THE SEA BY THE MOUNTAIN
Distance: 240km | Duration: 2 days with a leisurely dip or a more challenging day and a half | Download
Yves Merens – Belgian journalist, car and motorbike journalist, he loves epic no-holds-barred motorcycle rides. When night falls, he’s delighted to return to this flavourful region ripe with the dishes he loves so much.
Should you have to choose between the sea and steep twists and turns? No. This itinerary, snaking through the roads in the Massif des Maures hinterland, clings onto the Corniche d’Or. It’s a celebration of the relaxing sea resorts and crystal-clear waters of the Estérel mountain range.
RIDE IN THE SEA AIR
Our journey begins in the bay of Agay. The village is a real marine hanse with views of the Estérel mountains where we’ll return on the second day. Unleash your inner adventurer after a nod to Saint-Exupéry’s headstone who got married here. As you glide by the sea towards Saint-Raphaël on the N98, you pass Cap de Dramont and can see the Ile d’Or whose semaphore supposedly inspired Hergé.
It’s a leisurely ride as the coast is busy and the N98 is the main road around here. It’s all good as the sea and palm trees join us as we pass by Saint-Raphaël casino and Fréjus Luna Park. This section is all about the Côte d’Azur.
You know you want to, so carry on to Sainte-Maxime where the N98 gets less urban. It hugs the coastline so much that you’re almost splashed by sea spray.
After a quick break on the beach, it’s time to head inland. Let’s gain ground and head for the Massif des Maures.
CRICKETS AND HEIGHTS
Take the D25 towards Plan-de-la-Tour until the Col de Gratteloup. It’s a pleasant almost straight 10km ascent that we leave at the top to take the tiny twisting D44 to Plan-de-la-Tour. The views are staggering and the ravines are dizzying after the D25. You completely forget that you’ve just been by the sea. What a sight and what peace.
After Plan-de-la-Tour it’s time for the Col de Vignon and its 352m elevation above sea level. You get a real sense of what sea level means when you’re so close to the big blue yet so high up…
The D74 turns into the D75 which snakes around in the midst of stunning plants. The cork oaks go bare and make the crickets chirp. The aromas of nature hang in the air and you can almost smell regional truffle omelette. What a treat!
At this height olive trees are rare. The region’s signature tree won’t appear until we’re lower down in the valley. That said, the plants change again just before the Garde-Freinet. It’s the start of the Plaine des Maures plateau. Its streams fill ponds in the shade of another local star: the pine tree. This is another fragile ecosystem where Ranunculus revelieri, adder’s tongue and pink scarce tongue-orchids cohabit. A sign provides this information to travellers who, like me, aren’t botanists
MEDIEVAL SOULS AND LEGENDS GALORE
The road widens after the Garde-Freinet to become the D558 and set us on the way to a magical village: Grimaud
It’s worth taking a walk around this lovely medieval village’s floral cobbled streets which wind from the Roman church to the feudal castle ruins. This is a must-do to unwind and stretch a bit before Cogolin.
Legend has it that a Genoese martyr sailed into Saint Tropez under the eye of a cockerel in a flax field: Cogolin, the village of cockerels, was born. What really stood out for us were the pipe makers. The work of the village’s signature pipe makers is on show in countless shop windows. Isn’t it charming?
ST TROPEZ AND THE N7: TWO PROVENCAL LEGENDS
As you leave the village you join the N98 to Bormes-les-Mimosas and Lavandou to reach the land of palm trees. The ultimate holiday destination, the two coastal cities face the Maures cliffs and Cavalaire. From here you can either take the Col du Canadel or carry on to Ramatuelle passing by unspoilt nature with heady Provencal aromas.
The legendary Saint Tropez lies at the end of the D98a. What a joy it is to arrive under the sparkling lights of the old port in front of the yachts where painters had a field day. The glitzy setting means showy motorbikes and cars can shine up their chrome and rev up their engines in front of cafe terraces.
We put the GPS en route to the Estérel to take on the second loop in the big eight. The steep N7 turns into the RN7, probably because of the tight bends. These aren’t hairpin bends; it’s a ride through a sharp rocky mountain range. The steep red peaks fuel riders biking over them at the same time as giving them a thrilling winding road. The road is very popular with travellers and is watched over by Mont Vinaigre where the road leads for all-encompassing views of the Estérel.
With so many thrills, bright lights and heady aromas, a good end to the journey is going round the Estérel via the peaceful Corniche d’Or. Your blood pressure drops, your body is warmed by the sun and memories are made.
Just a few more steps and you’re at Cap Roux where you can watch the sun go down to set the scene ablaze and give the sea a rich tone against a backdrop of brightly coloured rocks.