Nestled in the pristine Alpine region of Southern France lies the magnificent Mercantour National Park. A paradise for nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers alike. Spanning over 685 square miles, this breathtaking wilderness area boasts snow-capped peaks, rugged valleys, sparkling lakes, and a vibrant range of flora and fauna. With its unspoiled natural beauty and rich cultural heritage, Mercantour National Park is a must-visit destination for anyone seeking a true outdoor adventure. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker, a wildlife enthusiast, or simply looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. Mercantour has something to offer everyone. Come along as we explore the wonders of this remarkable destination.
Historical Significance and Protection Measures
Located the administrative departments of Alpes-Maritimes and Alpes-de-Haute-Provence in the French Riviera. Mercantour National Park is a protected area covering some 679 km². The park received its protected status in 1979. Despite its proximity to the Mediterranean Sea, the park has a distinctly Alpine feel characterizing it. Since 2006, the park has had a regulated central part and a peripheral membership area, with strict rules in place to protect its natural heritage. Therefore, there are very few permanent inhabitants and little human activity in the region.
Within the park lies a historical gem, the famous Valley of Marvels, and the aptly named Mount Bego. A treasure trove of more than 37,000 petroglyphs dating back to the late Neolithic and Bronze Ages. The park contains many rural sites, and visitors can find around 150 of them. Tourists are also drawn to the villages within the park, which feature perched villages adorned with murals and altarpieces created by primitive painters, revealing impressive architectural wealth.
The park has some of the richest biodiversity in the range, is home to many rare and endemic species and is known as an area of international floristic importance due to the variety and richness of its plant life. The Mercantour is also endowed with more than 2,000 species of flowering plants, 200 of which are very rare. Such as the edelweiss and saxifrage. The park is the site of a large-scale All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory and Monitoring program to identify all its living species organized by the European Distributed Institute of Taxonomy (EDIT).
Management and Public Engagement
Management and public engagement are key elements in the Mercantour National Park. Additionally, the park has a WPIU unit in action for a month and a half that consists of a coordinator, a technical assistant, and a team of five agropastoralism mediators. To enhance their capabilities, they have undergone a 4-day training course focusing on LGD behaviour, breeder and shepherd daily practices, and mediation techniques. As a result, the unit is now equipped with the necessary skills to address various challenges. Moreover, the unit is actively working to find solutions to wolf attacks and ease interactions between multiple mountain users. By implementing protocols with the consent of farmers, they aim to create a harmonious coexistence. These protocols include describing shepherd practices in fieldwork and meetings and ensuring effective communication among stakeholders. By doing so, the unit strives to promote understanding and cooperation.
The park also implements a charter dedicated to protecting the environment and sustainable development. The charter is the basis for economic, social, cultural, and ecological issues. The document can be translated into multi-year action plans, and local communes classified within the optimal partnership zone adhere to the charter, determining the effective partnership zone. The charter is therefore implemented and assessed by key local players. Public authorities act in accordance with the commitments of the charter, and urban planning documents must be compatible with it.
Adherence to the charter requires shared responsibility and commitment from all key players, including communes. This ensures that they can benefit from the image of the National Park and the prioritization of financial programming. The charter has three distinct parts. Firstly, it is devoted to protection objectives. Secondly, it emphasizes sustainable development focuses shared between the public institution of the National Park and the member communes. Lastly, it addresses sustainable development focuses at sea.
Night Sky Observations and Star Gazing at Mercantour National Park
Mercantour National Park, located in the south of France, is a renowned destination for night sky observations and stargazing. The park boasts some of the world’s most beautiful starry skies. Especially in areas such as the Pyrénées and Cévennes National Parks. Cevennes National Park is home to the largest International Dark Sky Reserve in Europe. Allowing visitors to gaze upon a night sky full of stars. Additionally, the recently designated Alpes Azur Mercantour International Dark Sky Reserve encompasses 75 municipalities and nearly 55,000 inhabitants. Making it the third International Dark Sky Reserve in France.
The location of Pyrenees National Park makes it an exceptional stargazing spot, thanks to its purity of skies and high altitude. Since the end of the 19th century, people have renowned Mercantour National Park for its exceptional astronomy. In addition to offering visitors picturesque scenery and landscapes, National Parks harbour living cultures and know-how, containing a wealth of cultural treasures, archaeological remains, and a rich biodiversity waiting to be explored.
From the Calanques to the forests of French Guiana, National Parks offer the opportunity to venture off the beaten path and discover infinite landscapes. Come and explore the rich and diverse forests, steep crags, deep valleys, and high mountains. It offers a glimpse into a mysterious other world. Visitors can dive into the treasures of the past, rediscover forgotten minerals, and explore unique protected biodiversity.
