and now they are rarely used, only by hikers and other fitness fanatics. Really, it was such a great feeling to get off tarmac and to walk on paths that have existed for hundreds of years. Finally a bit of Rock n Roll, some loose dirt, stone and a bit more challenging and yet at the same time rewarding terrain.
As we arrived towards the end of this route that took us along some stunning rolling hills, and valleys looking back at it now, it was shorter that it seemed at the time that the road we had taken…but far more memorable.
It was at this point that we had a choice to make since we had left La Turbie, over 2 hours had passed, it was closing on mid-day (12pm). either we took the longer hiking path to Peille or we took the shorter road. This was when Ingvar and I had one our many, many discussions on which route to take. I wanted to take the longer path, because it was well the correct way to go and walking on the road…well the Englishman in side of me was saying that the purpose of a hiking trail is to be hiked on, and that not doing so was simply not Cricket, (its an English way of saying that its just simply not done, and that to do so was not going in the spirit of it all). However Ingvar pointed out the time and that we were both hungry, and that if we wanted to have time to have lunch and do a bit of sight seeing in Peille. We would have to take the road, and yes…I could not fault his logic, nor could my stomach for that matter…yes…FOOD, something which will make any man cave in.
Food is one of the few things that can make a man change his mind, no matter how stubborn he might be…and being a Leo, I can be rather stubborn…yes I said and will happily admit to being such. There are other things, the promise of which will make any man reconsider his morals and ideals. However at this point it was the promise of a bit of respite and FOOD, was enough to convince me that Ingvar’s plan was the most favourable.
So we got back on the D53 and back on to tarmac, at this point it began to drizzle again so I made use of my waterproof jacket once more that, through out the walk had been coming in and out of my back pack. This I had brought a few days prior, wanting to be as prepared as possible had a enough space for: the 2 litre hydro bladder, a 1.5 bottle of water, my jacket and a spare T-shirt. Little room for much else other than our wallets, keys and Ingvar’s phone, so I had to back well.
This road was with out a doubt one of the nicer roads I have walked on, coming along it steep drops one side and a mountain wall on the other side. Walking through small tunnels that had been carved in to the rock seemingly by hand, when man did things by had that is.
After a couple of kilometres along this road, we rounded the corner, exited a small tunnel and there it was…Peille…we had very nearly made it…and looking at Peille from we where were it was stunning, truly awe-inspiring a very welcome sight. We were looking at it from across a deep running valley. This really did look like a town from Lord of the Rings we had nearly reached Rivendell. It is a remarkable medieval looking town build on the the side of a mountain and if you are ever visiting the area I highly recommend a visit. Don’t believe this Gentleman Hiker? See below for yourself then feel free to judge as my words cannot do the real thing justice that I promise you.
As we got closer to our destination, things got clearer and we could see that this town in the middle of the Southern French Alps. Was wondrous from afar, but continued to amaze and bewilder the closer we became. Peille only got better, Ingvar and I could hardly believe our eyes. Now I must admit that we had done very little research on Peille prior to setting off, all that we had read was that it was “a place to see”, it was pretty and that it had a museum. So, not only was this better than we could have anticipated….it was far better and will live very long in our collective memories.
Now before we got into exploring Peille we had one thing on our mind…FOOD. Yes this was the first thing on our minds lunch, probably not surprising then we found a little place that looked acceptable from the outside, and most importantly they sold meat. Ingvar and I both settled on what was probably not the best choice, but we felt we had deserved them. Yes…two burgers and what burgers they were…I mean WOW…inside a toasted sesame seed bun, was a culinary experience that was unexpected as it was welcomed. A Beef patty cooked to perfection bang on medium rare, some of the best bacon I have had out side of the U.K, local french cheese, grilled caramelised onions, peppery fresh rocket salad leaves, heaped with mushrooms that had to have been picked locally and some of the best mustard I have had. This Burger was no mere dream but reality…don’t believe me seeing is believing after all.
