• Lac du Basto in the Valmasque Valley, Maritime Alps of France
  • One of the lakes knows as the Mirrors of Frisson, Maritime Alps of Italy
  • Lac de Vens in the Haute Tinée, Maritime Alps of France

Hiking the Maritime Alps

The Azure Alps of France and Italy

Maritime Alps Slide Show

Explore the Alps where they meet the Mediterranean! Our Maritime Alps itinerary allows you to sample the trails on both sides of the border! In the quiet, unfrequented corners of the protected Parc National du Mercantour (France) and the Parco Naturale della Alpi Marittime (Italy) you’ll find alpine wonders the equal of those found anywhere in the Alps! Here, rushing streams, flower-spangled meadows and glorious alpine lakes sparkle like jewels in the rocky crown of the “Azure Alps.”

Day 1
Overnight in Casterino
This morning, depart Nice and travel by vehicle into the foothills of the Maritime Alps. This area is often referred to as the moyen pays (“middle country”) and is known for its wealth of charming mountain villages. Hike along an ancient Roman route called the Voie Ligure (“Ligurian Way”) which leads through fragrant Mediterranean woodlands to the lovely village perché (“perched village”) of Peillon whose stone houses cluster around a rocky crag like candles on a birthday cake. Wander the narrow streets and covered passageways; there are no cars in Peillon so sometimes all you’ll hear are the sounds of your footsteps echoing off ancient stone walls. You can linger here, or if you’d like a longer hike, continue along herb-lined trails that lead through olive groves and sunny landscapes to the village of Peille–a village empilé, or “stacked village.” After lunch, travel by vehicle up the Roya Valley and continue into the high mountains to reach the hamlet of Casterino where you’ll overnight at a comfortable, new alpine hotel for the next two nights.

Day 2
Overnight in Casterino
Today, enjoy mountain hikes in the high valleys surrounding Mont Bego, an area well-known for its wealth of rock petroglyphs. Hike into the Fontanalba valley whose upper reaches boast broad expanses of glacially-polished rock, alpine tarns, wet meadows, groves of feathery-needled larch trees and clumps of alpenrose (a mountain Rhododendron). The view of Mont Bego from the hillsides just above the Lacs Jumeaux (Twin Lakes) is picture-postcard perfect and the long-horned mountain sheep called ibex (bouquetin in French) are frequently seen in this area. Just behind the Lacs Jumeaux is the Voie Sacrée (“Sacred Way”), a long, glacially-polished slab of rock; innumerable ancient petroglyphs were pecked into its rust-colored surface by ancient hands. For a vigorous and spectacular high alpine trail adventure, hike into the Vallée des Merveilles (“Valley of Marvels”), a high, rock-strewn valley also renowned for its petroglyphs. Cross the lofty passes of Valmasque and Fontanalba and descend into the wild and scenic Fontanalba Basin. The trail passes the lovely Lac Vert (“Green Lake”) ringed by larch trees before returning to Casterino.

Day 3
Overnight in Vernante
Travel by vehicle from Casterino to the lofty mountain pass known as the Col de Tende on the French-Italian border. From the pass set off on the Circuit des Forts, a walking route that takes you by the impressive ruins of several forts (including Fort Central) that were constructed by the Italians to guard the border in the late 19th century after the County of Nice (Comté de Nice) was ceded to France in 1860. In addition to the historical interest, this high-country walk offers far-ranging views over a sea of peaks! Alternatively, hardy hikers can choose to walk from France to Italy across the Alps via the Colle de Sabbione and the Valle di Moncolomb. This route is rugged and challenging but the reward for the effort is some of the wildest scenery the Alps have to offer. Herds of chamois and ibex are often encountered on this hike. To top things off, you’ll also enjoy an excellent measure of solitude which is often hard to come by in Europe’s mountains. From trail’s end, travel by vehicle to the lovely alpine village of Vernante, Italy where you’ll spend two nights.

Day 4
Overnight in Vernante
Travel by vehicle to the Palanfré region at the eastern edge of the Parco Naturale della Alpi Marittime. The Palanfré region was one of three nature reserves that in 1995 were merged to create the Alpi Marittime Natural Park. Today’s hikes lead into the mountain basin dominated by Monte Frisson whose sharp, pyramidal shape has led to its nickname, piccolo Cervino (“little Matterhorn”). Three small, gem-like tarns at the foot of Monte Frisson are sometimes referred to as “the Mirrors of Frisson.” You can hike to the first two “mirrors” (the Laghi di Frisson), spread out your picnic lunch, and enjoy the splendid alpine setting! For more hiking, continue to the Passo della Mena to enjoy a stunning panorama of peaks before completing a loop through the upper Frisson basin that allows you to visit all three of Frisson’s “mirrors.”

