The many visitors who swarm to the Riviera don’t often seem to think about escaping to the cooler climes and magnificent scenery of the Mercantour. Of those who do, about 75% of them head to the fêted, with good reason, Vallée des Merveilles where a fascinating 37000+ Bronze Age rock carvings embellish the valley floor, under the imposing Mount Bego.
Fascinating though it is (more of this in a future missive) August is not the time to go!! The valley can be approached from the west from the Gordolasque valley which involves a hefty slog up to the Pas de l’Arpette, before the reward of the sight of a myriad of lakes and pastures below.
The more popular route is to approach from the Roya valley to the east. For sure, the Merveilles museum in Tende is a fascinating bonus but the ease of getting to the valley coupled with the opportunity of taking a 4x4 does mean that the route is a bit of a motorway in July and August, crowned (or not) by a refuge about which there is very little good to say.
Don’t therefore allow your first trip to the Mercantour to be a negative one. There are hundreds more square kilometres to choose from.
We had decided to do a reccie in early July, snaking over the Col de Turini from the Vésubie, enjoying a splendid lunch at the Grain de Sel restaurant in Moulinet en route.
Tel - 04 93 76 06 03.
- Our destination?
The valley up from Casterino, leading to the Valmasque refuge.
- Our purpose?
To enjoy the positive side of the weeks of rain that we had endured in May/June?
- Our findings?
From Casterino, where there is just a small cluster of hotels and some rather fine looking horses for hire, the Valmasque refuge is a mere 2 hour's walk away. It is nestled in a splendid amphitheatre, to the north of the Merveilles.
The following day, after a stiffish walk in the snow up to the Pas de la Fous at 2828m the refuge can be spotted, beyond (in this case!) the astonishing view of still-frozen lakes. Slithering down and round towards Lac Noir, two ancient male ibex are oblivious to our attempts to capture them on camera.
The following day, we headed back down the Valmasque valley under blue skies, truly a Sound of Music moment, with gurgling streams and carpets of flowers.
Six weeks on, at the time of printing this arcile, the splendour may have faded a little but it is truly an area which merits some time out, at any time of the year.
Map – Alpes sans Frontières (ASF) – Vallée des Merveilles –
Telephone: 04 93 03 48 57
Contact: Liz Lord & Mel Jones
The company plans to do more walking breaks in the Roya as soon as a great venue for accommodation can be found.