Walking in the Mercantour National Park: Highlights
Tranquil lakes surrounded by rocky peaks high above the treeline
The prehistoric rock carvings of the Vallée des Merveilles
A paradise for nature-lovers with an abundance of wild flora and fauna
The cosy Chamois d’Or hotel, an unforgettable experience
Easily accessible by direct train from Nice
On this 6-day hiking tour in the back country of the French Riviera, you will discover the Mercantour National Park. Renowned as one of the most unspoilt regions of the French Alps, the Mercantour is an ideal hiking destination. Apart from the typical Alpine scenery of serrated peaks, mountain lakes and wildflower-covered pastures, there are also the stunning archaeological treasures of the Vallée des Merveilles (Valley of Wonders). This red-rock valley is home to more than 40,000 rock carvings of animals and weapons dating from the Bronze age, making it the largest such site in all of Europe.
We have handpicked a few challenging hikes which follow well-marked paths through this alpine paradise. Keep an eye out for the abundant wildlife, including ibex, chamois, marmots and wild boar, as well as golden eagles and rare bearded vultures soaring above you.
Situated in south-eastern France, right on the Italian border, the Mercantour National Park is easily accessible by direct (and very scenic) train from Nice to La Brigue. You will spend the first two nights in the authentic and picturesque village of La Brigue, nestled in the Roya valley, and complete a warm-up hike in lower altitudes. You will then be transferred to the mountain hamlet of Castérino, at over 1500m, where you will stay in a charming and cosy chalet-style hotel for 2 nights. The gateway into the Mercantour National park, Castérino is the perfect base from which to explore its stunning alpine landscapes.
|6 DAY TOUR||From €699 per person sharing*
*A high-season surcharge of €50 pp. will apply during July and August
|ACCOMMODATION||Comfortable hotels in La Brigue and Castérino with en suite facilities.
La Brigue: Le Mirval
Castérino: Hotel Chamois d’Or
If a certain hotel is unable to confirm due to lack of availability, we will request a similar one and inform you about the alternative booked.
|AVAILABILITY||You can start on any day of the week, subject to availability, between June 1st and September 30th.|
Though we’ve chosen well-trodden paths in and around the park, it’s important to note that this is indeed a hikers’ vacation, set in an alpine environment. Walks are from 4 to 7 hours per day with considerable altitude gain — up to 800m, or more if you take the long option on day 5. This trip is suitable for people with hiking experience who can negotiate rocky, technical terrain and who don’t mind a little scrambling along the way. You should be used to regular and sustained exercise, lasting up to several hours at a time. You should also be confident at orienteering and using a compass. Walking poles and hiking boots with ankle support are recommended.
Day 1: Nice & La Brigue
Access: There are regular trains from Nice to La Brigue. Check the schedule on SNCF PACA
You arrive in the timeless village of La Brigue, nestled in the mountains close to the Italian border. Take some time to wander around and take in the beautiful architecture and centuries-old homes with colourful façades. The village traded its Italian flag for a French one in 1947, and much of this valley is bathed in a Franco-Italian fusion of language, food, and culture. There is a market in the town every Sunday morning.
Overnight in La Brigue with dinner included
Day 2: Panoramic views above Tende
Option 1: La Brigue > Notre dame des Fontaines > La Brigue
Option 2: La Brigue > Tende > La Brigue
Distance: 12 km | Ascent: 550 m | Descent: 550 m | 4 hrs approx.
From La Brigue, you climb up a tight valley laden with wild lavender, thyme, and winter savoury. You pass the ruins of stone dwellings, before reaching the Boselia pass. Here you begin a breath-taking and panoramic descent along the slope towards Tende, the very last town before the Italian border. Take a well-deserved break in town, at a local café or restaurant. Though we have marked a walking route to return to La Brigue, the railway line links both villages so you can also return by train if you prefer.
Overnight in La Brigue
Day 3: Alpine Lakes
Loop walk from Castérino > Cime de Gratin
Distance: 10 km | Ascent: 650 m | Descent: 650 m | 4 hrs approx.
Morning transfer to your cosy, chalet-style hotel in the hamlet of Castérino, set in a lush green valley. Leaving your hotel by foot you climb upwards through the evergreen forest, and soon the last of the larch trees give way to open pastures and bare rock. Atop the crest you’ll enjoy panoramic views of the serrated peaks of the Mercantour National Park to the east. A leisurely descent leads back to the hamlet of Castérino.
Overnight in Casterino. Dinner and picnic lunch included today.
Day 4: Vallée des Merveilles
Loop walk from Castérino > Refuge des Merveilles
Distance: 16 km | Ascent: 650 m | Descent: 650 m | 6 hrs approx.
Short morning transfer to the Lac des Mèches lake to begin your hike to the Vallon de la Minière, then entering the boundaries of the Mercantour National Park. Leaving the forest behind, you walk among crystal-clear mountain lakes, surrounded by wildflowers and under the watchful eyes of the chamois and ibex that graze on the slopes (perhaps even the elusive wolves). Reaching the Refuge des Merveilles, you can enjoy a refreshing drink and soak up the alpine ambiance before your walk back to the Lac des Meches for a transfer back to Casterino.
OPTIONAL: From the refuge you can embark on a guided tour of the Vallée des Merveilles rock carvings, Europe’s largest open-air museum, highly protected and only accessible with an accredited guide. Tours last about 2 hours and cost around €15 per person.
Overnight in Castérino. Dinner and picnic lunch included today.
Day 5: Fontanalba & Lac Vert
Loop walk from Castérino > Fontanalba
▪ Short option
Distance: 16 km | Ascent: 700 m | Descent: 700 m | 5½ hrs approx.
▪ Long option
Distance: 20 km | Ascent: 1150 m | Descent: 1150 m | 7½ hrs approx.
Today, you climb through the bucolic Fontanalba valley, and once again enter the heart of the National Park. Reach the Lac Vert, from where you can explore some of the 100,000 sacred stone carvings, some of which are 6,000 years old. Up until modern times, many different agricultural civilizations would carve their histories into stone — quite literally — before the advent of writing. The site of Fontanalba boasts more carvings then elsewhere in the park, and many are set beside the marked trails, accessible to all hikers without an accredited guide. An optional route takes you to the pristine lakes of the Valmasque valley.
Return to Castérino for your third and final night. Picnic lunch included today.
Day 6: Bye Bye Mercantour
Transfer to La Brigue after breakfast. End of your trip. Or continue your walk all the way to the Mediterranean with the trip starting in Breil sur Roya down to Menton!
Return: Regular train lines from La Brigue to Breil and Nice
Getting to La Brigue
Departure from La Brigue
|There are regular trains from La Brigue to Nice.|