Day 5
Overnight in St. Martin Vésubie
Today, you have an opportunity to hike the ancient route du sel (“salt route”) across the Maritime Alps from Italy to France via the Valle della Barra and the Colle de Finestra! This route was one of several that were once used to transport salt and other goods across the Alps from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century. This trans-Alpine hike concludes at the mountain sanctuary of Madone de Fenestre in France from where you’ll shuttle by vehicle to the old, formerly fortified mountain village of St. Martin Vésubie. St. Martin lies in the old Comté de Savoie (County of Savoie) which was once politically separate from France; its inhabitants are still fiercely proud of their “savoyard” heritage! If you prefer not to hike to France, you can travel by vehicle to St. Martin Vésubie stopping en route to visit the old fortifications at Authion surrounded by scenic and expansive alpine meadowlands.

Day 6
Overnight in St. Martin Vésubie
Spend today hiking in the Val du Haut Boréon, one of the finest hiking areas in the Vésubie area. Here you’ll find peaceful alpine lakes, splendid forests and mountain meadows backdropped by the distinctive peak of La Cougourde and its entourage of Mercantour summits. A more strenuous hiking option leads to the cobalt waters of the exquisite Lacs Bessons (Twin Lakes) set in a rocky basin polished smooth by long-vanished glaciers.

Day 7
Overnight in St. Martin Vésubie
Shuttle by vehicle to the Salèse Valley and enjoy a hike to the quiet and beautiful Lac des Adus set in green meadows enlivened by the blossoms of the rusty alpenrose. Or choose a more vigorous hike past the shallow Lac de Cerise (“Cherry Lake”) whose shoreline is lined with rose colored rocks. Continue ascending to the isolated and beautiful Lac Mercantour and the windswept summit of the Cime de Cerise. Shuttle back to St. Martin at the conclusion of the hike. In the afternoon, a visit to one of the exquisite painted chapels of the Maritime Alps is a possibility!

Day 8
Overnight in St. Martin Vésubie
Hike through larch, spruce and pine woods along the floor of the narrow Salèse Valley to the Col de Salèse. Continue ascending through meadows and open woods to reach magnificent, rock-rimmed Lac Nègre. Chamois and ibex can sometimes be seen in the vicinity. Nearby, pretty Lac Graveirette, surrounded by ancient larch trees and meadows, beckons the hiker. A more challenging hiking option leads past the numerous tarns of the Fremamorte basin and over the Col de Fremamorte into Italy. The trail leads past the three Fremamorta Lakes set on a rocky “bench” high above Valle della Valletta. Hike back to France via the Pas de Prefouns and descend to Lac Nègre before heading down the Salèse Valley to trail’s end.

Day 9
Overnight in Auron
Embark on a loop hike around Mont Caval, a route that is known by the residents of St. Martin Vésubie as the Five Lakes Circuit (Circuit des Cinq Lacs). After ascending the forested Vallon de Prals the trail emerges into the vast alpine pastures of the Prals Basin spangled with wildflowers. The Five Lakes Basin, a short distance beyond, contains the five shallow tarns called the Lacs de Prals backdropped by the rocky summit of Mont Neiglier. An alternative hike will take you through the flower-filled meadowlands that cloak the ridgecrest of the Cime di Piagu. From this balcony in the sky between the Fenestre and Boreon Valleys you’ll enjoy far-ranging and unobstructed views of the peaks of the high Mercantour. After your hike, travel by vehicle to the ridge-top village of Auron where you’ll spend the next two nights.

Day 10
Overnight in Auron
Explore the alpine treasures of the Haute Tinée! Here, you’ll find some of the wildest mountain landscapes in the Mercantour National Park. For an introduction to the high-country splendors of the area, choose the hike to the Lacs de Vens, a set of large and glorious alpine lakes in the upper Tinée Valley. For a bit more challenge, continue beyond the Lacs de Vens and ascend to the lovely Lac des Babarottes. Beyond this alpenrose-fringed lake, a windswept pass offers a view of the Chemin de l’Energie, a high mountain route that was constructed as part of a hydroelectric project initiated in the early 20th century. Conclude the hike by descending into the lonely and beautiful mountain basin called the Clot de Nieres. No matter which hike you choose, an outing in the mountains of the Haute Tinée is a perfect way to cap off your mountain adventure in the Maritime Alps. Return to Auron for the evening. Tomorrow, travel back to Nice.

Other Resources

Learn more about the Mercantour National Park (Parc National du Mercantour).

Learn more about the Parco Naturale della Alpi Marittime.

Spend a few days in Nice before or after your hiking trip, and visit the Matisse Museum. The English version of the site is only partially constructed. The French version is on-line.

Maritime Alps Slide Show

Photos on this page are by John Osaki (© All Rights Reserved) except as otherwise credited.

Over the years, Mountain Hiking Holidays has developed and operated trips to a variety of destinations including this one, but not all trips are offered every year. If you are interested in joining a scheduled departure of this trip in the future, please send us an email and let us know. Click to send us an email.

We can organize and operate this trip as a private group departure with a minimum group size of 4-5 persons. Start organizing your private Maritime Alps hiking adventure here.

Meeting point is normally in Nice, France. Accommodations in hotels and inns. Late-June to mid-July is our favorite season for this trip.

Mountain Hiking Holidays

Trips for the adventurous hiker since 1996

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503-715-0844 / Toll-free 1-800-313-0345 or 1-888-743-0723


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