My family and I were fortunate enough to be able to spend time in the South of France this summer (all gratitude to my generous parents for making it happen - the image above is the view from their roof terrace and FYI they rent out this stunning space in Antibes Old Town so get in touch if you are interested).
Taking over a month abroad in a pandemic was not a smooth ride but it was utterly joyous and absolutely worth it - we definitely all benefited from the change of scene and unending consumption of baguettes.
Aside from 'travelling in a pandemic' the one remarkably different thing from any of our previous trips to France was tat it was our first time travelling overseas with a dog.
I thought it would be tricky - and had endless worries; would he settle? would he annoy people? would the paperwork be a nightmare? would he jump on the sofas? would he got too hot?
Fortunately he settled quite quickly and that the French love their dogs was immediately apparent. Rupert was photographed and filmed, petted and coo'ed over all the time. The general attitude towards dogs in France is one of 'acceptance and non-judgement', dogs are a part of life and rarely held to account for any of their apparent misdemeanours.
The paperwork was also fine. Expensive but doable. If you are travelling with your pet to France you will need to have an (in date) rabies vaccine and a certificate of health from the vet (ours cost about £130). Our only surprise was for the return journey that we not only need a vet check and tapeworm treatment but also a trip to the Prefecture in Nice to get the final 'stamp' on his papers. This was a step that was not listed in any of the UK or French advice.
Thankfully he stayed well away from the sofas and ... while he did get hot, he didn't get too hot which was mainly thanks to the wonderful array of cool swimming spots and shady forest walks we found.
Which is what inspired this post. With most of our usual beach spots off limits to pooches we were forced to get more creative. I spent a lot of time scouring the internet for ideas of where to take him, the girls were keen to head to the rivers having got a taste of it 4 years ago previously. But info about river swiming (and importantly where to park to river swim) is not readily available eon mainstream channels - so I found myself scouring through, often very old, blog posts to find the best spots.
In the spirit of which - I present this - my blog post tribute to our favourite 'swimming with a dog' spots in the Antibes and surrounding area.
First up...The Beaches
We did take Ru to the beach but in light of the lack of shade and his getting very hot we only went for either shorter periods of time or later in the afternoon.
The only official 'dog' beach in the area is at Villeneuve Loubet. The beach itself is rocky and located directly in front of the road and railway line - this might sound unsightly but when you are looking out to sea it really doesn't matter. It was always quiet when we were there - this is mainly down to the fact that there is no direct parking or nearby snack bars.
For the most part we managed to grab a parking space on the side of the road a bit closer towards and Antibes and would then walk down to the dog section (Note: there are areas of road side parking that are 'interdit' and they do issue tickets to check the signage). Unless you have a scooter or bike is unadvisable to try your luck parking on the pebbles directly on the 'dog beach' - we saw at least one car having to be towed out each time we visited. There is also a small car park at the far end of the beach (if you come from Antibes), either way it is a hot walk but worth it once you get there.
We also took him to the Antibes Fort beach. He was not permitted on the actual beach but if you walk over towards the Fort there is the concrete wall you can sit on - not being an official 'beach' this seemed to be ok. There is no sandy area for sunbathing but the water is lovely and there are loads of fun creatures to spot on the rocks. Also...free and easy parking.
Thirdly, in the early morning and late evening we took Ru to the Plage du Port 'through the wall' beach near to Gravette in Antibes. Again it is a pebble beach but the water is open and clear. While we wouldn't spend hours at this spot, it is perfect for a cooling dip or a pizza dinner.
Finally, we often popped to the little pebble beach at the end of Port de la Salis. This was particularly useful as there is a lovely walk up through the woods to the Phare de la Garoupe just minutes away. Bois du Garoupe is a doggy dream - totally shaded and with fresh drinking water pumps at several points. The view from the top of the hill (the lighthouse) is fabulous and it is well worth taking time to visit the church and little cafe. The beach itself is called Plage du Bacon - could a dog love that any more I ask you!
Sandy beaches in the south of france are strictly reserved for human animals who packed themselves in like sardines and seemed very happy to swim in warm soupy water. We, on the other hand, forced as it were by Rupert, to the rockier spots had clear water and very often the place to ourselves...take your pick.
