Below we summed up some of the walks we have ever made in the SOUTHERN FRENCH ALPS and the ITALIAN ALPI MARITTIME. This over a few years in which our children were not that keen anymore on joining us and rightfully chose instead to do a summer sports camp in the mountain resort of Allos. (Now they have grown older they have rediscovered the beauty and tranquility of the mountains and gladly join us again!)
Although we did not note down details at the time, we just want to give you some wonderful itineraries we did and some comments about them. This because the Queyras and the Mercantour are just stunning places to hike! The Southern Alps are – luckily- a bit difficult to reach by car so need some extra effort but therefore they remain quite deserted and beautiful!
And they enjoy 300 days of sunshine per year! And few or no ski lifts nor bulldozered descents carved into their slopes spoiling the views!
And when you are in the region:
• don’t forget to visit Barcelonnette located just between the Queyras and the Mercantour, just after Col de Vars.
• Look up Restaurant le Pratois in le Pra, a deserted village (“hameau “) a little north of St Dalmas le Selvage on the D64. (About where the trail to the Refuge and Lac de Vens starts)
• And cycle up the Col des Champs between Colmar and St Martin d’Entraunes! You have the road all to yourself! And if wanted you can continue doing the beautiful ascent of the Col de la Cayolle from the south.
• If you don’t walk to refuge de Basse Rua, go and visit by car: on the D902 from Guillestre to Vars look out for the sign “refuge de Basse Rua”, an interestingly narrow road that leads you to the splendid mountain plateau of Basse Rua/Le Rif Bel! You can easily spend a whole day exploring the deserted village! And the refuge also has delicious cake. From here you can start the 2-day walk to and from Ceillac (see below).
For our walks we used the CICERONE Guide for the “Tour du Queyras” and the IGN walking maps for the Mercantour.
Note that on our walks we always carry a set of “crampons” i.e Kahtoola micro spikes to negotiate eventual snow patches – névés. We have needed them more in the Southern Alps than anywhere else!
1. TOUR DU QUEYRAS: start in Ceillac (we stayed at Gite les Balandins). For this trip we took the TGV to Valence, then the TER train (splendid views!) to Briançon, getting off in Guillestre and with a taxi to Ceillac.
Day 1. To St. Véran: the highest inhabited (also in winter) village of Europe; sleep in Le Grand Tetras, a wonderfully simple but cosy Logis de France!
2. To Refuge Agnel
3. To Refuge du Mont Viso . In nice weather, climb first to the top of the Pain de Sucre, 3100 m high, offering great views of the Monte Viso!
Note: there is also a 2 or 3 day “tour de Mont Viso” walk: park your car and start in Pontechianale (drive down Col Agnel into Italy, start at Torrent Vallante). The first night stay in refuge du Viso, the second day make sure you go via rifugio Vitale Giacoletti (or sleep there and make it a 3-day trip) and sleep in rifugio Quinto Sella. Note that in the afternoon a blanket of clouds comes from the Po plains and rolls over against the Monte Viso; Rifugio Giacoletti offers you the best vantage point to enjoy this phenomenon!
4. To Rifugio Granero: beautifully situated. Lovely family owned. (on Col Sallière you can spot the Mont Blanc!)
5. To Le Roux: gite le Cassu via Col d’Urine (!) (en route: have lunch at rifugio Jervis).
6. To Refuge Les Fonts the Cervières (via the green dotted trail): unique location!
7. To Brunissard or La Chalp: Gite le Teppio or les Bons Enfants.
8. To Refuge de Furfande: one of the most beautiful refuges and locations!
9. Back to Ceillac. Here you can stop or continue for 2 more wonderful days:
10. To the Refuge de Basse Rua, via Belvédère de Mourière and le Pic d’Escreins. Basse Rua is a refuge in a unique mountain setting, in which was once a village (the ruins are lit in the early evening!)
11. Back to Ceillac via Col de la Colette Verte and le Lac Miroir: another beautiful day to end a unique Tour!
Alternative: on day 3, from refuge Agnel to refuge La Monta – the green dotted path – (in Ristolas), then to the village of Abriès, then to Les Fonts the Cervières.
