National Parks of France # 8: The Mercantour National Park

In Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azur, between sea and mountains, the Mercantour National Park stretches over nearly 150 kilometers. This wild territory located not far from the frenzy of the Riviera beaches, constitutes a haven of peace for mountain lovers.

From the Alpes-Maritimes to the Alpes de Haute-Provence, the Mercantour National Park is a magnificent mountainous territory. Leaning against the border of the Italian foothills, it is the last Alpine rampart before an impressive plunge of the reliefs into the Mediterranean. From its limestone or schist massif in the north-west, to the crystalline massif in the south-east, this territory of rare beauty has long been considered inhospitable. For centuries, only shepherds and soldiers have surveyed its peaks and its paths. But the expeditions of Victor de Cessole at the beginning of the XNUMXth century gradually aroused the interest of mountaineers. Today, the Mercantour National Park is an extraordinary preserved natural site. Each year, it attracts many visitors in search of mountainous landscapes.

Six valleys for a single National Park

The Mercantour National Park has six valleys, each of which is of particular interest. In the heart of Nice Colorado, the high valleys of Var and Cians are carved in a red rock made up of pelites. The Roya and Bévéra valleys ensure the transition between the scents of Mediterranean olive trees, and those of stone pines at a higher altitude. The Tinée valley also acts as a link between the southern Mediterranean and the northern boreal alpine. The Vésubie valley is sculpted by its torrents and Quaternary glaciers. Further north, in the heart of the dry Alps, the Ubaye valley is shaped by the many glaciers and rivers. To finish, the Haut-Verdon valley is the superb setting of the largest natural high-altitude lake in Europe, Lake Allos.

Allos Lake
Allos Lake

Exceptional summits

In the Mercantour National Park, many emblematic summits thus share the honors. The summit of Gélas culminates at 3 meters above sea level. However, it is only 143 kilometers from the sea as the crow flies. From its summit, the panorama is simply breathtaking. The majestic Lac d'Allos is surrounded by five towers in Annot sandstone, all of which culminate at over 50 meters. Among them, Mount Pelat (3 meters) offers on a clear day an exceptional view ranging from Mont-Blanc to the Provençal Sainte-Victoire mountain.

Remarkable flora and fauna

In the Mercantour National Park, a mosaic of natural environments host an incredible biological variety. Indeed, the geological diversity coupled with a complex topography and micro-climates give the Mercantour, an extraordinary biodiversity. Among the more than 2 plant species, Bertoloni's Aquilegia or Cornella's Nigritella amaze hikers. Fauna side, chamois, ibex, golden eagles, ermines or Tengmalm owls can be admired on the heights. Since 1992, the wolf even came back to settle in this alpine area. This repopulation is in fact proof of the good health of ecosystems.

Wolf of Mercantour
Wolf of Mercantour

A rich cultural heritage

Difficult to talk about Mercantour national park not to mention the many traces of the past present in the park. Since prehistoric times, people have taken up residence in the heart of these mountains. Today, 4 major archaeological sites amaze young and old. La Tournerie in Roubion, the valley of Millefonts and the Col de Tende… But it is undoubtedly the site of the engravings of Mont Bego, the Valley of Wonders, which is the most iconic. The remains and buildings of the Mercantour also tell a more recent story. That of agro-pastoralism of course, but also the rich cross-border history of these ridges and summits.

A paradise for outdoor sports

Hiking is certainly the most popular sport in the Mercantour National Park. The Great Crossing du Mercantour by the GR 52 is also a legendary trek. During 16 stages, he then takes hikers over 220 kilometers and 13 meters of vertical drop. There are also many high mountain huts spread across the region. Enthusiasts welcome walkers wonderfully. But hiking is not the only sport in the great outdoors. Everything is possible here. Mountain biking, canyoning, trail running, via-ferrata, climbing, horse riding… The only limit will be your energy!

Lac Lauzanier in the Mercantour
Lauzanier lake