Distance: About 8 kilometers round trip
Time: Plan on 3 to 4 hours depending on how fast you walk and how long you spend in Gourdon.
Difficulty: Somewhat Difficult. The hike is steep, but it’s not real long.
Gourdon is one of my favorite villages in the Alpes-Maritimes. Perched high on a rocky cliff on the edge of the Gorges du Loup, it’s only 26 kilometers from Vence and is one of the official “Most Beautiful Villages Of France.” I had been visiting it for years, both by bike and by car, when one time I noticed a sign at the edge of the village for a trail that apparently led down to the Loup river far below. I was immediately intrigued and did some research when I got home. What I found is that there is a very well known path from Pont du Loup, the village at the very bottom of the hill that Gourdon is situated on, up to Gourdon. It’s known as Le Chemin du Paradis (The Path to Paradise). Part of the path follows an official French hiking trail, the GR51. I made plans right then to make the hike as soon as I could.
[more info after photo gallery]
The best place to begin the hike is at the small village of Pont du Loup which is situated where the D2210 road from Vence to Grasse crosses the Loup River. Unfortunately, parking in Pont du Loup is not particularly easy, but if you look around you are bound to find something. Be careful: there is a small parking lot on the D2210, just after you pass over the bridge, but it is a “zone bleu” parking lot. You can only park there for 1 hour and you must have a zone bleu disc. Don’t park there. Look around, you’ll find someplace on the street or in one of the other small parking spots.
I start this hike at the bridge. You could drive and park anywhere along the first kilometer of the route, but I like to walk it as it gives me a chance to warm up before the steep climbing begins. From the bridge you walk west on the D2210. There is a road sign about 100 meters past the bridge on the left side of the road that points to Route de Ancien Chemin de Fer (the old railroad path), Chemin de La Prache and Chemin du Paradis, which is what we want. It’s sometimes partially obscured by tree branches, so be sure not to miss it. Follow this road to the right (it makes a 180° turn) and in a few minutes you’ll come to a wooden trail maker on the left against a stone wall. It points to Chemin du Paradis, Gourdon and Bar-sur-Loup. Each of the signposts on an official French hiking trail has an identification number. This one is marked at the top as “Balise N°2” (Marker Number 2). You will continue along this road up for almost a kilometer. It makes a few steep turns as the road winds through and around the old pylons that supported the railroad at one time and then the road levels off. You’re now on the Route de Ancien Chemin de Fer, the path where the railroad used to run before World War II. In those days the train ran from Grasse, through Vence and down to Colomars. The Germans destroyed much of the tracks and bridges during the war and it was never rebuilt. If you keep an eye out you’ll see the old train station on the right, now converted into a private residence. It’s marked as “Halte du Loup.”
Continue on the road until you come to a wooden sign post marked as “Balise N°3” with an arrow pointing to Chemin du Paradis, Gourdon and Bar-sur-Loup. The trail will split after a few kilometers and you can continue on to Gourdon or veer left to Bar-sur-Loup.
The first couple of kilometers on the trail are the most difficult, they are quite steep. As you make your way up just keep in mind the entire hike is not this steep. The trail is wide and it is very well marked, in fact in some portions are actually paved with stones. It’s mostly a mixture of dirt and loose rocks and you’ll find lots of “steps” constructed from rocks along the way. It’s really impossible to miss the trail or get lost. Along this portion of the trail you’ll find yellow paint stripes on rocks and trees to reassure you that you are on the right path. These yellow paint stripes signify that the trail is a local trail, not one of the regional or national trails.
Before too long you’ll come to a little concrete bench on the left side of the trail which is a good place to stop for a moment, drink some water and rest up a bit. You’re almost finished with the really steep portion of the hike. You’ll pass by an occasional house here and there and just past the bench is an iron cross monument on the right.
At about the 2.2 kilometer point you’ll find the break in the road here where this local path joins the GR51 and it is here that you can turn off to the left to reach Le Bar-sur-Loup if you wish. There is a wooden signpost, similar to the one you saw at the beginning of the trail. The signpost here is “Balise N° 4”. The markings on the trail will now turn from yellow to red and white stripe painting which indicates this is a GR (Grande Randonnées) French hiking trail.
At about the 2.6 kilometer point you’ll reach a large aquaduct pipe that runs across the side of the hill. Just before this you’ll find a wonderful little fountain fed by spring water. In the summer when it’s hot, this can be quite a nice surprise. The water is fresh, cold and wonderful. “Balise N° 5” is situated here and when you spot it you’ll know you’re still on the right trail. It’s possible to take another, unmarked path to the left or the right, following the aquaduct pipe. If you go to the right it will take you all the way up the valley near Saut du Loup. But, that’s another hike. For now, continue on up towards Gourdon. As contrary as it may seem there are actually two “Balise N°5” signposts. They are only a few feet away from each other, one on one side of the aquaduct which points down towards Pont du Loup and the other on the other side which points up to Gourdon.
Up until this point the trail has been pretty straight, running along the side of the mountain. There have been a few switchbacks here and there, but not too many. After the aquaduct the switchbacks become more and more frequent, especially as you get closer to the top. Near Gourdon you’ll come to a short flat section of the trail that looks out over the the valley and down onto Pont du Loup. There are more spectacular views of the river valley and the surrounding areas that only get better the higher you get. Before too long you’ll begin to see portions of buildings in Gourdon as you look up. Soon you’ll arrive in Gourdon.
At the end of the trail you’ll find a very steep stone stairway on your left. Take this and you’ll find yourself at the very edge of Gourdon. From there you can take the small little road up into the heart of the village.
The village itself is a delite and I would encourage you to plan your hike so that you have enough time to explore it. It’s very small and it doesn’t take long to walk around the entire village. Depending on the time, day and time of the year that you are there you may be able to have a meal at one of the restuarants or find some ice cream or other treats. The church is worth a visit and is usually open. You’ll find lots of small shops with all kinds of crafts and such. There’s an excellent Tourist Office which is usually open. The Château de Gourdon is what looks like a fabulous old castle (I’ve never been in) that is most famous for Quen Victoria having visited in 1891. It’s only open to the general public via reservations from April to September. Once you are ready to depart simply return to the start of the trail and head back down.
If you’d like a slight detour on the way down you can turn at Balise N° 4 and head towards Le Bar-sup-Loup. It adds on a few kilometers but you’ll have the opportunity to visit another village. The final portion of the hike will, however, be on paved roads as you traverse back to Pont du Loup from Le Bar-sur-Loup along the D2210.
Important Notes: You will want to avoid this hike shortly after any kind of rain. Portions of it are quite steep and the rocks will be very slippery. As always you’ll want to make sure you have good hiking boots and plenty of water. I would suggest at least one liter of water for this hike, more if you are climbing in the heat. There is a small fountain on the trail where you can get fresh water, but I have passed it on at least one occasion where it was not running. There is also a fountain in Gourdon, but it is marked “Eau non Contrôlée,” which means the water is not guaranteed to be safe, so I avoid it. The best time to make this hike in the summer is early in the morning when it’s the coolest, the best time in the winter is early in the afteroon when things have warmed up a bit. It can be much cooler in Gourdon than it is in Pont du Loup and it is often windier as well. If you are hiking anytime other than summer you might be fine in just a tshirt going up but you will most likely need more protection in the form of a jacket or windbreaker in Gourdon. If the weather is colder you might even want gloves and a hat. You should always hike with a first aid kit, a good knife, a raincoat, a flashlight and a whistle. If you are hiking alone make sure someone knows where you are going and what time you should be back. I wear an identification bracelet that I got from Road ID.