The joy of France is the incredible diversity of landscape, scale and mix of flora and fauna. Whenever I am there on family holidays I try to find the nearest walk that offers a little peace and quiet and something new. The Calern Plateau is a Limestone plateau running E to W in the Parc naturel régional des Préalpes d’Azur, North of Grasse, twenty miles North of the Mediterranean at the very Southern limit of the Alpes Maritime, well within striking distance of Nice and Cannes.
The walk is five miles in total (but could easily be extended) a ‘there and back’ along the reasonably level crest of the plateau providing extensive views from the highpoint ‘Sommet de Calern’ 1458m (4783 ft) and the solitude of the plateau. I arrived before dawn in the car park which is surrounded by various observatory buildings. Walking Westward (map below) I realised the benefit of an early start in mid July. The air was cool which suited me perfectly. After a few minutes the tarmac service road petered out and became a rough cart track following the crest before running away from the crest round a small wood and path which leads to the hamlet of Caussols in the valley below.
The plateau to the N is a sea of yellowing grass and wild lavender with the higher Alpes maritime as a backdrop and as the Sun rose the scent of lavender increased as did the the sound of a million bees and the number of butterflies – skippers, marbled Whites, Fritillaries and others. Turning off the track towards the summit the path is ill defined, winding through the Lavender, Scabious, Wild Dianthus and grasses. The views from the summit (higher than Ben Nevis) are fantastic.
From the Summit I walked a while beyond the summit and found a spot to take in the sights and sounds. There were thousands of Swifts taking advantage of the millions of insects and the bees were in full voice. A magical place to sit and ponder a while. The going is quite easy but the ground rough in places, good walking shoes a minimum. Very hot in mid Summer, take mozi spray, the flies are an irritant by mid morning.
The next time I’m down there I will aim to stay further North in the Park or the Mercantour National Park to take full advantage of walks in this amazing landscape.