Grand Traverse of the Mercantour

Lac Negre and the Pas de Prefouns

In a nutshell

  • Traverse the spine of the Alpes–Maritimes from North to South along the Franco/Italian border
  • As challenging a trek as any, criss-crossing back and forth from France to Italy
  • As competitive a price as you'd find anywhere for a similar experience
  • Duration : Choose 9 or 13 days

The Grande Traversée du Mercantour – What's it all about?

The Alpes–Maritimes are the final western stretch of the European Alps horseshoeing around northern Italy, and culminate by dropping into the Med just east of Monaco. The region contains two exceptionally beautiful national parks either side of the Franco/Italian border – the Parc National du Mercantour, and the Parco delle Alpi Marittime.

If you're thinking "Provence – rolling hills and lavender fields", this trek will put paid to any such thoughts!!

Starting at the head of the Tinée valley, which boasts the highest road col in Europe at 2,800 metres, the Grande Traversée du Mercantour criss-crosses the high passes on the natural Alpine divide between France and Italy. Guests stay in a combination of mountain refuges and our gîtes at la Zourcière in Berthemont les Bains. The 13 day guided trek culminates in Berthemont, but should you wish to add another two days self guided to get you all the way down to the Med coast, then we can accommodate that with a drop off at the col de Turini, from where you can set off, and we can help with your accommodation on the those final two nights, as well as route directions. Do note "what's included at the base of the page".

The whole area boasts a bewildering array of flora and fauna, some of it to be found only in this neck of the woods and not to mention of course, the stunning Alpine scenery. Then there's the weather..... an average of about 320 days of sun per annum - not guaranteed of course..... these are mountains after all, but there is a good chance of predominantly sunny days.

As with all of our home grown packages, the arrival and departure venue is Nice airport, so really easy to get to, train or plane, and at a reasonable cost, even from non–European starting points.

If you can't spare the full 13 days, then there's the 9 day option that will cover the full northern half of the trek.


  • Day 1. Pick up at Nice airport and transfer to Berthemont les Bains for our first evening meal together.
  • Day 2. Camp des Fourches to Ferriere. Early start (07:00). We drive over col St Martin and down into the Tinée valley, and then head north to the small hamlet of Bousiéyas and Camp des Fourches at 2,200 metres. We aim to be setting off by 09:00. From here there's a short climb following the GR5/GR56 to col des Fourches at 2,261 metres, and then a gentle ascent up the valley of the Salso Moréno to the Col de Pouriac at 2,506 metres and into Italy. From here, we descend down to the Bassa di Colombart and follow the valley down to the small hamlet at Ferriere in Italy. Distance :10.4km, elevation : 550m, descent : 820m.
  • Day 3. Ferriere to Refuge de Vens. A shortish day, so no rush in the morning (unless the weather's inclement of course!). We leave Ferriere, cross over to the opposite side of the valley and start the climb around the spur opposite that takes us into the Forneris valley. We climb steadily up the valley on its northen side to reach the Colle del Ferro at 2,585 metres. Superb views to the north. From here, a short contour to Collet de Tortisse, and then an easy descent to the refuge superbly situated above the Lacs de Vens. Distance :7.5km, elevation : 825m, descent : 350m.
  • Day 4. Refuge de Vens to Refuge de Rabuons. 08:00 am start. We drop down the valley past the lakes before turning south and climb up past Lac des Babarottes to the ridge above before dropping down and meeting the Chemin d'Energie. The Chemin is a 7km contour southward high above the Tinée valley and was originally contructed as a pipeline route for an intended hydro project, which eventually never materialised. It is above the tree line all the way along its length, and so the views westward across the valley are magnificent. It takes us all the way to the Refuge sitting on the shore of Lac de Rabuons at 2,523 metres. Distance :13.0km, elevation : 739m, descent : 594m.
  • Day 5. Refuge de Rabuons to Refuge Sabernui, San Bernolfo via pas de Barbacane. 08:00 start. The route has only recently been opened, is not well trodden and picks its way south on a contour high up above the Tinée valley over rough and sometimes loose and steep scree, before meeting a marked path climbing up from the village of Douans to attain the Pas de Barbacane. The descent from the pass is initially steep and over rough terrain before it reaches easier ground and meanders its way down the valley to the tiny hamlet of San Bernolfo and our small refuge. Distance : 13.0km, elevation : 820m, descent : 900m.
  • Day 6. Refuge Sabernui to Sanctuary of Santa Anna di Vinadio. From the village we cross over to the opposite side of the valley and pick up the P19 which climbs steadily up the Tesina valley to reach the Paso Tesina. A delightful day, with panoramas unfolding as we climb out of the Tesina valley. From the pass we descend on easy footpaths to the refgue at the sanctuary of Santa Anna di Vinadio, the highest sanctuary in Europe at 2,035 metres. Distance :11.1km, elevation : 960m, descent : 500m.
  • Day 7. Sanctuary of Santa Anna di Vinadio to Refuge Malinvern. We remain on the Italian side for the second day running, with the route following the Via Alpina (gta). Firstly, from the sanctuary, a climb to the border ridge top, followed by a 3.5km walk along the ridge to the Colle dela Lombarda - stunning views all around. We then descend along the road a little to regain the gta and climb fairly steeply to the Paso d'Orgials at 2,600 metres. The descent on the other side of the pass is quite steep, finally arriving in the Vallone di Rio Freddo and the Malinvern Refuge at 1839 metres. Distance : 12.4km, elevation : 715m, descent : 915m.
  • Day 8. Refuge Malinvern to Salèse Valley and then transfer to Berthemont les Bains. This a big day, so very early start – 06:00 a.m.. We leave the Malinvern and once again follow the gta to climb directly up above the valley to Lago Malinvern, and then on up to the Col di Valscura at 2,520 metres. We then drop down past Lago di Valscura and Lago del Claus towards the Rifugio Questa. This section is on good footpaths/mule tracks, following some fascinating sections of old military and hunting routes laid down by the last king of Piedmont. We should aim to be at the junction leading off to the Questa refuge within 3.5 to 4 hours at which point we leave the gta to descend into the Vallone del Prefouns, before starting the second climb of the day up to the Pas de Prefouns at 2,615 metres. On our right on the final ascent to the col the pinnacles of the Cresta Sovoli tower above us, and as we top out on the pas, we look down over Lac Negre, and back into France. The descent down to the col de Salèse and then on to the car park at Le Boréon is straight forward, albeit long. Pick up at Le Boréon, transfer to Berthemont les Bains. Distance : 21.5km, elevation : 1,100m, descent : 1250m.
  • Day 9. Rest day at Berthemont les Bains. Transfer to Nice for those opting for the shorter tour.
  • Day 10. Transfer to Gordolasque and to Refuge de Valmasque via Pas de la Fous. Start 07:00 a.m.. Transfer to the Pont de Countet, and start the climb up to the Refuge de Nice and Lac de la Fous. We should be at the refuge within about 3 hours. following the GR52 for part of the distance. From the refuge we leave the well trodden GR to climb up a tiny track up into the Vallon de la Fous. We're now back in the high Mercantour, very close to the Italian border and surrounded once more by towering peaks. We pick our way up the valley to gain the pass - the area is well frequented by Ibex and Chamois, and topping out we'll be looking down on Lac Gelé and Le Lac Vert with the Valmasque refuge sitting on a rocky promontory above it. Distance : 15.5km, elevation : 1136m, descent : 607m.
  • Day 11. Refuge Valmasque to Refuge des Merveilles. Gravures tour p.m.. A short easy trekking day, but we do need to make a reasonably early start to be able to get to the refuge in the Merveilles valley in time for a tour of the Bronze Age engravings dotted about the valley - upwards of 35,000 of them. The walk in the morning is a straight forward ascent up to the Baisse de Valmasque, and once again joining the GR52 to descend down to the Merveilles refuge. The area is very well frequented and will probably the most crowded day of the whole tour, however, well worth it - it is a stunning location, and the rock engravings do give it an "other wordly" feel. Distance : 10.5km, elevation : 328m, descent : 438m, plus the afternoon bimbling about the engravings.
  • Day 12. Refuge des Merveilles to Gordolasque valley. Transfer to Berthemont les Bains. Leave the Merveilles refuge at about 09:00 a.m. and follow the GR52 as far as Pas du Diable, from where we head back north for the last leg of the tour which climbs over Pas du Trem and descends down a little known track through the Vallon des Verrairieres, and finally back down into the Gordolasque valley. This not a big day, and on the descent through the vallon there will be ample opportunity to observe the wildlife that frequents it. Transfer to Berthemont les Bains. Distance : 12.5km, elevation : 350m, descent : 900m.
  • Day 13. Transfer to col de Turini and Nice. Self guided col de Turini to Sospel. Distance :19.5km, elevation : 470m, descent : 1850m.
  • Day 14. Self guided Sospel to Ste Agnes. Distance : 15km, elevation : 400m, descent : practically 0m.
  • Day 15. Self guided Ste Agnes to Nice by bus.

