The Roya Valley

by Judy Churchill

The Roya valley never disappoints and this hike is yet another example of stunning scenery, secret villages and views as far as the eye can see.

Only 37 km from Monaco this is a Happy Hiker blue trail with 430m of positive gain and will take you less than 3 hours to complete. Your destination the charming village of Piène Haute which sits at 600 m altitude is within view for most of the trail. Formerly part of Italy until 1947 this village was the ‘chef-lieu’ of the area as can be seen by its old fortress commanding a dominant position over the Roya valley.

To access this trail, take the A8 to Ventimiglia and then the Roya valley road (direction Limone, Breil-sur-Roya) until you reach the border with France just after the hamlet of Fanghetto. They have reinstated border controls so you will see the police checkpoint in the small car park just opposite the start of the trail. Park in the car park at or near the border checkpoint and cross the road to find your first wooden signpost checkpoint 112. The first hour of the trail is steep but then levels off and you will be rewarded with the most glorious panoramic views and will have Piène Haute within sight. Just follow the yellow way markers (balises) until you reach the village. There is really no difficulty as this is the only path that leads to the village so you just stay on it.

Take the time to visit this pretty place, its baroque church and streets full of flowers. Return by the same route.

This hike is best done between April and November but if the weather is mild and there is no low-level snowfall then it can be done during the winter months too. On your way home it’s worth stopping off at Porra just before Ventimiglia to get some olive oil straight from the press plant (on the right-hand side of the road). We always do this and it’s our favourite oil unsurpassed by any others we have tried.

When walking, I advise taking hiking sticks, as they will help you on both the ascents and the way down. They also guarantee you get a full body work out. You’ll need a cap and sunglasses to keep the sun off your face (the sun is a lot stronger in the hills and mountains so don’t forget the sunscreen). Remember to take more water than you think you’ll need (at least a litre and a half per person) and enough protein bars for during and after the hike. I always have a high fibre, high protein breakfast before I set off which means that I don’t need to carry a large picnic with me as good protein bars are sufficient (always take a couple of extra ones). Purpose-made hiking boots/shoes, a roll-up rain jacket, first aid kit and a rucksack are a must and you will need lighter wear for the Spring/Summer season and heavier/warmer for Autumn and Winter. I have a Bogner zip-up, long-sleeved, light-weight golfing jacket from One Eagle Monaco which not only enables a full range of movement but is also great for cooler Spring/Autumn walks as it keeps you at the perfect body temperature. In the winter months you will need extra layers of clothing, gloves, a warm hat and thicker socks. Last but not least, you will need the IGN TOP 25 map n° 3841 OT map (Vallée de la Roya) to mark out your trail before you set off. 

If you are a French speaker you can also find the hike on this link: https://randoxygene.departement06.fr/roya/hameau-de-piene-haute-9392.html  but you will still need your IGN map as these online guides are only approximate. There are also hiking specific apps such as Visorando, which have both free and purchasable versions and can be very useful guides and even have GPS options https://www.visorando.comhttps://www.visorando.comwhic. 

If you have Strava you can record your walk on this app and it will give you lots of fascinating statistics at the end as well as totalling up the number of km/altitude you do in any given year.

When you’re done, I strongly recommend a foot massage using Young Living Essential Foot Oil (a combo of Rosemary, Peppermint and Lavender) – your feet will thank you later!

Enjoy your hike and don’t forget your camera!

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