The Plateau de Calern, located 12 crow-flying miles north of Grasse, is an 8-km wide plateau of calcaire rocks, wildflower, grazing sheep, eagles, and trails.
You can reach the Calern Plateau by driving up from Grasse, either via St Vallier-de-Thiey or the perched village of Gourdon. From either, a road climbs up to the Plateau de Caussols, and then a narrow 3-km road continues on up to Calern. At the top is a parking area at the end of the road, amidst the telescopes and lasers of the CERGA observatory. The southern side of the Calern Plateau is bordered by a long cliff overlooking the Calern plateau and the rest of the countryside, all the way to the Mediterranean.
The only buildings here, located near the parking area, belong to the CERGA Observatory. The area near the observatory looks a bit like a moonscape, with white, domed buildings scattered around the white, rocky terrain.
The plain stretches out to the north. In the summer time, the fields of yellow grass and long rows of white rock are offset by dark green bushes with dark, purple-blue flowers. To the nortwest, the land rises to the 1456-m hill, Sommet de Calern. If you turn and look south, from the edge of the plain, you have a tremendous view of the valleys below, and beyond them the hills that stretch away to the coast. You'll often see in the distance the bright-colored hang-gliders soaring out above Gourdon.
In the area near the observatory, low, discreet panels show pictures and give information about the local flora and fauna. The are panels for different plants and birds, "carabe" beetles, frogs, vipers (small and timid) and bories.
The rocks in the surrounding area also have many fossils. Spiral snail fossils are so plentiful, you'll only keep the nicer ones. My son once found a complete fish skeleton about 10 cm long, and we're not even amateur fossilers.
Quiet Model Planes.
At the edge of the cliffs to the east of the road is a site for flying radio-controlled model planes. They are wonderful to watch, and so quiet they do not disturb the peaceful surroundings. They are long-winged sailplanes; no motor-driven planes are allowed.
Cross-Country Skiiing; Snow-shoeing
The Calern Plateau is popular (but not at all crowded) for cross-country skiing and for snow-shoeing in the winter. You may need snow tires to get to the CERGA parking on the plateau, because the small road up often has a few icy patches.
• GPS: 43.753264, 6.922202
IGN (1/25,000) #3642 ET "Vallée de l'Estéron"
IGN (1/25,000) #3643 ET "Cannes, Grasse, Côte d'Azur"
A short (1 hr each way) goes from Caussols village, up the side of the ridge to the plateau (on the GR4 hiking trail). Just before the top, to the left of the trail in the rocks above, is a pretty little grotto chapel: Notre-Dame de Calern Grotte-Chapelle. On the plateau you can pass through the CERGA observatory installations to the parking area, then return via the road to Caussols village.
From the CERGA parking, you can go northeast to join the GR4 and hike to Cipières village, returning the same way or by looping west across the northern edge of the Calern Plateau.