Mercantour National Park – An Active Holiday Guide
Activity Holidays in the Mercantour National Park
The spectacular Mercantour National Park is a haven for thrill seekers and nature lovers alike. Hike the 1700 km of trails, bike through deep forested valleys, get the adrenalin pumping with some whitewater rafting, or explore remote high altitude terrain on a ski touring trip.
The valleys of Roya, Bevera, Vesubie, Tinee, Haut Var, Cians, Verdon and Ubaye fill the central uninhabited zone and are surrounded by around 28 Provencal villages. These dwellings ooze with architectural gold with churches decorated by primitive Nicois painters and charming rustic cottages.
Discover 3,000 year old rock carvings after a 10 km hike to the Vallée des Merveilles. Walk along lower meadows and woodland while spotting tremendous amounts of wildlife including; stags, roebucks, hares, wild boars, eagles, partridges and maybe even a wolf. If you’re feeling like a challenge, take on one of the parks many imposing peaks, with the Brec du Chambeyron being one of the tallest at 3000 metres.
Mercantour National Park Map
Stretching for 90 km along the Italian border from Barcelonnette to the Côte d’Azur, the Mercantour National Park is nature on steroids, with 3000 m peaks, ferocious valleys, raging whitewater torrents, and abundant flora and fauna including ibex and wolves. The dark green area in the map represents the heart of the National Park and the light green zone is the boundary of the protected area.
Mercantour National Park Map (View Printable Version) | © Parc National du Mercantour
Getting to the Mercantour National Park
The majority of visitors travel to the park from Nice either by car, bus or train. Day trips are possible due to it taking just over an hour by car, around 2.5 hours by bus and 90 minutes by train. The train journey takes you to Tende, where you can access the Valley of Marvels. The journey in itself will be an adventure, taking you through dramatic mountains, isolated hilltops, pretty villages, river valleys and steep cliff faces.
Driving will be a hair-raising experience but definitely worth it. There will be plenty of picture worthy pit-stops to drink in the sublime views and breathe in that fresh mountain air. If you plan to stay overnight, it’s recommended to book ahead due to the popularity of the Mercantour National Park year round.
Organise Your Active Holiday to the Mercantour National Park
We’ve teamed up with the best active holiday companies to help you organise an unforgettable trip to the Mercantour:
Mercantour Summer Activities
In summer the Mercantour National Park becomes a playground for adventure sports enthusiasts of every stripe. Hike the Vallée des Merveilles, mountain bike through deep forested valleys, explore hidden canyons and climb the highest 3000 m peaks. Mountain resorts like Auron, Isola 2000, Valberg, Roubion and Pra Loup are geared up to make sure the hyper-active need never pause, and have an unforgettable active holiday.
People flock to the Mercantour National Park to hike through wild trails and traverse impressive peaks with breathtaking views. If you’re just visiting for the day try out the Valley and Lake of Lauzanier hike. An easy half days walk starting from Larche; you will get to enjoy one of the most beautiful glacial, U-shaped valleys in the park. The Vallee des Merveilles is an impressive day hike, with numerous lakes and bronze aged carvings to discover.
For those wanting more than a day of meandering, fill that rucksack with 12 days of supplies and tackle the Meije to Mediterranean hike. This 200km trek starts at Le Chazelet-La Grave in the Ecrins National Park and heads South through the Cerces, Queyras and Mercantour Parks. Along the way you will experience stunning, varied terrain and arrive at the Promenade des Anglais Nice, on the azure Mediterranean coast.
If that isn’t enough to wear out your hiking boots, take on the mother of all hiking challenges with the 16 day expedition – the Grande Traversee du Mercantour. This epic trail starts in the upper valley of the Var, crosses the valleys of Tinee and Vesubie, then descends from des Merveilles to Menton. Expect challenging terrain, unbelievable scenery and your physical and emotional attributes to be pushed to their limits.
With its wild and rocky mountainscape, the Mercantour National Park is a place to try out canyoning. Head to the Vallee de la Roya to the Maglia Canyon for a day of climbing, caving, sliding down waterfalls and abseiling off cliff faces.
Take a day out at the Bollenne Canyon in the Vesubie Valley, to experience two huge natural water slides and tons of other high energy canyoning favourites. Experience jumps, white water and abseiling down waterfalls – definitely a day out to remember.
From May – October enjoy rock climbing at Valdeblore La Colmiane. This stunning area is around an hour from the Cote d’Azur and offers challenging terrain. Make sure you reserve equipment and get there early in peak summer season to avoid crowds.
La Ciappea – La Brigue is a technical and physically demanding via ferrata. The eight rope bridges and 120 metre zip line add in some lighthearted fun. Situated 59km inland from Menton in the Roya Valley, climbing here will challenge the best.
