Hut-to-Hut Hiking in Mercantour National Park

By Sierd van der Bij

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Hut-to-Hut Hiking in Mercantour National Park
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At only a stone's throw from Nice and the Mediterranean coast, you can find a mountain range with the striking name Les Alpes Maritimes. In these mountains, you can find Mercantour National Park, one of the most beautiful national parks France has to offer. With peaks of over 3000m and valleys formed by ancient glacial streams, Mercantour provides the perfect backdrop for your next mountain adventure. It's in Mercantour where hikers of all ages and abilities will be able to find an unparalleled hiking experience. Are you ready to discover one of France's best-kept secrets? Allez!

Some of the options in Mercantour National Park even take you across the border to Italy. From other destinations that we like so much, like the Tour du Mont Blanc, the Alta Via 1 or the Alta Via 2, we know it's always great to do a little Italian escape. The food in an Italian Rifugio is always fantastic. Before we get carried away by Refuge cuisine, let's take a closer look at our possibilities when hiking in Mercantour. What does this area make special? What hiking options are there? What about accommodation in Mercantour? We'll answer all your questions!

Where is Mercantour National Park?

It's maybe a bit hard to imagine, but Mercantour National Park is part of the French Riviera. On a stone's throw from Nice on the world-famous Côte d’Azur, you can find one of the last proper wild spots of the Alps. While the Côte d’Azur sees more than 10 milion tourists on a yearly basis, only a fraction makes the 1-hour drive to this terresauvage.Mercantour is one of the 10 French national parks and is over 40 years old. Within the park, 20,000 inhabitants are living the life you might want for yourself. Here the century-old traditions of the montagnards continue forever. Shepherds, beekeepers, cheesemakers, cows, even wolves. Did we say that Mercantour is wild?

Because the park is so close to Nice, this is a logical starting or entry point for hikes in Mercantour. From here, people make their way to Saint Martin Vésubie. From there, you have easy access on the Mercantour parts of the GR52. Because yes, just like you can find Grand Randonnée routes in all of France, even in Corsica with the GR20, you can also find these in Mercantour National Park. For the GR52, which is more than 200 kilometers long, you need more time. Some of the highlights of this GR are however right in Mercantour and allow for a shorter hut-to-hut tour.

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Is hiking in Mercantour for me?

Hiking in Mercantour is slightly less Alpine than for example the Walker's Haute Route or the Peter Habeler Runde in Austria. This, and the fact that the Alpes Maritimes have a rather mild climate, allows for a lower doorstep. If you are looking for a relatively mild but unspoiled hut-to-hut trekking experience, hiking Mercantour is definitely for you. In Mercantour you can find 1.700 kilometers worth of trail. The sections that we have focused our itineraries on are designed for people who have a healthy appetite for mountains but don't want to go too extreme.

The route has no technical difficulties and is suitable for anyone with a decent physical condition. This leaves time for long picnic breaks at the mountain lakes, fantastic views from the peaks, and a drink on the terrace of a mountain hut at the end of the day. Long story short? Yes, Mercantour is most likely for you!

Did you know that we can book all huts and refuges for the Mercantour for you? Check out all our options here.

Mercantour Hiking Accommodation: Staying in Refuges

At Bookatrekking.com we like to do things properly and when it's about accommodation on our Alpine treks, this means, where possible, you should stay in refuges. Refuge is the French name for a hut where mountaineers can enjoy a bed, a meal, and, in most cases, even a fresh draught or good glass of wine. In some cases, refuges are owned by the Alpine Club, in France, this can be the Fédération Francais des Clubs Alpins et de Montagne (FFCAM). What all these mountain huts have in common is their unusual locations: In the most remote spots in the Alps you can check into these little safe havens.

Most huts offer a half-board package, which includes breakfast and dinner. We highly recommend choosing this option. Having a warm meal waiting for you at the hut is not only a great way to end a long day of hiking, but it will also make your luggage lighter. Carrying your own food during the trek will obviously mean extra weight on your back. Availability in the mountain huts is limited during the season and securing your spots in Mercantour National Park is not easy. We at Bookatrekking.com maintain warm contacts with the hut keepers and are happy to take this burden off your shoulders.

Mercantour Hiking Accommodation: Staying in Refuges

At Bookatrekking.com, we not only book your huts, we also send you on your way with a comprehensive hiking guide with the most important information for your Mercantour, including interactive Komoot maps. Browse all our options here and turn your dreams into reality.

