Discover Mercantour and the Merveilles Valley Marvels
Mercantour Merveilles Valley History
It’s hard to imagine even today what drew early Man to this remote valley in the Mercantour. The Merveilles Valley is the Alpes-Maritimes’ natural treasure trove. The area inspired Bronze Age Man to create tens of thousands of carvings on the creamy coloured rocks.
They leave an incredible insight into their unique culture which can really be brought to life with a visit accompanied by a local guide. Many of the major carvings can only be viewed with a guide.
Over the years the valley was left to enjoy its isolation. Many considered that the valley was a place of ill omen. That sentiment was thanks to the combination of frequent summer thunderstorms and the eerie carvings.
In more rational times in the late 19th century, Englishman Clarence Bicknell made the first detailed study of the carvings (the French dispute this of course!). Over the course of 21 years, he documented over 12,000 carvings. Subsequent studies have “unearthed” many thousands more – up to 40,000 are understood to exist. The images are simplistic in their nature, depicting animals, weapons and tools, geometric shapes, figures, and abstract forms.
To say much more about their meaning would be to spoil the fun of an evocative day out in the Merveilles!
Getting to the Mercantour
Just under 3/4 of visitors to the Mercantour come to explore the Merveilles Valley – yet it remains surprising that most visitors don’t seem to be aware of this (proposed) World Heritage Site.
Until recently the valley was only accessible on foot. This can be done from either – the west – from the Gordolasque valley (from the Vésubie) or from the Minière Valley – the east (from the Roya). Both start points are about 90 minutes drive from Nice, with the east side being accessible by train to La Brigue and then a bus to Casterino (July/August only).
The approach from the west is much more inspiring as the walker is rewarded with the view of meadows and lakes, down to the valley, having reached the Pas de l’Arpette.
From the east, despite the fact that visitors can enjoy an hour or so in the very interesting Tende museum, the walk is easier but less exciting.
When to Visit
The best time of year to go is in June or July when the sight of the wildflowers is stunning. Alternatively, in the autumn when colours are starting to turn.
Risk August and there will be too many people in the Merveilles refuge. And, you probably will get very wet. Although, you will understand the magic of the place in the course of the drenching!
The valley is at about 2000 meters so is inaccessible, thanks to snow, for much of the year.
Local walking holiday company – spacebetween – run both a short break holiday for five (5) days and a week-long eight (8) day holiday. There is still availability for September 21, 2019, as well as visiting the area as part of their Grande Traversée du Mercantour holiday. The GTM tour is now booking for 2020.
Summer visitors to the area can also organise their own trip. Accommodation options include either the Neige et Merveilles refuge on the east side or Relais de Merveilles gîte d’etape at the end of the Gordolasque valley to the west.
Mercantour Park Anniversary
The Mercantour is delighted to be 40 years old this year. This charming video gives you an excellent feel for the area.
This handy brochure offers up the programme of festivities – starting in Valberg during the first weekend in July.
Both are in French only.
Image credits: All photos provided by and published with the permission of spacebetween. Photo of the handsome gentleman by Gillian Rowlands.