Aspire Summit, a 2471-metre summit located in the Mercantour National Park, stands true to its name as nothing grows on this austere wind-beaten summit except for the remains of an old observatory. The location provides proof of pure skies, making it a fantastic stargazing spot.
Vallée des Merveilles
The Vallée des Merveilles is a natural wonder located at an altitude of 2,300 meters in the Mercantour National Park. The park boasts rich biodiversity and is home to nearly 40,000 prehistoric rock carvings covering a 15-square-kilometre area around Mount Bego. The artwork, dating back to the Bronze Age, is classified as a “Historical Monument”.
This valley offers a stark and chaotic landscape at the foot of imposing mountains, featuring several lakes with evocative names. Approximately 5,000 years ago, the glaciers polished the rocks. Locals were used as a canvas for tens of thousands of engravings depicting everyday life mixed with religious themes. Some of these symbols have become famous and are firmly rooted in local culture.
Visitors to the park can opt for guided tours from mid-June to late September with state-certified Park guides. The guides share the Neolithic peoples’ beliefs and ways of life and showcase the natural wealth of the Mont-Bégo site. Visitors can book a guided tour of the archaeological site from the Refuge des Merveilles or the Lacs Jumeaux.
To contribute to the site’s conservation, hiking outside the marked trails, walking on the engravings, and touching and damaging them. And using iron-wrought sticks or canes is strictly prohibited. Bivouacking except in authorized areas is not permitted, and animal traction is forbidden. The Vallée des Merveilles is a protected site classified as Monument Historique. And any action damaging it may lead to legal sanctions.
Mercantour National Park Hiking
Mercantour National Park is a hidden gem in the French Alps, boasting spectacular scenery and rich history dating back to ancient times. Additionally, it is home to the Valley of Wonders, where over 40,000 petroglyphs are carved into the rocky cliffs. Moreover, the stunning biodiversity of the park includes ibex, chamois, marmots, and rare alpine plants. Furthermore, the park offers hiking trails for all levels, from challenging ascents to peaceful lakeside strolls. Moreover, history lovers can explore the remains of 19th and 20th-century military fortifications. Lastly, refuges provide cosy accommodations for hikers in the midst of stunning natural beauty.
Horseback riding through Mercantour National Park is an adventure of a lifetime. Moreover, Equus Journeys South Alps offers exciting trails on horseback with altitudes ranging from 1500 to 2800m. Additionally, this area is known for its year-round sunshine and picturesque views of the Italian border and impressive peaks. Furthermore, the itinerary includes a visit to the UNESCO World Site at the Valley des Merveilles. Here, riders can see petroglyphs dating back to 3000 BC, making it a truly unique and historical experience.
Additionally, Horse Riding Holidays offers a point-to-point trail that follows the Via Alpine, passing through Mercantour National Park. Ride through traditional villages and hamlets while exploring ancient pastoral farming on the mountain slopes. Accommodation is in a variety of hotels, guesthouses, and B&Bs. This ride provides riders with a journey through space and time, offering impressive landscapes and a heritage of authentic pastoralism.
Both Equus Journeys South Alps and Horse Riding Holidays offer excellent guides that prioritize the safety and comfort of their riders. These trails use well-trained and fit horses. These trails are challenging and require previous adventure or hiking trip experience. Unicorn Trails Ltd facilitates these rides.
Mercantour National Park is a popular destination for tourists, with over 800,000 visitors annually exploring the park’s 600 km of marked footpaths and picturesque villages. The protected area covers 679 km, including a central uninhabited zone and a peripheral zone comprised of 28 villages. Many of these villages recognize their renowned architecture. Such as the perched village at the entrance to the stunning valley that’s home to several churches decorated with murals and altarpieces by primitive painters. The park is home to over 150 rural sites.
Mercantour National Park is not only a stunning location with vertiginous summits. But it also boasts a rich history and fascinating rock carvings that date back to the late Neolithic and Bronze Ages. The park’s famous Vallée des Merveilles contains over 37,000 rock carvings of weapons, cattle, and human figures. Adventurous hikers can explore the park’s stunning lakes, such as Lac du Lauzanier, Lac Nègre, and Lac des Terres Rouges.
The Mercantour National Park is home to an impressive diversity of flora and fauna. Including over 2,000 species of flowering plants. The park’s marmots and chamois can be easily spotted, while the wolves, lynx, and bears are more elusive. Visitors may also have a chance to observe around 50 species of butterflies, ranging from the Apolo to the Large Blue. A large-scale All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory and Monitoring program involves the park.
Mercantour National Park Wolves
Mercantour National Park is a haven for observing wolves in their natural habitat. In 1992, the wolf was reintroduced to this sustainable habitat near Saint-Martin Vésubie. Alpha Animal Park, is located at the heart of the Mercantour National Park. It offers educational tours and animation on animal adaptation in their natural environment. Visitors can also opt for guided morning tours to discover the daily life of wolves and trainers or afternoon visits to meet animal park trainer ethologists and veterinarians. Farmers in the region have faced challenges with the predatory mammal though the government has made efforts to compensate farmers for losses and protect the wolf’s locally-stabilized population of 40.