Hiking in Mercantour Map

There are plenty of maps and guidebooks that can help you get the most out of your time in Mercantour National Park. Below you can find a map with an overview of parts of GR58 in Mercantour, a perfect circuit for a 6-stage hut-to-hut trekking tour. Find a full description further below. 

What Is the Best Season for Hiking in Mercantour?

The official season is from mid-June to mid-September, but when you hike Mercantour between mid-July and late August the chances for good weather and snow-free trails. It’s peak season, so make sure to book as much in advance as possible. If you decide to go trekking in September, you’re still in for a treat and it’s not as busy on the trail. But this could also mean that some accommodations might be closed for the season already. Also, the days are shorter, the weather is colder and, although you are close to the Med, there is a chance of snow on the trails. July and August are the best months for hut-to-hut tours in the Alps, don't wait too long with making arrangements.

6-Day Hut-to-Hut Hiking in Mercantour National Park

In Mercantour National Park you can do parts of the GR5 and the GR52. The GR5 will basically take you halfway across Europe, and although the GR52 is doable for most people with enough off days, it is best to craft your own itinerary together. Especially if you don't want to hike for longer than a week. We have designed you an itinerary that offers a great combination of nature, the most hospitable Mercantour refuges, and quaint little towns. On y va!

Day
1

St.-Martin-de-Vésubie - Chalet de La Madone de Fenestre

Duration: 04:20 h
Distance: 13.1 km / 8.1 mi
Ascent: 1430 m / 4692 ft
Descent: 500 m / 1640 ft
The beautiful little town of St.-Martin-de-Vésubie is the start of your hike in Mercantour National Park. In this little town, you can do your last purchases for the trails, you can find an outdoor shop, some restaurants, and numerous little grocery shops. Your hike starts with a steep ascent, bringing you out of the valley onto the higher trails. At Collet Cotignol you will find views over the pine forests and surrounding mountains. The goal for today is the cozy Refuge de la Madonna de Fenestre at 1903 meters. Although this refuge is also accessible by road, you won't regret the hike.

Chalet de La Madone de Fenestre

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Chalet de La Madone de Fenestre
Day
2

Chalet de La Madone de Fenestre - Refuge de Nice

Duration: 02:35 h
Distance: 5.9 km / 3.7 mi
Ascent: 710 m / 2329 ft
Descent: 370 m / 1214 ft
After a lovely breakfast, it's time to get back onto the trail. A steep but well-maintained trail will take you over the GR52-route to Pas du Mont Colomb, the highest point for today. It's strenuous, but you can take your time. Depending on what time you started this morning, you are likely to arrive early at the stunning Refuge de Nice. In proper Mercantour style, the caretakers only cook with local and farm produced products.

Refuge de Nice

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Refuge de Nice
Day
3

Refuge de Nice - Refuge de Valmasque

Duration: 02:50 h
Distance: 8.3 km / 5.2 mi
Ascent: 420 m / 1378 ft
Descent: 420 m / 1378 ft
From the Refuge de Nice at 2,232 meters you hike in about 3 to 4 hours via the Baisse du Basto to the Refuge de Valmasque. At some point you will leave the GR route. As long as you follow the red and white markings, you will surely find the way. On your left you will see first Lac du Basto, then Le Lac Noir and finally Le Lac Vert. Right on the shore of Le Lac Vert you will find the Refuge de la Valmasque. There is an alternative trail between Refuge de Nice and Refuge de Valmasque, but this trail leaves the GR52 route completely. If you are interested, you can find more information in Refuge de Nice.

Refuge de Valmasque

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Refuge de Valmasque
Day
4

Refuge de Valmasque - Refuge des Merveilles

Duration: 02:25 h
Distance: 8.4 km / 5.2 mi
Ascent: 290 m / 951 ft
Descent: 380 m / 1247 ft
From Refuge de Valmasque back to GR52 and then over the Baisse de Valmasque in 4 hours to the Refuge des Merveilles. This is the easiest stage. On the way, you pass beautiful mountain lakes and there are famous rock etchings to view. For daredevils without a fear of heights, the ascent of Mont Bégo (2,873 meters) via a hiking trail is a great takeaway. Refuge des Merveilles is something else. The refuge is located on the shores of a lake, in the heart of the Valley of Wonders. Between Mount Bego and Devil's Peak, you will witness history by going to the scene. There, tens of thousands of rock carvings are visible at an altitude of more than 2000m