Note that you can stop your walk also in either Le Roux or Abriès to go back (by bus or hitchhiking via the D947 and then the D902) to Ceillac. So, this would make for a 4-5 day walk instead of a 9 or 11 day tour. Note that the south part of the tour is prettier than the north (we feel); south being south of the road linking Guillestre with Abriès.
2. a small TOUR IN the MERCANTOUR/ALPI MARRITIME: (our favourite tour in de Mercatour!)
start in SANT ‘ ANNA Di VALDIERI (accessible via tunnel de Fréjus – Torino – Cuneo). In Sant’Anna sleep in La Casa Regina (unique cute hotel) or gite Casalpina Balma Neris.
Park your car and start walking from Gias delle Mosche; this means driving from Sant’Anna to the end of the world via Terme di Valdieri. The start of the walk alone is already gorgeous!!!
Day 1. To Refuge de Cougourde: enter France via Col de Cerise. Cougourde is our favorite refuge in terms of location and organization! Don’t forget to walk to the waterfall behind the refuge! (about 300 metres from the refuge).
2. To Refuge de Nice via Pas de Ladres (simply wonderful!) and via La Madonne de Fenestre
3. To Refuge des Merveilles (possibly first pass by the refuge de Valmasque). And maybe book a guided tour of the rock engravings in the Vallée de Merveilles (3000 years old graffiti!)
4. To Refuge de la Madonne de Fenestre.
5. To Rifugio Genova-Figari (Via rifugio Soria Elena)
6. Back to Sant’Anna (Either via rifugio Remondino – more spectacular – or via rifugio Morelli Buzzi -shorter).
3. A SMALL TOUR IN the MERCANTOUR (an alternative on the previous tour): stay and park your car in Le Boréon (just North of St. Martin-Vésubie). By this you don’t need to enter Italy coming from Belgium/Holland/North of France and save 150 km!
Day 1. To Refuge de Cougourde (see above)
2. To Refuge de Nice
3. To Refuge de Valmasque
4. To Refuge de Madonne de Fenestre (Via refuge des Merveilles)
5. To Rifugio Genova (Via rifugio Soria Elena)
6. Back to Le Boréon (via rifugio Remondino and Col de Cerise)
4. A SMALL TOUR IN the ALPI MARITTIME (start from Sant’Anna di Valdieri: see above)
1. To Rifugio Livio Bianco (from Sant’Anna is only 3-4 hours hiking)
2. To Rifugio Emilio Questa
3. To Rifugio Remondino: a serious climb!
4. To Rifugio Soria Elena (via rifugio Genova-Figari)
5. To Refuge de Cougourde or to the “village” (a few houses) of Le Boréon
6. Back to Sant’Anna via Col de Cerise: (a very solid day if you start from Le Boréon!
5. From A to B in the MERCANTOUR: park your car at le Lac d’Allos (sleeping in Allos!) (This is one of our all-time favourite walks!)
Day 1. To Estenc: le Relais de la Cayolle. Beautiful walk at the foot of the Mont Pelat and via Col de la Petite Cayolle.
2. To St Dalmas le Selvage: idyllic village; chambres d’hotes La Petite Etoile.
3. To Refuge de Lac de Vens: (let you drive from St Dalmas to the start of the trail on the D64, about 2 km). Take the higher trail to Refuge de Vens, via the natural arch (arc de la Tortisse, see picture) !!
4. To Rifugio Migliorero via the at-the-end-of- the-world village of Pietraporzio (there is a restaurant there!!) and rifugio Zannotti
5. To Rifugio Laus (alternative: to refuge Les Rabuons via Col de la Croix (you may need crampons here!). Rabuons has a shower with the most beautiful views in the Alps!)
6. To Sant’Anna di Vinadio: sleeping in the Sanctuario!
7. Walking to Isola 2000 (2-3 hours only) (from here you can either hitchhike back to Allos or continue by walking to Le Boreon or to rifugio Emilio Questa, so making it a 12-13 day hike; see higher).
To hitchhike back: you first ask for St Dalmas then to Col de la Moutière. Then walk to Bayasse. Then hitchhike up the Col de la Cayolle to the top, then walk back to le Lac d’Allos. (We did the entire process from Sant’Anna di Vinadio in about 7 hours including hitchhiking)
If any questions re these walks, feel free to contact us!