GR5 – from Modane to the Meditteranean sea (2/2)

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.

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June, 30th: pass of Veillos – Boréon
We were only a few days away from the Vallee des Merveilles. I woke up with that thought and sat on the bed before putting my foot on the floor. Right then, it was as if I was stabbed in the left knee. It was all swollen! We walked quite a lot in the past two days, and my knee didn’t like it. I took some medication, put on my kneepad, and we slowly made our way up to the beautiful Millefont lakes.
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We cleaned up at the lake and resuned our walk toward the pass of Barn. The walk down was pure hell, I used my walking sticks as crutches. Once down in the small valley we stopped and I assessed the situation: we had to forget about going to Vallee des Merveilles, because it meant three to four days of walking without any possible way out. If my knees got any worse, I would have to call for medical help since there was no road or village in that valley. We then decided to go backward to catch the GR5 back and head to Nice instead.
A man saw me limp on the logging road and offered to drive us to the nearest village. He was coming back from a 2-days hike and only carried some food and a blanket with him. He told us he’d seen a wolf only once in 40 years of living there. He said he didn’t know which os the wolf or himself had been the more scared, but he confirmed that wolves fear men and try to get as far from us as possible – and that’s a pretty good thing, in my opinion. The farther they are from us, the more chances they have to stay alive.
We ended up at a small camping site. There we found grassy spots on which to set our tent up, and spotted a small stream in which kids were playing. The funny thing about it? The owner was from my home town! We spent the afternoon resting, took a shower (dish soap totally worked wonders), and ordered a pizza. Yum!
July, 1st : Boreon – Saint Dalmas Valdeblore
 
To go to Nice we had to go back to the trails junction in Saint Dalmas. We hitchhiked back to the village, ate a sandwich and some ice-cream before setting camp a few miles above the village.
July, 2nd : Saint Dalmas – the barns, Brasque
 
I spent the night sliding out of my sleeping bag and listening to the rain falling. We packed our stuff quickly and began the walk up to the pass of Varaire. We had a chat with mountain bikers between two rainfalls. We walked as fast as possible and decided to shorten our daily stages. The distance to Nice wasn’t as long as to Menton, so we could take our time.
We arrived at the barns at the end of the afternoon. The village was empty, almost like a ghost-town. It seemed it was used for summer camps only. A couple of farmers told us we coulduse a barn as a shelter for the night, because nobody but teens came there to party, and they didn’t go there during the week. We bought some cheese from them and set our sleeping bags on the old spring beds we found there. At least, it was super comfortable!

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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”.

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3 kilos? My mushroom radar sprung to life, even more so when we crossed path with two Italian guys who carried big plastic bags with them. We stayed close to the hiking trail but we found enough to cook a great meal:
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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July 5th and 6th – Menton
 
The camping was located at about 700 meters high, meaning there wasn’t any cicada around. It was the one positive point about it. The only one.
The ground was hard as a rock, the bathrooms were filthy, and the mere thought of having to walk for 3 hours to go swim in the sea wasn’t acceptable. We decided to shorten our stay there and to set camp in the only camping in Menton. We walked down to the city and had breakfast in Castellane, a hilltop medieval village above Menton.
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We spent our last two days between the beach and visiting the city. The urge to run back to the mountains was there, but a local ice-cream maker and the white sand were stronger…
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Outcome: the hike we initially planned was changed, partly because of the weather and my knee. Nevertheless, we met enriching people, used our shoes, ate more Bolino© than I thought was possible in two weeks, and traveled though magnificent landscapes. The Vallee des Merveilles is my only regret, but that will be for next time!

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