June 29th: Saint Sauveur sur Tinée – pass of Veillos
It was an early rise to the sound of car honking for us. We packed and left the camping without seeing the owners. The money we saved was spent at the local bakery where we bought croissants and coffee. An old man advised us to hitchhike to Saint Dalmas Valdeblore, the next village. We left by foot and followed the road. Cars skimmed past us but nobody stopped. We walked for about an hour until a nice woman stopped her SUV and let us hop in. She and her two kids told us it would have taken us the whole day to reach the village on the GR5 trail.
We then stopped at the local grocery shop to fill our bags with food and send a few postcards. We were now at a fork in the road: one trail keeps us on the GR5 toward Nice, the other one is a variant of the GR5, the GR52, which goes to Menton. We decided to follow the GR52 trail under a scorching sun, and reached Saint Dalmas. A few kilometers later, we found a field of wild strawberries! We resumed our walk toward the pass of Veillos half an hour later, our stomaches full of berries.
I had us walk at a good pace, and we finally reached our destination at 8pm, when the night was setting. There was a lot of wind, so we had to find a good spot to set the tent up. I needed to go to the loo so I walked a bit further up the hill and unexpectedly found a small hut! It was set on concrete and its door and window were closed. I tried to open the door; second surprise, it wasn’t locked! I went in and saw a small queen size bed along with an old iron oven and old pans. The decision was easy to make: we set our sleeping bags on the bed and spent the night comfortably sheltered from the wind.
July, 3rd: the barns, Brasque – Roquebillière
It was freezing cold in the morning, because the barns were build on the north-facing side of the mountain. It didn’t take us long to get back on the trail. A few minutes of walking later, we notice a sign indicating that “mushrooms harvesting is limited to 3 kilos per person and per day”.
The sun shone hard, the trees were scarce and the trail never seem to end. We walked in zigzag between rocky hills, and the song of the cicada gave us a headache. Finally, we spotted Utelle, a small village perched at the top of a hill. Unfortunately, all the flat areas were used as gardens, so we couldn’t set camp. We began to walk downward toward the valley in the hope to find spot to spend the night. A woman tells us how to reach a field further down where she used to go camp near the river when she was a teen.
We walked in the gorges, with cars skimming past us, and we had to cross to the other side of the road at each turn to remain seen by the driving folks. The sun was setting when a man suddently hit the brakes and told us to get in his car. We didn’t think and hopped in. At first I was worried, we didn’t know that man and we didn’t know where he was driving us. He asked us where we were going with our big backpacks, and then offered us a place to spend the night. I was suspicious and declined his offer until he told us he was the priest of the valley. He was from Poland and learnt French with a nun when he was young. We finally took him up on his offer and he gave us the church’s key.
We could finally cook the mushrooms! They smelled great and we found no worm in them. A few minutes later, though, they became green-ish and didn’t smell like they used to. I called my dad who told us not to eat them. What a pity! We later read that they were edible mushrooms, but they don’t grow where I live so we couldn’t have known. Lesson learnt for next time.
July, 4th: Roquebillière – Menton
The church bells ringing hourly didn’t stop us from sleeping like babies. We cleaned up quickly and went to give the key back to the priest’s assistant, who then offered us breakfast. The priest joined us an hour later. We studied our hiking maps with him and talked about the bus timetables, and he offered to drive us to Nice, since he had to go there in the afternoon. We were one day, maybe two days away fby foot from Nice, and both the priest and his assistant told us it wasn’t safe to camp around Nice. Our hiking trip was then over, we accepted the priest offer and reluctantly went back to the hubbub of the city.
We had to find a camping site to set up our tent until the weekend. We found a farm site, half an hour by foot from the city according to the owner. It didn’t sound too bad so we went there. It took us three hours by foot, once we reacher Menton by bus from Nice. Two huge doberman welcomed us. We were the only campers there, and the couple who owned the site were quite unwelcoming and not talkative at first. Eventually, once the man had a few shots of Jack Daniels, he chatted with us and told us that the cloud we were seeing above Menton was actually a fire near the city of Antibes. Welcome to the south!