Where do you vacation when you call the French Riviera home? The slopes of St. Moritz or the beaches of St. Barts? Perhaps. But, you are more likely to find the average French Riviera resident escaping to the mountain village of Saint-Martin-Vésubie for a weekend wellness travel getaway.
If you want to experience authentic French alpine village life, this is the place where everyday life unfolds largely unchanged by time. A twice-daily public bus makes the 44-mile journey between Nice and Saint-Martin-Vésubie. Throughout this region of southern France, tiny medieval villages dot the cliff-sides of the French Alps.
Wesley and I rented an apartment on Air BnB for a long weekend in the village square. We were both attempting the Ultra Trail Cote d’Azur Mercantour trail race over the weekend–145k for him and 45k for me. Wes began his race Friday afternoon, reaching his stopping point at 100k by Saturday night. My race began Sunday morning and I only made it 6 miles before altitude sickness took over.
Authentic French Village Life
Nevertheless, we had extra time to explore the village. We discovered that each day begins with a line at the boulangerie for the daily baguette and every day winds down with a purchase at the patisserie to select evening dessert.
The buildings are painted the vibrant colors of the Mediterranean…pink, blue, and yellow…reminding you that despite the altitude, this is still the south of France.
A narrow and shallow mountain stream called a gargouille runs down the center of the village. This was a common feature in medieval times to pool fresh water into communal fountains for local use. Locals still take their water jugs to the fountain to fill up with water as fresh and clean as Evian.
Wellness Activities for Any Season
In the summer, the trails of Mercantour National Park provide for spectacular hiking or running. The village serves as a starting/finishing point for long-distance backpacking trips in the Alps. Tent camping and a network of huts are available along the numerous trails. (BTW: there is an outfitter store in the village for last minute supplies or forgotten items.)
Many of the trails become ski slopes and cross-country or snowshoeing tracks during the winter. A few minutes outside of town, the Colmiane ski resort is the headquarters for wintertime outdoor activities.
Other sites in the area include the Alpha Animal Park, a wildlife park and educational center on the region’s wolves. Soak away tired muscles at the famous thermal baths, Berthemont les Bains, in the neighboring village of Roquebillière. There also is a very modern wellness center, Vesubia Mountain Park, boasting an indoor canyoning experience along with a rock climbing wall, large pool, sauna, and gym.
It’s easy to see why the French choose Saint-Martin-Vésubie as an all-season wellness travel getaway with so many outdoor and indoor activities along with the relaxed village atmosphere.