Mercantour National Park boasts a diverse range of wildlife, making it a paradise for nature enthusiasts. Visitors can easily spot chamois, a type of goat-antelope, which has a healthy population within the protected area. Other wildlife includes red and roe deer, rabbits, bears, wolves, buzzards, and the majestic golden eagle. With its incredible hunting skills, the golden eagle can capture and fly off with prey such as antelope and sheep. The park’s forest and undergrowth are also home to various species of butterflies. And there are even around 50 grey wolves that migrated there in the early 1990s.
The Mercantour National Park is located in the southeastern part of France. And it is a treasure trove of natural beauty. The Verdon Gorge is one of the park’s most popular destinations, featuring a meandering turquoise-green river that stretches across a distance of 15.5 miles (25 km) through the canyon. Visitors can hike the canyon rim or kayak on the river. Adventurous visitors can enjoy challenging climbs on the various cracks, pillars, and vertical walls present in the gorge. Making it a top destination for rock climbers. The Mercantour National Park is a hiker’s paradise, with over 372 miles (600 km) of marked trails. Including trails that lead to several lakes such as the Lac d’Allos and the Lac des Millefonts.
The Mercantour National Park spans an area of 264 square miles (685 sqkm). And it covers several uninhabited zones comprising seven valleys. The park’s terrain features several mountains, including Cime du Gelas. It is the third tallest summit in the Maritime Alps, reaching a peak of 10311 feet (3143 m), and Mont Bego, which has a summit of 9423 feet (2872 m).
Mercantour in Winter
The Mercantour National Park is a stunning winter destination for nature lovers. Its unique combination of terrain, influenced by Alpine Mediterranean Ligurian and Provençale, rises up to peaks above 3000 meters within a distance of 60 kilometres. Despite its close proximity to the French Riviera, the park remains unspoiled and easily accessible from Nice. Visitors can enjoy a variety of activities, including snowshoeing and observing animal tracks.
The park boasts a fascinating variety of fauna and flora, including many endemic species. And the historic Vallée des Merveilles with 37000 Bronze Age carvings on its rocks. The iron ore-filled Mount Bego adds to the atmosphere generated by stupendous summer storms and may have been key to drawing ancient man to the site. Though there are small ski resorts, such as Isola 2000 and Auron, winter activities go beyond the typical skiing experience, with no clanking ski lifts and après-ski excesses.
Upon arrival, visitors may find themselves alone among fellow passengers wearing walking boots at the Nice airport. You can access the Vésubie, Tinée, Roya, and Bévéra valleys. As well as the Var, Ubaye, and Verdon valleys, by car or by taking the splendid value €1 bus. We advise visitors to check the weather forecasts as the conditions can change very quickly. Reasonably limited retail opportunities are available away from the coast.
North of the park, different valleys offer a medley of experiences, such as the impressive Vésubie gorges and the towns of Roquebillière and St. Martin Vésubie with their medieval and down-at-heel ambience. Help is always at hand, and local maps from the park teams are available. For those seeking a wilder experience, the Mercantour is the southern tip of the Alps, teasing the Mediterranean Sea with a very special character to its peaks tinged with maritime influences.
Where is Mercantour National Park?
Mercantour National Park is a protected area located in the French Alps, in the departments of Alpes-Maritimes and Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. Established in 1979, it covers an area of 679 km², which includes a central uninhabited zone comprising seven valleys and a peripheral zone comprising 28 villages. The park is a popular destination, attracting 800,000 visitors annually, who enjoy the 600 km of marked footpaths and picturesque villages. The area is also a hotspot for biodiversity, with over 2,000 species of flowering plants. Including rare varieties like Lady slipper orchids and Edelweiss.
In conclusion, the Mercantour National Park offers activities for adrenaline junkies and nature enthusiasts alike with 1700 km of hiking trails, deep forested valleys for biking, raging whitewater rapids for rafting, and high-altitude terrain for ski touring. The park also boasts 28 Provencal villages filled with architectural gems and primitive Nicois painters’ decorations on churches and rustic cottages. Wildlife enthusiasts can spot stags, boars, hares, eagles, partridges, and maybe even wolves. Visitors can also hike through the Vallée des Merveilles to view 3000-year-old rock carvings or challenge themselves by climbing the park’s imposing peaks. Such as Brec du Chambeyron, which stands 3000 meters tall. Getting to the park is easy as it is just over an hour’s car ride or around 2.5 hours by bus from Nice. Overall, the Mercantour National Park has something for everyone to enjoy while exploring nature.