Having gorged ourselves on these heavenly burgers, we relaxed and then got to exploring this somewhat magnificent town.
The town is seemingly one with the mountainside that it has apparently been sculpted out of. So full of charm and so very rare to find these days, with little side streets darting off left, right and centre. This is a town that was not built with the car in mind let alone the horse and cart, it is fully pedestrianised walking through you can feel as if you are being swept through it. Feeling like a child lost in a well constructed maze not knowing what you will find around the next corner. All the time being lost in wonder, at yet at the same time with all this chaos there is order. Everything having been constructed from the same stone, and the same style it all seemingly blends together.
Out of the centre of the town and yet separate from it, rises a natural peak that has been made part of the town a majestic yet simple garden rising out of the valley below. This has been cleverly been incorporated as part of the town as a whole. Perhaps quite fittingly the name of this garden is “Parc Prince Albert de Monaco”, this in our mind connected our journey rather well. At the top of this town was a rather fitting place to have a monument dedicated to those from the town of Peille who gave their lives in the two World Wars. Gazing upon this and the view that it looked out about was rather sobering and humbling at the same time.
This has also been transformed in to a tourist attraction for the extreme sports enthusiast and those with a head for hight’s. One thing that Ingvar and I had no plans whatsoever in even considering as being a good idea in the slightest. Yes they have created a Via Ferrata (Mountain Climbing) course, which we learned is a course totalling 600 meters in length…bear in mind that pretty much all of this 600 meters is entirely VERTICAL, with the odd rope bridge thrown in for good measure. So if you do have a head for heights and fancy something along these lines then check out (http://peille.free.fr/index.php), I am almost positive you won’t be disappointed, because the very thought of it scared the ever living crap of us. The photograph below will give you some idea of what I have just been speaking of.
After having had our lunch and having done a brief bit of discovery that we had done walking through Peille, we realised the time had struck 2pm and it was time to depart if we wanted to get back to Monaco before night fall. So we said farewell but vowed to return, this time with a car so that we could stay longer and explore in far greater detail.
This time we had chosen to take the hiking paths as our intent was to summit Mont Agel the highest mountain in the vicinity of Monaco. So we began to climb once again, with Peille being at 660 meters above sea level and Mont Agel being close to 1,100 meters we had quite a climb ahead of us.
The next 5–6 kilometres were with out a doubt the toughest we had done all day, and would be the hardest bit of hiking we would do all day. This is because this next 5–6 kilometres was a non stop accent, with a few areas that were flat. But, what a trek it was this was the time of day when the sun decided to break through the clouds. Gifting us with views of the surrounding areas that…words really can’t do them justice…but I will attempt to.
These views are what you thought only existed on a painted canvas, a landscape painted by Turner, landscapes that when you see in an Art Gallery you think that he must have used some artistic license to “Jazz” them up a bit. All because in the back of your mind, you have convinced your self that nothing that…that sensational could possibly exist in the real world. It does and both Ingvar and I were in paradise, all of our muscles screaming for this hike to STOP…yet at seeing this we became invigorated.
Did we slow down the pace? No…we pressed on and even stepped up the pace, with the both of us giving each other words of encouragement. Enjoying the moment, as moments such as those are very hard to come by. Frequently now checking the iPhone for our position every kilometre along this route, sometimes every 200–300 meters with Ingvar and I both not wanting to get lost. Until that is we began the final accent that would lead us up to Mont Agel and then on to the road that we thought would lead us through the golf course. Yes we thought…lets continue on and you will find out what actually happened…
Eventually we got on to what was the final accent on to the top of the opposing peak to Mont Agel. This accent had taken us through woods, over rocky outcrops and over all variety of terrain, every step taking us closer to home and to an ice cold drink at the bar..where we had promised to meet some friends later…it was a Saturday Night after all and life is too short not to do such things.
