Canyoning in Nice, La Bollène du Vesubie

August 2007

Canyoning in the La Bollène du Vesubie Valley, one hour from Nice

Just the thing to jolt yourself out of beach torpor but not for the faint-hearted. This day trip out from Nice was one of our best days but not at the time, only after the nausea from the adrenalin rush subsided, about two days later. My dear husband had gone back to the UK to work so it was just the two of us left to our own devices.

It seemed a good idea at the time. Definitely one for thrill-seekers and you need strong nerve and a reasonable level of fitness. We always try something new each year, sailing, scuba diving, rollerblading and this year, canyoning

This day out from Nice was organised by the Bureau des Moniteurs du Pays Niçois or Le BDM

They have an exhibition stand set up the Cour Saleya most days. The rep we spoke to was Angelique and she speaks excellent English. We examined the courses offered ie looked at the pretty photos on the posters 'ooh, canyoning, that looks fun' and signed up. It was 46 euros each. That included all equipment, guide and insurance. No transport though. Not a problem, we arranged to be collected in a minivan outside the Beau Rivage Hotel on rue St Francois de Paule. Pick up and drop off here for the two of us was 10 euros, good value.

You pay on the day and Angelique and I exchanged several phone calls to finalise arrangements with times, the name and contact number of our guide, the delectable Henri, and to check our sizes (height/weight/age) for the wetsuits. You need to bring old trainers that you don't mind getting wet. We didn't even have these but were able to borrow- you need to know your continental size - all we had to bring with us were a swim suit and a snack/water and the money of course.

We were on time, the minivan was on time and there were a couple more girls to collect in the west of Nice en route to the mountains. After about an hours drive climbing up into the hills behind Nice, we stopped just past the village of Lantosque in the Vesubie Valley. Time for a quick coffee in the local cafe while we waited for the final group to arrive which turned out to be a family of four with the youngest girl in our group a 7 year old, a comforting sight - surely I could cope with anything a 7 year old could be expected to face. My daughter, 12, was pleased to see more children. Our final group comprised out guide Henri, two young women, early twenties perhaps, the family of four and me and the daughter, so nine in total.

We abandoned the family car and all set off in the minivan, climbing very steeply which seemed strange as we were supposed to be canyoning, following the course of a river, it felt as though we should be driving downhill towards a river. At the side of the road in a small turn off, we parked and unloaded the van.

The idea was to strip down to your swimsuit and trainers and then carry all the equipment down to the river and then gear up for the trip. It felt most incongruous stripping off by the side of the road and at this altitude, it's not that hot in the shade. I have to say, choose your sturdiest swimsuit for this course - my bikini suffered several wardrobe malfunctions on the way down the mountainside to the river and there usually isn't a hand free to yank things back into place as you are usually too busy clinging to a rock. Henri showed us how to carry our stuff. We had to fill the wetsuit body with the wetsuit jacket and wet-suit boots and harness and then stuff the legs inside the arms to make shoulder straps, rucksack-style. Then clip on your helmet somewhere.

Everything else was left in the van but two waterproof tubs were coming with us so I decided to leave my clothes and food and water in the van and to take my money, camera, phone and a snack and small bottle of water with me safe in the waterproof tubs. There was no obvious path down but off we went, children first following Henri. It is a steep and perilous descent to the river with no obvious path for some of the route. For me, this was the worst part, it was steep, slippy and difficult and the height was giving me vertigo but I reckon if you can cope with the climb down, the canyoning bit will be easy. At one point, the path so narrow, about twelve inches across that a permanent hand line had been hammered into the mountain wall; it was a sheer drop for a while. You can't really tell from the photo how frightening it was. The children all seemed fine with this part of the day. By the time we got to the river, I was a bit of a nervous wreck but no time to dwell on past horrors. Now was the time to struggle into the wet suits, this takes some doing as we were hot and bothered and the suits were cold and wet and seemed about 2 sizes too small. This took place on a small bank of pebbles by a shallow river. The suits are very buoyant - you could float happily on your back in the shallows and feel them fill with water which felt fine, not cold at all. It's hard to try and stand up though. All valuables were put in the waterproof tubs.

