Mercantour National Park has been on my list of places to visit ever since I saw it in the photos at Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris. It was 2 years ago. At the time I had neither money, nor friends willing to do hiking. So, I postponed it until the best of times.
February 2016, I watched one of the Tristan Bogaard’s vlogs showing the views to die for! I am not sure what was my current state of mind, but my reaction was quite hysterical… I stormed out of my room, found my friend Anne-Marie [and my landlord] in the next room and said: “Let’s go to the Mercantour National Park! Please, say ‘yes’!” And she did! One hour later, we had everything booked and arranged to visit the park in the end of July.
Also, shall I admit that I completely mistook the place Tristan went to and the Park I wanted to visit? Yep, only after my trip I went back to re-watch his vlog and saw that he was at the Verdon National Park and not the Mercantour National Park. In addition, I was clever enough to leave a comment under the video saying how he’d inspired me to finally go to the Mercantour National Park… Classical me. The guy must have thought I was a crazy person. Although, he was too polite to say so. Anyway, go watch his YouTube channel! Or check out his Instagram account!
So, let’s go back to the story!
How to get there
Getting a car is the easiest way to get in the park. Although, those of you who can’t drive still can get there by train and by bus. It’s not the easiest, but probably the cheapest.
Depending on where you start your journey, your final destination is Tende. If you take a train in Paris, for exemple, the price will vary from 60€ to 100€ one way. And it’s a 9-hour ride. Tiering, huh? If you start off in Nice, it will cost you nothing at all: around 14€.
Once you get in Tende, there is a bus that will take you to Lac Des Mesces where you can start hiking. And it costs only 1,50€. You can check this page for more info (in French. sorry).
Where to stay
My friend and I, we stayed at a lovely hotel and restaurant Les Mélèzes in Casterino. It was a 7-minute car drive to the Lac des Mesces and to the closest track. Then we spent one night in a mountain hut as it takes half a day to go up and there are more things to see.
Casterino: Les Mélèzes Hotel and Restaurant
I cannot recommend this hotel enough! The rooms are tiny, but the interior is lovely: wood furniture, thick duvets and a marmot toy on the bed. Very cosy!
We were on half-board, so, our breakfast and dinner were included. For breakfast we had nuts with dried fruits, a glass of juice, jam or honey to put on your slices of bread, and a cup of tea, coffee or anything else you would ask for. The dinner was three courses and the cuisine was delicious!
The staff was super nice!
Together we paid around 350€ half-board for three days. A price is hard to find in Paris or even in Nice.
[our window view]
Mountain Hut: Refuge CAF des Merveilles
One particular detail I haven’t mentioned yet is that my friend Anne-Marie is a 69-year-old lady who had two hip operations. I tend to forget these two crucial facts as I see her everyday running around, playing golf and doing all sorts of things. I didn’t hesitate for a second that such a strong woman like her could take on a mountain! And she did, but at the top of our hike, I was reminded of her delicate age. Luckily, we had places at the mountain hut booked.
I would recommend to anyone who visits the park to think about spending a night up in the mountains. Someone who walks fast and is fit can reach the mountain hut in 3,5 hours. If you walk slower and take photos every 5 minutes like me, than it can take up to 5 hours. And the most interesting part of the park lays farther: La Vallée des Merveilles and La Vallée de Fontanalba. Trying to make it in one day and get back to the hotel would be hard to achieve no matter how fit you are.
When in the mountain hut, be prepared to share a room with another 20 people. And if you’re lucky like me, than a Monsieur next to you may snore… I had a two-hour night sleep despite being tired, but went out to contemplate a lovely sunrise which was a bonus.
And oh, also, there are neither plug sockets, nor mobile service.
La Vallée des Merveilles
So, what is La Vallée des Merveilles? The valley is a protected area known for more than 10 000 graffitis that date back to 3 300 years B.C. Apart from history, you get breathtaking mountain views with lakes and constantly changing light and weather.
I never hiked before in my life and what amazed me the most was how clearly you could see the shadow from a cloud and how sometimes it would create a beautiful gradient on a side of a mountain. The weather was changing so suddenly that one minute I would wear a windbreaker with a sweater underneath and the other would be walking in a t-shirt.
Finally, we did’t make our way to La Vallée de Fontanalba. The track was getting rockier and harder for my friend. After visiting La Vallée des Merveilles, we slowly but surely made our way back to our car that was parked near Lac des Mesces. We were so worn out after two day of hiking and a sleepless night. Needless to say, a comfy bed and a hot shower were very welcome!
P.S. Instead of rumbling, I probably should leave it there for today. Check out the part 1 of my trip over here if you haven’t yet. And just before this blog post is over, here are some more photos.