Les Heretiques – Tende is situated north of Breil-Sur-Roya, around 80km from Nice. Views along the route are magnificent with vertical ladders and a zip line ramping up the fun factor.
La Traditonnelle – Auron is situated 90km inland from Nice. Here you will find a challenging course, with the Pilier a` Strates traverse being of particular note. Around 1800m in length, you will find very little vertical ascent here.
One of the busiest spots in the summer is the Le Baus de la Frema – La Colmiane. Situated 80km inland from Nice this via Ferrata offers an impressive, challenging mountain route. Enjoy rope ladders, high rope crossings and vertical slabs – not for the faint hearted!
Experience the rush of flight with a day out paragliding. At the paragliding school; Wings Mercantour, you can take on a tandem paraglide with an experienced instructor over the stunning landscape of Lam Colmiane, Valdeblore, Roquebrune Cap Martin and Monaco.
Mercantour Winter Activities
From December the April, the high mountain terrain in the Mercantour becomes a snowy wonderland bathed in glorious sunshine. Ski resorts like resorts like Isola 2000 and Valberg offer 3000 m peaks less than 2 hours transfer time from Nice airport. The mountain terrain isn’t as steep as the Northern Alps and is ideal for ski touring, snowshoeing and winter mountaineering. For the intrepid, multi-day ski touring itineraries can take you hut to hut, criss-crossing between France and Italy. A jaw-dropping panorama awaits. On clear days you can north to the mighty Mont Blanc and south to the Mediterranean and the Côte d’Azur.
If you’re a capable skier and fancy yourself a challenge, try out a ski touring trip. The Mercantour National Park offers some epic ski touring, pushing even the most proficient skiers to the limit. Day trips can be taken descending through the valley of the Maisonette, which is around 1000 metres in altitude.
If you have more time and energy, take on a longer ski tour. Companies will take you on 4 – 7 day ski tours through various challenging routes. Experienced mountain guides will make sure you have all equipment for the trip, arrange accommodation and food throughout. The best itineraries include the Baisse Margot and the north side of the Gelas with its epic descent to the Lago Bianco. All you have to do is get yourself there and make sure you have the fitness to complete the route!
Enjoy a challenging and fun way to view the beauty of the Mercantour in winter, by participating in a snowshoeing tour. Day tours can be found if you don’t have much time, but to really shake off the cobwebs from the city, consider taking on an eight day, seven night tour. You can skirt around the impressive bowl of the Lacs des Prals, in the shadow of the Cime de Gale – the highest peak in the Mercantour.
Visit the village of Mollieres which is totally cut off from motorised transport in the winter, by trekking over from the Col de Salese. Snowshoeing over to camp Soubrane to Lac Negre, will allow you to witness a myriad of wild animal tracks in the snow. Beautiful forest tracks, mountainous paths and traditional local villages can all be experienced while snowshoeing.
Accommodation, transportation and home cooked meals can all be arranged with a tour.
Accommodation in the Mercantour National Park
A good place to base yourself for all the Mercantour highlights, is in one of the towns on or near the Barcelonnette to Sospel road. A range of budget and luxury hotels can be found to suit all budgets. For a longer stay, a self-contained gite or villa may be the best option, with you being able to choose location and amenities needed in your lodgings to suit your itinerary.
Serious outdoor lovers can get even closer to nature camping in the grounds of the Mercantour National Park. Several campsites are found in the park, with some offering ‘specialty lodging’. These small chalets are pretty cosy and self-contained giving you a comfortable protection from the elements. Campsites of note with great reputations are; Camping Le Cians, Camping Azur et Merveilles, A La Ferme Saint Joseph, Les Cahmpouns and Le Merio.
Where to eat in the Mercantour National Park
The Mercantour National Park has no shortage of top quality French restaurants, cafes and bars to keep your energy levels up. La Treille in Saint Martin-Vesubie serves up a tasty selection of French, Mediterranean and European cuisine and benefits from a lovely terrace area. Enjoy a laid-back ambience and the skills of a Michelin Star Chef at the Auberge Le Robur restaurant. Locally sourced ingredients and great views over the valleys make this gem well worth a visit.
If you’re hanging around in the Colmiane area and you’re feeling peckish, Le Blanc Gourmand should be a priority stop off. A popular delicatessen for small plates, larger meals and sweet treats arranged on the plate to an impressive standard, get there early for a seat.
In the Mercantour National Park opportunities for hiking, biking, climbing, skiing and hurling yourself about in water are endless. An activity holiday here has to be the perfect antidote to the bustle of city life. Its location, an easy drive from Nice and on the border with Italy, makes it both accessible and culturally interesting. Whether you’re a summer or winter visitor, the Mercantour National Park will keep you busy with all the activities on offer and enchant you with its spectacular mountain scenery.
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Please leave a comment below if you need specific advice for your trip to the Mercantour National Park, or if you have any recommendations to help us improve this guide. Happy holidays!