Here is where things got a little bit you could say…interesting…now you might remember the topographical map at the beginning of this story. We had gotten to the section below, which you will agree and Ingvar and I did look crossable on to the top of Mont Agel, incase you don’t here is the section I am writing about:
See it looks very walkable and easy enough to summit Mont Agel, however once we got there it was some what….daunting…to put it bluntly but what you will not see from this is that in real life this looks like…well…a picture is a thousand words….
Yes if the words that are about to enter in to your mind are…HOLY CRAP…well done because thats PRECISELY what we thought…however Google maps that had been super reliable up until this point, showed that there was a walkable path to the other side. At this point….Ingvar got reservations, and yes I really should have listened to him on this matter.
He has not yet, stopped reminding me of this…Ingvar, buddy…I am now making it public…I am SORRY. But still me being blinded by either determination or just the thought of a nice road on the other side I forced on and…we did actually find, goat paths running across it.
We should have turned back once we spotted the first spent 12 gauge shot gun cartridge, but we didn’t…again MY BAD. we made it to the other end. Only to realise that we had no signal on our phones and that there was a giant wall. This walk across took the best part of 30 minutes or so, and the same back once we realised that it was the only option left to us.
So we headed back increasing our pace as the sun was beginning to start its decent. We finally found a path that we should have taken in the first place…but I was determined that we could do it I should have seen the wall when I took this picture…AGAIN INGVAR…I am sorry.
The route down was very pleasant and with out too much drama, there was a bit but nothing as dramatic as crossing that terrifying stretch of land between the two peaks. We followed the BMX, tracks that lead us to the golf course and back on to our original intended route.
It was only once we had gotten to the golf course did we see what that wall on top of Mont Agel was there for…YES a large sign, basically saying Military Base this way…we had actually attempted to get in to a military base…oh well good thing we didn’t…walking back on solid tarmac again out of the golf course.
As we exited the golf course on the way down to La Turbie, our bodies let us know that they were in pain and were exhausted by…making it much harder for us to walk without, our feet, legs and backs stiffening up and send jolts of pain everywhere. We had no choice we had to make it to La Turbie, simple as that, we were still determined to press on as we had no other choice. But we were rewarded with this stunning view of Monaco one which you will only get from there.
I have to say…WHAT a view to end the day on, an hour later we arrived broken in La Turbie. We were leaning on the hiking sticks I had been using all day, Ingvar and I both needed one each. Now here we had another decision to make, did we hike down and finish it as we said we would or after 11 HOURS of hiking did we feel that we could spare some money on a taxi to take us down…this believe it or not was actually as debate the both of us had. We wanted to finish what we started where we started at the start / finish line.
Our bodies made that call for us, as did the sun as it had set…so we went to this little restaurant in La Turbie, and asked if they could arrange a taxi for us, and had a coffee at the same time. The very kind lady, called a Taxi she explained to us that it would cost a bit extra because the taxi had to come from else where. We asked the price, she said 50 Euros…never has that seemed like such a BARGAIN, 25 Euros each there was no question for us it was good value. The other option was of course to walk down, also there were no more buses or public transport of any kind…so we were out of options.
When the taxi arrived, we could not believe our eyes. There in front of us was a seemingly brand new Mercedes S-Class, complete with 2 bottles of chilled San Pellegrino waiting for us in side, it might as well have been champagne. The seats in the back are similar what you would find in a first class seat on a Trans Atlantic flight (I am guessing). The leather so soft the ability to adjust the seat 100 different ways to make it as comfortable as possible. The lighting gentle, air conditioning and suspension that made us feel like we were floating down on a cloud. 25 Euros each seemed to be quite a bargain indeed for this level of comfort after a VERY LONG DAY. It still wasn’t over as we went out to celebrate with some friends after, but that included plenty of natures painkillers…distilled aged rum and Cuban cigars a fitting end to ONE HELL OF A DAY….it was adventure we both still talk about and I doubt we will ever forget.