The Lake/Lac Sainte Cassien
The other spot we ventured to was Lac Saint Cassien in the Var. An easy 35 minute drive down the autoroute from Antibes and utterly beautiful. My advice - don't bother paying for parking or heading to any of the popular spots - pack a picnic, plenty of fresh water and a paddle board if you have one and head to the rocky shores. There is 'pull-up' parking almost all the way round the Lac and its super easy to find a secluded spot. Taking something slightly padded to sit on as really welcome as there is no where smooth to sit.
I'll be honest, the kids didn't love this spot and didn't want to go back, the water is warm (its worth checking before you go as sometimes it shuts due to E Coli caused by heat) and they found that disconcerting. For us adults it was bliss - stunning scenery, the kids could swim easily, the dog could roam around over a large area doing what he loves best, there was shade and the parking was (as I said) a doddle - which, when you are the ones in charge of the lugging of stuff is pretty crucial. It's easy to be picky when you have no responsibility.
In total we went to 5 different river spots and almost all of them I found by searching through obscure and often outdated blog posts.
1. The Brague
This one was a recommendation from my Mum (thanks Mum) and I'm not sure if this strictly counts as it's not really a swimming river but it gets an honourable mention as Rupert thought he had reached nirvana.
The Brague is a park located in the area near Biot - about 25 minutes from Antibes. We parked at the top end and walked down. This is the one sticking point, its not a circular walk...unless you have a car parked at the top and bottom of the river...you will have to retrace your steps. We had heard that it often dries up in the summer months but were lucky to find it clear and flowing. Most of the river side walk is under dappled shade and it is easy to hop down into shallow section and cool off your feet. All in all a fabulous place to walk your dog.
2. The Cagnes
This one was more miss than hit. I read about this river via an old blog post in which the author said it was about a 20 minute walk. Not so - more like 50. It would have been ok but for the oppressive heat and one child who was so grumpy she was more scary than this sign.
After driving back and forth through Vence about 4 times we finally found our turning and a spot to park right by the SPACA (the French equivalent of RSPCA). We parked right by this sign and started the long walk down hill into the gorge.
It turned out there were other parking spots further on, however the road was very skinny and bumpy and it would not have been easy to turn around on it, therefore we figured the benefit of being closer would have be negligible.
Once reaching the river the girls were disappointed. The sides of the gorge were high so it was very shady and some of the walking was just too hairy scary for our youngest which meant that we never made it to the section that we had read about.
Nevertheless it was still VERY beautiful...
3. The Esteron
The path to a good dip never does run easy. The drive from Antibes up into the hills to find the Estaron was stunning (and somewhat white-knuckled if you, like me, find those sheer drops a little bit woah). En route we passed through the amazing hilltop village of Gilette, one of the famous 'Villages Perché' of the region, which I would love to go back and walk around one day.
Our destination was Clue D'Aiglun an area of smooth rocks and waterfalls a short walk from Pont D'Aiglun. On arrival we easily found roadside parking and quickly spotted the path that we were due to take. Great. Sadly we had to turn back after short distance as the path was so narrow and steep sided that our youngest simply refused. TBH I don't blame her - with a dog that pulls like a demon and is want to be a little over zealous with his speed it did seem like a potential disaster. As we were returning from our attempt we met a lovely French family who were confidently marching onwards - small dog in arms - a bit harder when yours weights over 20 kilos.
We re-grouped and headed back a short distance the way we came to the Pont de la Cerisé. Another section of the Esteron that my research assured me was only a short walk down from the road.
We parked as close as we could to here - the fire track that leads down the river - which is about a 2/2.5km walk.
The walk is downhill and with loose rocks underfoot - good shoes are a must. Considering how 'not that easy going' a walk it was we were amazed to pass people trekking with body boards, pic nic hampers, huge cool boxes and most surprisingly (considering the heat and lack of any amenities) with nothing at all.
At the end of the fire track you get to the Pont de le Cerisé - a precipitous and beautiful old bridge over a deep ravine through which flows the milky blue water of the Esteron. Continue on from there and down over the smooth rocks and you have the whole river to play in.