Refuge des Merveilles

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Refuge des Merveilles
Day
5

Refuge des Merveilles - Ostan Hôtel (Roquebillière)

Duration: 05:00 h
Distance: 18.7 km / 11.6 mi
Ascent: 410 m / 1345 ft
Descent: 1370 m / 4495 ft
Today you are slowly descending back to civilization, but don't worry, it's not over yet. From the Refuge des Merveilles first via the GR 5, then via three low passes - Pas du Diable, Baisse Cavaline, and Col de Raus, in 5 to 6 hours down to the village of Belvedere (800 m). This fairytale-like town has been the backdrop of many events in history. You will either spend the night in Belvédère or in neighboring Roquebillière.

Ostan Hôtel (Roquebillière)

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Ostan Hôtel (Roquebillière)
Day
6

Ostan Hôtel (Roquebillière) - St.-Martin-de-Vésubie

Duration: 04:20 h
Distance: 15.8 km / 9.8 mi
Ascent: 860 m / 2822 ft
Descent: 720 m / 2362 ft
From Belvédère we ascend back to the GR52 route. This part is known as Le Sentier Panoramique du Mercantour and panoramic it surely is. After about 4 hours you will end where you had started a few days ago. Time for a good glass of wine or a local craft beer from Brasserie du Comté.
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Packing List for the Mercantour

It doesn't matter where you are going trekking or for how long: Carrying the right equipment with you is paramount. For a hiking trip in the mountains, you will need, first and foremost, a good backpack. Its size will depend on how many days you will be spending in the mountains, the season, and the clothes you will be taking with you. We have prepared a packing list with some essential clothing that you should include and some extras that you may find useful:
  • Essentials

  • Extras

What to Do in Case of an Emergency?

A situation is defined as an emergency whenever human life (yours or someone else's) is endangered and there is nothing you can do to resolve the matter. You should call for help if there has been an accident, if there is somebody trapped, if you got lost or in trouble and are unable to continue because of the time of day or weather conditions, or if you are trapped because of technical climbing challenges that exceed your capabilities.

The most important thing to do in an emergency is to stay calm and survey the situation. Do not panic or take useless risks if the people in trouble are difficult to reach. In an emergency, first and foremost, call for assistance. When calling for help, make sure to provide your location and the number of victims and type of injuries. Then, protect the victim from cold and other environmental threats and administer first aid, if you can.

Useful emergency phone numbers

  • France General Emergencies: 112
  • PGHM Alpes Maritimes: +33 4 93 02 01 17

What to Do in Case of an Emergency?

Getting To and From Mercantour National Park

The trick to getting to Mercantour National Park for your hut-to-hut tour is to get to Nice first. Nice, right? Jokes aside, it really is nice to be able to combine Mercantour with the French Riviera. You can visit epic beach towns like Cannes, Fréjus, and Saint-Tropez. Surf and turf all the way. From Nice, you have a direct line with St.-Martin-de-Vésubie, your base for any kind of adventure in Mercantour.

By plane

Nice has its own airport under the name Nice Côte d'Azur Airport and airport code NCE. You could also fly to nearby Marseille or Genoa, on the Italian side. If you fly to Nice, you will arrive exactly at the right spot to catch a straight bus to St-Martin-de-Vésubie.

By bus

From Grand Arénas, outside the airport of Nice, you catch line 90 towards La Bolline. The bus will take about 1 hour and 15 minutes and will cost you less than 2 euros for a ticket. You are in for a very scenic ride!

By car

Assuming you come out of the direction of Paris or anywhere else in Western Europe, you will first want to get to the French coast. Then you can approach St-Martin-de-Vésubie from Cannes and with that Nice.

Getting To and From Mercantour National Park

Not sure yet or want to discuss your plans for the Mercantour with one of our trekking experts? Get in touch today and turn your dreams into memories!

How Much Does Hiking in Mercantour Cost?

The prices for hut-to-hut tours in the Alps are quite varied. There are several variables to take into account when it comes to how much this trek costs: the type of accommodation, which can be in a shared dormitory or a private room in a hut, or also at a hotel in a town; How many days you will be spending on the mountain and whether you will be doing the full circuit or only a section; whether you will be doing it self-guided or with a guided group. The price of the trek will depend on your expectations for the tour.

