The Corniche de l’Estérel, “The most beautiful road in France” according to the Touring Club of France, is a 40km coastal route from Fréjus-St Raphaël to the Bay of Cannes around and over the red volcanic rock of the Estérel Massif. Also known as the Corniche d’Or, the road is never straight and level for long. It’s always close to the sea with dazzling views of the turquoise water contrasting with the red volcanic rock. The Corniche d’Or was built for views not speed though of course it’s fun push it a bit where you can.
Denis and I met up at St Raphaël railway station. After catching up on each other’s news over coffee and a fine piece of apricot tarte, we sliced through the traffic of St Raphaël. The Corniche road opens up to the first of many luscious views and it’s hard to concentrate on riding. Fortunately he’s leading! We stop at Agay and I guide away from the coast to a Route Forestière up into the red rock massif of the Estérel. Up at the Col de la Belle Barbe (50 m.) the scenery is even more jaw-droppingly beautiful, the nature reserve is in full bloom: violet and yellow shrubs, deep blue rosemary and with all the scents and aromas to match. Aromatherapy outdoors in the sunshine!
Back on the Corniche d’Or, we ride the famous zigzags of the bridges over the railway from Paris to Nice. This rail line was the competition to the early touring automobilists and part of the reason the Touring Club of France campaigned to construct this road. So much more comfortable in the train but nothing like the adventure of travelling down from Paris by car!
We met with Denis’ friend Jan at a beach bar at Le Mandelou, just after the roundabout which marks the end of the Corniche d’Or. No more the train, Jan had flown down from Paris in the morning for two weeks on the Riviera based from his family’s flat in Nice. Denis and Jan compared experiences on studying for a Permis Maritime, a sailing licence required to hire a larger yacht for coastal cruising
Back to St Tropez over the route through the interior of the Estérel massif including the Col du Logis de Paris (312 m.), a road once feared for the predations of the highway robber Gaspard de Besse, but he was caught and “broken on the wheel” (ie executed horribly) in 1781, his remains were displayed at the side of this road to show it was now safe and pour encourager les autres, ie as an example of what happens if you’re caught. This is also roughly the trace of the Roman Via Aurelia. Now a fast road, reliably banked on the curves but graded hard so that it’s good work for the gears on a small sportsbike.
We stopped at a boulangerie on the approach to St Raphaël, not the only bikers enjoying more coffee at the roadside. The other group were out from Cannes.
Back down on the coast and weaving through the sea front traffic of St Maxime and on to the island St Tropez.
Bikes parked up, we showered and went to a bar he is friendly with to watch the sunset over the harbour of St Tropez. The port filled with yachts, the port-side filled with any number of expensive scooters and motorbikes. We liked a Z1000 Sugomi Edition, a 2016 special edition Ninja, the rider happily directed (not to say dominated) by his bossy female pillion wearing the tightest of bike leather jeans and sleek boots. No doubts who holds the keys to the handcuffs in their bedroom! Not just the bikes and the boats, conspicuous hardware fetishism is still very much on display here as well as total disregard of the real world on the mainland away from the Presqu’île de St Trop.
A previous ride to L'Esterel