The water was only moderately cold - tbh a little colder might have been nice on a hot day like the one we visited on - but it was awe inspiringly beautiful and, where the river flowed fast between boulders, really quite fun.
The walk back up was, weirdly, easier than the way down. Less skidding, more taking of short cuts, every step a step closer to the reward of a cold beer.
4. The Loup
Oh Loup...you stole our hearts.
This was by far the easiest river to locate and park at. Set your navigation to the small village of Pont du Loup. There are three small car parks - one right next to the bridge, one just past the epicerie on the way out of the village and the underground car park on the way into the village. We liked the underground car park so that we could return to a cool car.
The River is easy to find, simply take the foot path that runs down the side of the Confiserie Florian. It's pretty easy walking - some ups and downs and a few rocky bits - but by far the easiest underfoot.
The access to the river starts almost immediately and you will most likely see people setting up camp on large boulders or shingle patches, which is not to say that we ever saw it get 'too' busy, there were people but there was also plenty of space.
We enjoyed swimming in the deeper waters and so walked about 1.5km up stream to a couple of spots just before the green bridge that crosses the gorge.
The water is ICE cold and it takes a bit of willpower to get it but you will leave feeling utterly refreshed.
We saw oodles of dragonflies and butterflies and even a serpent - much excitement over that one!
All in the all the Loup was nothing short of an utter dream and we couldn't stop ourselves from retuning time after time.
5. La Siagne
I've saved this one until last because, truth be told, it was my absolute favourite. We ended up there after an aborted second visit (told you they didn't like it) to Lac Sainte-Cassien. I had found a description of the location in (yet another) old blog post and really wasn't sure we would find it ok but as it turns out it was fine.
We drove to the Chapelle de Sainte-Cassien-de-Bois - a beautiful ruin which alongside the banks of the River. We were fortunate to find a super easy parking space. The walk to the river was again easy and just down behind the Chapelle - there were warning signs (as per) but we ignored those (as per).
There were a few reasons this river was my personal favourite.
The cliffs surrounding the river were much lower hence more light - perfect for sun worshippers.
The water was fractionally warmer than the Loup which meant that I, being of more wimpish constitution, could stay in longer
It is in the Var and the Var is formed of a particular kind of rock that I love because it sparkles and because it reminds me of my childhood, my family, my wedding and many many happy times.
There are longer sections of deep water meaning that you can really swim.
If you like jumping from heights this river is for you - the pools are deep and everyone seemed to be doing it. I am a more sedate river swimmer but I thoroughly enjoyed pootleing up and down the long sections of deep water, climbing out every so often to sit on a rock and admire the butterflies.
When I say this was my favourite it rather mis-implies that the others didn't like it - they did...they loved it. The girls struggled a bit with the lack of shade and they had, as I said, already given their hearts to the Loup so it was always going to be a bit of a runner up in their eyes. But given more time (5 week not enough?) we would def return.
RIVER SWIMMING MUSTS:
I mentioned that we saw people hiking down to these rivers with little more than a water bottle - not us - we liked to be prepared and so i thought I'd share my list:
Wear trainers - not just for hiking but also in the water - bare feet are miserable as these rivers beds are really rocky
Water - lots of it - kept cold if possible
Dog bowl and water for the dog - in spite of being at fresh water rivers Ru still wanted 'fresh' water
Snack snacks and more snacks - in fact we took picnic every time we visited a river - our standard was; baguettes, avocado, tomato, carrots, radishes, babybels, crisps (god I love french crisps), invariably fizzy sweets for the girls, sometimes salami for Christian. We took a tea towel and a knife and cobbled together sandwiches on the rocks rather than making them beforehand. Far more fun than unwrapping sweaty cling film.
Sun cream - oodles
Hats - preferably ones you can swim in, those ones with the chin straps are great
Itch cream & plasters - these came in useful more than I would have liked them to
Camping towels/sarongs - you don't want to be lugging big fluffy things around with you
Water proof phone case - not necessary but fun to get some 'in water' pics
A good book - because what could be lovelier than sitting on a boulder in the middle of a rushing mountain river reading a book... bliss