5 days
Moderate to Challenging

Hiking among the Mercantour’s tranquil lakes, surrounded by rocky peaks high above the treeline

Discover the prehistoric rock carvings of the Vallée des Merveilles

A paradise for nature-lovers with an abundance of wild flora and fauna

Optional upgrade to stay at the charming and cosy Chamois d’Or hotel, an unforgettable experience

Easily accessible by direct train from Nice

Hiking in the Mercantour National Park

On this 5-day hiking holiday 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 night 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 either a cosy auberge or a charming chalet-style hotel for 3 nights.  The gateway into the Mercantour National park, Castérino is the perfect base from which to explore its stunning alpine landscapes.

This walking holiday can be combined with our Riviera Mountains to Sea trip to continue you walk all the way to the Mediterranean. Please enquire for prices.

5 DAYS / 4 NIGHTS From €799 per person sharing in basic accommodation category*

From €999 per person sharing in comfort accommodation category*

*A high season supplement of €70 per person will apply during July and August
*Discount of €50 pp. for groups of 4 or more.

*A single supplement charge will apply for solo walkers.

ACCOMMODATION 1 night in La Brigue and 3 nights in Castérino. In Castérino, you can choose between the basic but charming Auberge Marie Madeleine or upgrade to the more comfortable Hotel Chamois d’Or. All accommodations have rooms with private bathrooms.

Basic Category

  • La Brigue: Le Mirval**
    Charming hotel with family management in La Brigue, featuring a nice garden with terrace over the river.
  • Castérino: Auberge Marie Madeleine**
    Small friendly family inn located below the vallée des Merveilles, at an altitude of 1550 metres. Here you can enjoy the cuisine of the region on the outdoor terrace.

Comfort Category

  • La Brigue: Le Mirval**
    Charming hotel with family management in La Brigue, featuring a nice garden with terrace over the river.
  • Castérino: Hotel Chamois d’Or***
    A cosy mountain chalet with an elegant and warm atmosphere.

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 May 25th and September 30th.
4 x overnights in selected hotels/inns with private facilities
4 x breakfasts
3 x dinners in Castérino (without drinks)
2 x picnic lunches
Luggage transfer between hotels
Day 2: transfer from La Brigue to Castérino
Day 3: transfer to and from the Lac des Mèches
Day 5: transfer from Casterino to La Brigue
Road Book with detailed walking itineraries & highlighted maps
GPS tracks
Telephone support throughout the trip
Flights & travel insurance
Travel to and from La Brigue
All lunches & dinners not mentioned in included section
Entrance fees into museums
Anything else not mentioned in the Included section
Extra nights
Single room supplement
DIFFICULTY The difficulty level of this tour is rated as moderate to challenging overall. 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 4. 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: Arrival in 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.


Day 2: Panoramic views above Tende

Option 1: La Brigue > Notre dame des Fontaines > La Brigue

Distance: 12 km | Ascent: 550 m | Descent: 550 m | 4½ 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.

Option 2: La Brigue > Tende > La Brigue

Distance: 10 km | Ascent: 550 m | Descent: 550 m | 4 hrs approx.

This shorter loop takes you high up the slope behind La Brigue before a leisurely descent on a forest path to the impressive Chapel of Notre Dame des Fontaines. From here, you follow an interpretive forest path through the valley and back to La Brigue.

A late afternoon transfer is included to take you to your next accommodation in Castérino.

Overnight in Castérino with dinner included.


Day 3: Vallée des Merveilles

Loop walk from Castérino > Refuge des Merveilles

Distance: 16 km | Ascent: 650 m | Descent: 650 m | 6 hrs approx.

Pick up your picnic lunch from the hotel before a short morning transfer to the Lac des Mèches. From the lake, you 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 Mèches for a transfer back to Castérino.

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. Picnic lunch and dinner included today.


Day 4: Fontanalba & Lac Vert

Loop walk from Castérino > Fontanalba

▪ Short option

Distance: 15 km | Ascent: 700 m | Descent: 700 m | 5 hrs approx.

▪ Long option

Distance: 20 km | Ascent: 1100 m | Descent: 1100 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 and dinner included today.


Day 5: Bye Bye Mercantour

Transfer to La Brigue after breakfast, from where you can catch the train back to Nice. 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

  The closest airport is Nice Côte d’Azur Airport.
La Brigue is easily reachable by direct train from Nice. The journey takes less than 2 hrs and you can check train timetables on the following web site: http://www.ter.sncf.com/paca

Please Note:  The train timetables Nice > La Brigue can be regularly changed by the French Railways – without warning!  Therefore, we highly recommend spending an extra night in Nice, before getting to La Brigue. You should inquire 1 day ahead, and have the train confirmation  from the SNCF information window at Nice Ville station.

Departure from La Brigue

There are regular trains from La Brigue to Nice.
Mercantour-Lac_Vert_de_Fontanalbe-Patrick-Rouzet-[CC-BY-SA] Wikimedia Commons
The medieval village of La Brigue in the Alpes-Maritimes
Walking trail near Casterino
An eagle hovering above the Mercantour National Park
Hotel le Chamois d'Or (c) Rene Boulay
Mercantour alpine meadow
Hiking along a stream in the Mercantour National Park
Mercantour wildlife
Hiking in Fontanalba
Mercantour sheep
Hiking signpost at the Baisse de Valmasque in the Mercantour National Park
Beautiful alpine flora in the Mercantour National Park
The Refuge des Merveilles
Hiking in the Mercantour National Park
Glacial lake in the Mercantour National Park
Flowers in the Mercantour National Park
Rock carvings in the Vallée des Merveilles

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