Important note : The itinerary above may change during the trek due to inclement weather conditions, or due to adverse conditions on the route (snow/ice), or even due to accommodation difficulties. We cannot guarantee that the full trek will be completed. Your guide will be the sole judge of such changes, and when you book you accept that this may be the case. Your safety is paramount.

What's included

  • Accommodation : On the first, 8th, 9th and 12th evenings we will be at our gîtes at Berthemont les Bains, the rest of the trek we will be staying in mountain refuges. Those wishing to complete the final two days self guided will need to spend those two evenings in hotels in Sospel and Ste Agnes. We can help with booking accommodation at these two venues. Please do note though that these last two days will be at your own cost, and that we will not be able to do luggage transfers to your final destination, so you will need to pack accordingly. Mountain refuges quite often have dormitory style sleeping arrangements in bunk style beds, which is the norm in mountain refuges - they are generally warm and comfortable, and the food standard is high considering where they are. The only drawback is the occasional snorer - but that's mountain treks, bring your earplugs.
  • Meals : All meals are included, from your evening meal on the night of arrival to breakfast on the morning of departure on day 9 or 13. Lunches will all be in the form of picnics.
  • Table wine with the meal is also included, should you want it. Any other drinks or food items will be at your own cost.
  • Tour of the Bronze Age engravings in the Vallée des Merveilles.
  • Should you wish to buy any special food items, there should be time to do this on the way up to Berthemont on the first day.
  • Transport : To and from Nice airport, days 1, 9 and 13.
  • Note : There will be vehicular support throughout the 13 day period, in case of difficulties, and we will rendezvous with the vehicle on day 8 for the transfer back to Berthemont for the half way rest day. This will allow you to refresh some of your clothing should you want, and so optimise what you need to carry.

Dates :

2019 : Aug 31 (Now Full)

2020 : Aug 29

Grade :

Walking - Challenging - suitable for adults and children of age 16 or over

See our grades explained here

Pricing :

9 days – €1025 pp; 13 days – €1480 pp