Friday, 26 October 2012

The raw natural beauty of the Parc du Mercantour; south of France

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012

The kids are on holidays and you're on the French Riviera in August; its hot, and it's getting increasingly harder to find your 2 inches of beach'd do anything for some cool mountain air and a place to stretch your limbs.

Here's what you do; pack your overnighter (or your day bag) and head straight to the Nice Ville train station for the daily summer 9.24 am Train des Merveilles (Train of Marvels).

This 2 hour panoramic train trip will take you through the Paillon and Roya Brévéra valleys, through mountain tunnels and past stunning mountain top villages.  The huge panoramas land in your lap and as you move your way up to the freshness of the mountain air  the train's guide will enlighten you on the history and cultural aspects of this amazingly scenic, historic and un spoilt area of France. 

Recently friends and I did just this.  We descended the train in the village of Tende and were picked up by our gracious and fun loving Italian hosts from the chalet Chamois d'or situated in the tiny mountain hamlet of Castérino (very close to the Italian border and a half hour car ride from Tende).... and here is what we found.....

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012

.......the parc national du Mercantour, with some of the most spectacular mountain scenery I have seen. An area of mountain streams, lakes and once sacred mountain peaks. Amongst all this beauty lies endless hiking paths and refuges for overnight stays, as well as thousands of animal and plant species (even wolves are heading back to the area). 

Our hosts at the Chamois d'or organised our 4 wheel drive excursion in the park (an hour's drive towards the Valley of Marvels (Vallée des Merveilles)), packed our copious picnic lunch and organised Eric our guide to walk us into this historic and magnificent valley.

Eric describes this landscape as his 'garden' having spent much of his life discovering every nook and cranny.  There is nothing he does not know about this natural, raw, mysterious beauty and it's treasures.

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012
Eric, the quintessential mountain guide

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012
Eric explaining the various rock engravings dating back some 3000 years BC. There are close to 40,000 engravings highlighting the activities of the ancestors of this region (daggers and animals are just some of the subject matter)

To get close to the pre-historic rock engravings in the Valleé des Merveilles one must have a guide, and this can either be organised by your place of accommodation or at the tourist office in the medieval village of Tende.  There are also organised visits at various fixed times of the day during the high summer season (consult the tourist office in Tende for these times).

Note: You may visit the Vallée des Merveilles and the Vallée Fontanalbe without a guide as long as you agree not to divert from the designated paths to approach the engravings, you will find information panels outlining the history and details of the rock engravings along these paths.

The park also has many examples of France's oldest Larch trees. Eric stopped us at a 1000 year old speciman as we made our way up the mountain path.

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012
The delightful Carlo from Chamois d'or serving  lamb cooked on the spit of the open fire

Unsurprisingly (as this region of France was within Italian borders between 1861 and 1947) this area of France has a very Italian feel to it, and you will hear nearly as much Italian spoken as French.  

If you decide to stay at the Chomois d'or as we did (and I highly recommend that you do), there are plenty of walking trails from the Chalet itself. These walks can be anything from one hour to a full day, depending how much down time you want to spend by the warmth of the open fire in the chalet's restaurant.....sipping on fine wines and enjoying a hearty and delicious Italian inspired lunch.

Many people who make this trip stay in the village of Tende and make their way up the mountain by car.  It's easy; leave your car in one of the many car parking areas, throw those hiking boots on and head off.

if you are visiting the historically rich Tende, don't miss the Musée des Merveilles de Tende (Museum of Marvels), we did not get there unfortunately, however it does comes highly recommended.  It houses many of the rock engravings as well as other pre historic artefacts from the park, and will take you back in time to the copper and early bronze ages.

I can guarantee you that after a couple of days strolling in the crystal clear mountain air you will head on down to the coast with a renewed boost of energy, ready to elbow your way back onto those beaches!

Millie xx

Practical Information

Do wear good hiking boots (I managed with converse shoes but if it rains it can get slippery and rather precarious)

Closest airport to Tende is in Nice, France

To get to the Chamois d'or by Car from Nice - take the A8 towards Monaco, follow the signs to Ventimille to get to the E74 then follow the signs to the village of Saint Dalmas de Tende then to Castérino. 

Price of return ticket on the Train des Merveilles is 26 euros (one way 14 euros).

The chalet Chamois d'or is closer to the village of Saint Dalmas de Tende than to Tende.

Other activities available at Chamois d'or include;
Fishing, hiking, excursion & horse riding in the summer
Sleigh dogs, cross country skiing and snow shoes in the winter

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Millie wonderful information it sounds like a beautiful train ride I always love a train journey! Am sure the mountain air was delightful and adore you r guide with the flannel flower tucked in his hat so sweet (if it is a flannel flower)
    Carla x


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