Safe hiking tips for the Mercantour

When you go on walking holidays it is wise to be aware of a few points. Even if this is not your first time, you should never underestimate the mountains. Good tour planning and compliance with the regulations on the mountains will significantly increase safety. To ensure that your hiking holiday is a safe and enjoyable experience, here below you can find a list of 8 recommendations for safe hiking in the mountains:
  • Know your limits

    Hiking the Mercantour is the perfect outlet to escape from daily life. It is an endurance sport along with a beautiful nature experience with a positive effect on body and mind —as long as one is in good shape and has a realistic picture of one's possibilities and limits—. Never overestimate yourself or underestimate the route. Don't overdo it! Always choose the slower variant and take more time for your plans. Hiking under time pressure is not fun and at too fast a pace it can be dangerous. Be wise!

  • Plan carefully

    Good planning is half the work! Hiking maps, literature, the Internet and expert advice are invaluable when planning the route in the Mercantour and enable you to determine the length, altitude difference, difficulty and conditions of the hike. When planning group treks, the itinerary should always be planned for the weakest member of the group! The weather in the mountains can change incredibly quickly and rain, wind and cold all increase the risk factor. For this reason, always check the weather forecast beforehand and contact our trekking experts to find your way around before you start.

  • Be fully equipped

    Equipment is everything. In the most extreme case, it makes the difference between life and death, and in any case, it definitely makes the difference between having fun and having a bad time. Food and water, sunscreen and waterproof and warm clothes must always be in your backpack, as well as a first aid kit and a mobile phone with a full battery (in case there is an emergency). However, packing light makes walking easier, so don't take too much extra luggage with you. Your equipment should always be suitable for the terrain you'll be hiking on in the Mercantour.

  • Wear suitable footwear

    Good walking shoes protect your feet and provide a better fit. Shoes with a good fit, with non-slip soles, water-resistant and lightweight are a must for additional walking pleasure during the Mercantour. Trail running shoes are great for a weekend in the mountains, but on longer hikes or more technical trails, you'll want at least A/B hiking boots. That means it is recommended wearing high mountain shoes that are water-repellent with extra ankle support to prevent sprains.

  • Stay on marked trails

    Mercantour has endless marked hiking trails, which are controlled and maintained and should not be deviated from. It may be tempting, but it's not a good idea to take shortcuts or alternative routes through unmarked terrain. It increases the risk of disorientation and you're more likely to get lost and have accidents or fall in the mountains. Even steep slopes of packed old snow are often underestimated and dangerous. Are you in doubt? Better don't do it. For easy navigation we work with our trusted partner Komoot, whose interactive maps, also available offline, provide you with the necessary digital means to get from A to B. As a backup, make sure to bring a hiking guide or a paper map with you. FYI, 75% of stumbles occur due to carelessness on marked paths or roads, not in open terrain!

  • Take regular breaks

    Remember you're on a hiking holiday. Timely and regular breaks not only provide welcome relaxation but also make it possible to enjoy the Mercantour. The body needs a regular food and drink intake to maintain performance and concentration. Our advice is that if you have little time, it's better to follow the short itinerary than to speed up the long one.

  • Stay reachable

    If you are hiking solo or in small groups it is advisable to inform people back home about your plans, what route you are taking and when you plan to return. Even small incidents can lead to unpleasant emergencies so make sure you are available at all times. Bring a charged phone containing at least the phone numbers of immediate family members, your accommodations en route and the emergency phone numbers operating in the Mercantour.

  • Respect nature

    Leave no rubbish behind, prevent noise, stay on the marked trails, do not disturb wildlife or grazing animals, and respect protected areas.

Where Can I Book the Mercantour?

At Bookatrekking.com you can book the self-guided Mercantour and many other treks. We take care of all the details for you, including arranging accommodations and providing you with relevant information well in advance of your trek. Find our offers here. Our easy-to-use platform allows you to browse and compare different trekking options and find the perfect fit for your interests, abilities, and budget.

If you have any questions about a specific trek or need help choosing the right one for you, our team of trekking experts is here to assist you. Simply reach out to us and we will be happy to provide you with personalized recommendations and advice to help you plan the trekking adventure of a lifetime.

Is the Mercantour not your cup of tea and are you looking for other epic adventures? Check out one of our following blog posts:

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