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Southern French Alps 5 Must-See Natural Sites

What’s not to like about a beach and a lounge chair facing the Mediterranean? For some, the weather is too hot and cultural venues may not suit the whole family. Or, perhaps you are just looking for a getaway from the summer crowds on the French Riviera.

Head to the Southern French Alps for stunning vistas, quaint villages and unrivalled natural beauty. Here you will discover the red rocks of the Cian and Daluis Gorges. Take a drive on one of Europe’s highest asphalt roads. Walk in the Mercantour and admire the engravings in the Vallée des Merveilles. Explore some of the highest peaks in the Gordolasque Valley. And, if you have time, swing by the red creeks at Théoule-sur-Mer.

Are you up for it? Keep reading to find out more.

Colorado Azuréen Red rocks and Gorges

The Alpes-Maritimes hold many secrets. One of which is the spectacular gorges of Cians and Daluis. About 100 km from Nice, carved from Permian perlites’ red schists, the stunning 900-metre gash mars the landscape with unusual shapes stained green from flora. This gorge is how the natural site gained the nickname ‘the Colorado Azuréen (Nice).’

Cians Gorge Côte d'Azur Tourism @George Veran

Cians Gorge Côte d’Azur Tourism @George Veran

At the Bertheou bridge in Daluis, where the gorge starts, you’ll follow a winding road dug through the rocks. Pass through the right bank of the Var, which cuts across the bottom of the canyon.

Les Gorges du Cians Côte d'Azur Tourism @George Veran

Les Gorges du Cians Côte d’Azur Tourism @George Veran

The Cians Gorge begins at Guillaumes and has an alpine torrent flowing through it. You’ll see evidence of the water’s force from the jutting rocks from the gorge’s walls and narrow passages in the red schists and limestone sections.

La Route de la Bonette

While Col de la Bonette may not be the highest road in Europe, the road from Nice to Briançon is the highest pass in all of Europe and the highest asphalt road in France. It also offers a unique viewpoint for various attractions in the Mercantour National Park.

Col de la Bonette

You’ll not only experience the raw power of the Vens waterfall. But also, once you reach the 2,802-metre summit of Cime de la Bonette- which is Tour de France’s high point- have a spectacular view of the Southern Alps. With Italy visible to the East and sunlight casting different shadows over the remarkable landscape.

Vallée des Merveilles, the premier site before Vallée des Merveilles

At Mount Bego’s foot and in the heart of Mercantour National Park, you’ll find another hidden treasure perched 2,200 m above sea level- the Vallée des Merveilles.

There are several rock carvings sculpted around 10,000 years ago. Through the etchings, you’ll see depictions of everyday life, coat of arms motifs, symbols of religious beliefs, and designs.

Vallée des Merveilles Côte d'Azur Tourism @George Veran

Vallée des Merveilles Côte d’Azur Tourism @George Veran

These engravings make the Vallée des Merveilles one of the most significant prehistoric archaeological sites in all of Europe.

La Gordolasque Valley

Above the quaint village of Belvedere, you’ll find one of the more scenic entrances to Mercantour National Park. The Gordolasque is probably the most Alpine u-shaped valley in the French Alps.

It also provides access to Vallée des Merveilles. And you’ll get the chance to explore the highest peaks in the Alpes-Maritimes département- from Malédie and Tête du Basto to Grand Capelet and Clapier.

Vallée des Merveilles Côte d'Azur Tourism @George Veran

Vallée des Merveilles Côte d’Azur Tourism @George Veran

Théoule-sur-Mer, with its red creeks

The seafront village of Théoule is stunning, surrounded by the Bay of Cannes and the Massif de L’Esterel. Small coves form where the cliffs reach the sea, and jagged rocks protrude dramatically into the water.


Théoule-sur-Mer Côte d’Azur Tourism @Pierre Behar

The sparkling blue water of the Mediterranean Sea contrasts vividly with the red rock formations and secret bays of the coastline. This setting is one of the most beautiful panoramas on the coast of France.

By Sarah Wangari

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