Off we went. Canyoning is making your way along the course of a river and dealing with the various challenges that arise through the course of the river. You can walk, swim, crawl, slide, abseil and jump and along this river, we did everything. The first hazard we came across was invisible. The river stopped at the narrow gap between rock face and disappeared. You couldn't see where it went but Henri said it was a waterfall, only about 20 meters. We had to slide down into the plunge pool at the bottom. The sliding is done on your back with your arms crossed in front and head pressed back against the rock face. You are attached to a rope. Not seeing where you were going and waiting for the plunge at the end was very frightening but we did it and it was very exhilarating. Henri said that was about the worst one we would face so it was a baptism by fire.

I wear contact lenses so I was a bit worried about jumping into plunge pools but I managed. The course of the river took about 3 hours I think. Some of the waterfalls were too narrow for sliding so we abseiled. The 7 year old girl was too little to manage some of the challenges and at these times she was winched down with Henri. My daughter managed everything but she said it was the hardest thing she had ever done. At the end, no rest just yet. We had to strip off all our wetsuit gear and rinse it in the river then re-pack it all onto our backs again. It was a twenty minute walk, in your swim suit and trainers with your belongings on your back, to reach the original car park. Henri had a lift back to the minivan while we all sat at a picnic bench and had a snack and waited for his return. We were all very pleased with ourselves by now.

A few things would have made the day better - a sturdier swim suit was a definite. Next, a water-proof camera which I do have but it's no good in a drawer back in the UK. I was gutted not to have recorded some of the waterfalls and plunge pools etc. I have put the link to the BMN so that you can see some action shots. Here are a couple of photos I lifted from the site to show you the sort of challenges we faced:

One thing - make sure the guide checks the tubs, I put my camera and phone in a waterproof tub and it wasn't closed properly and everything got soaked, it took 5 days before the phone worked again and it never fully recovered, the camera's memory stick was saved but the camera is not quite perfect yet, luckily I decided to take the crappiest camera we had in case of accidents. We all managed without injury unless you count a couple of broken nails until the very end when I stood up ready to walk back and promptly fell over bruising my arm, sheer exhaustion I think and no harm done.

You definitely need a good snack afterwards, my daughter ate nearly a whole baguette stuffed with ham.

We saw Angelique the following week in the Cours Saleya and she was very keen to hear about our adventure, we will book another day out next summer, I would like the try the canyoning again but in in a different area for a change, there is one they do just over the border, in Italy, might try that one. I also quite fancy the 'via ferrata' the iron way. I'm determined my husband won't miss out this time.

This would be a great day out for teenagers or anyone fairly athletic with a reasonable level of fitness and nerve who fancies getting out of Nice for a day and seeing some spectacular scenary close up and getting some good exercise out in the fresh air.

The Conseil General des Alpes-Maritimes publish a series of guides (in French) on the great outdoors, part of a collection 'Guides RandOxygène' and details of this canyon and others as well as guides to walking, mountain biking, via ferrata etc, can be found here: and a Practical Guide can also be downloaded:

The booklets are freely available from tourist offices in Nice and from the new O6 Information Office on the Prom just opposite the carousel in the Albert 1er gardens. I would never recommend embarking upon a canyon without a fully qualified guide. For walks and hiking though, they are very useful.

There's no need to take your own map, you have a guide and a lift in a minibus but if you wanted to see where you were en route or later on, you need the IGN Map 3741 OT Carte de Randonéé Vallée de la Vésibue:

For more information or to book a day's course contact the BDM by phone: 04 93 72 89 54 or fax: 04 93 80 43 68 or go and find their information stand in the Cours Saleya in Old Nice on market days. As well as Canyoning, the BDM also offer courses in rock-climbing, Parcours, Via Ferrata, Rafting and various walking and hiking options.


Anonymous said...

We are traveling to Nice in October and I found your blog informative and extremely helpful. Thank you for sharing and keep up the great work.

Bo Cung

Rasmus den rejsende :) said...

I will definatly try our cayoning in France :)...

I have already tried it in Italy, and I can highly recommend you try out some of the Italian canyons, they are great :D

Anonymous said...

Great Blog! We'll be traveling on Dec 10th 2012 for our honeymoon and I am so glad to find out that we can ski too... This will be a great surprise for my fiance :) Thank you for sharing all your experience.
Cheers from Istanbul TR