I have passed by the Rocher de Roquebrune frequently ever since my first trip to the South of France in 1981. The Rocher (literally “large rock”) is located close to the village of Roquebrune-sur-Argens in the department of the Var. The A8 autoroute passes by the hulking bulk of the rock as it wends its way towards the Riviera hotspots of Cannes, Nice, Antibes, and Monte-Carlo, so it’s a pretty familiar landmark for those who travel along this route. At least, if you haven’t noticed the Rocher, you’ve had your eyes closed and are a danger to other road users!
France is full of country walkways and it came as no surprise that a number of paths exist up the Rocher. Some of the information available on the web is a little outdated but the indicated car parks do exist and can be found. One is currently blocked by a pipe-laying exercise but should be available again in the summer. The car parks are not paved and have quite a bumpy surface – cars with low suspensions will definitely have a problem.
We took the opportunity of a warm spring day to walk up the rock. The ascent doesn’t take long (most people will scramble up in under 90 minutes), but even so it’s not a good idea to move off without some water and maybe something to snack on. Good walking boots are definitely required and it’s best to wear long trousers rather than shorts.
Setting off from the car park brings you to some gently sloping rock formations that lead up to a ridge. There’s nothing particularly strenuous at this point and the walk is not dangerous unless you wander off the pathway and are unfortunate enough to fall over a cliff. The path is marked by small yellow dashes on rocks (sometimes on trees) and it’s not always easy to follow exactly where the path leads unless you keep focused on the task.
Once on the ridge the path begins to rise towards an oak forest. This is scrub oak of the type that grows profusely in the area rather than the huge spreading oaks seen in Northern Europe. The path now starts to get steeper and steeper as you meet the bottom of the bulk of the rock. Some scrambling is required to keep moving up along the path and eventually you reach some points where fixed lines have been placed to help cross particularly steep or difficult sections.
Most people who are fit and moderately agile will be able to handle the fixed ropes and scramble across the areas of rock where the ropes have been erected. However, I wouldn’t ask young (under 10 years) children to attempt to use the ropes as there’s just too high a chance than an accident might occur and the prospect of having to get an injured child off the rock is more risk than I’m willing to consider.
Once past the steep bits, the path flattens off as it heads for a col between two rock outcrops at the top of the Rocher. The eastern outcrop has three crosses on its top and some fifteen minutes extra is necessary to get on top, including crossing some more fixed ropes across another steep section.
After the inevitable rest to take in the view, you have an option to return via the same path or take another route down. Choosing another route will lead to a much longer return to a parked car, so that’s obviously not the option we took.
Descending usually goes faster than the upward journey. Expect to be back in the car park in about 50 minutes, depending on whether any delays are encountered at the fixed ropes.
A walk up the Rocher-de-Roquebrune is a great way to spend an afternoon. I imagine that more effort is required in the summer months when it’s much hotter from the sun baking all those exposed rocks. In addition, walkers have to pay more attention to the scorpions and snakes that apparently reside in the area (we saw no trace in February). Even so, if you’re in the area and tired of getting sand in your swimsuit, take the time to do something different and climb the rock to see some great views over the Var countryside. You can then reward yourself for all the effort by having a nice meal at a good restaurant and tell stories of the horrible climb you’ve had and the challenges faced on the route. And then, during the second bottle of wine, you’ll probably resolve to go up again – after another twenty years or so…