Hiking in France: The Mercantour National Park

Last month I travelled to the south of France for some sun, sea, relaxation. Whilst looking for things to do in the area, I stumbled across a website about the Park du Mercantour and fell in love.

I enjoy laying in the sun as much as anybody, but I also like to explore, so I was excited to discover that there would be mountains, forests and lakes just waiting to be discovered, only an hours drive away from our villa near Nice. It became the thing I was most looking forward doing during the trip. Ideally I wanted to climb a mountain, find a lake and see some amazing views.

At this point, Steve and I hadn’t been on our Wales trip, so climbing a french mountain seemed really daunting to me as a newbie hillwalking fan, but after that trip, I became more determined to visit the park and do just that.

Despite feeling anxious, I tried to do as much research as possible about recommended routes and looked at maps of the area. I settled on a route that would take us up to and around the Lac de Trecoplas (2170m) in the valley Boréon, as it promised a stunning taster of the Mercantour National Park.

View of the Mercantour National Park

A day hike in the Mercantour National Park

We packed up the car early and drove to the park. At times the mountain roads were a little windy and tight, but the weather was good and the amazing views were enough to take my mind off of things. As soon as we arrived, I felt myself relax. We picked up a route card from the visitors office in a nearby village, which despite being in french was fairly easy to understand. We found the start point and after stopping to admire the forest pigs wandering around, we began walking.

The walk was stunningly beautiful and well signposted, we didn’t really need the route card at all. I would have felt better if we had a map – just because I like to be over prepared for everything, but it wasn’t needed on the day for navigation. The fact we didn’t really need to try hard to navigate made the hike more enjoyable, as we could concentrate on the views as we walked along.

It was hot, but much of the hike was in the shade of the trees. We meandered through the forest and slowly climbed, crossing bridges over fast flowing water. We stopped occasionally to look back into the valley below. It was breathtakingly beautiful, with the sound of cow bells ringing in the distance.

Eventually we reached the lake, nestled between two peaks. Other hikers were lounging on the grass and taking in the views. We joined them and ate some madelines and pain au chocolat to refuel before we began the journey back down.

The journey back

Despite following the same path back through the trees that we had already walked along, the route back felt new. We had the views that we’d had to our backs one the way up, now in front of us. We were joined by other hikers on the walk back, including some families with children.

My favourite meeting was a very old lone man, who had stopped for a breather. We acknowledged him cheerfully in french as we walked by. The site of someone so much older enjoying the mountains brought me joy – I hope I am still wandering as adventurously as him when I am his age.

The journey back felt much faster, being mostly downhill. It wasn’t long until we were back in the car park and driving back through the valley, the heat of the sun beaming down on our tired legs in the car. I wanted to sleep but the views were too good to miss. As soon as we made it back onto the main highway, I snoozed happily before the sound of gravel woke me back at the villa.

Before you go

This moderate hike in Parc du Mercantour was clearly marked on mostly well maintained paths. We saw people of all ages from young children to people in their 60’s and possibly even 70’s or 80’s on the trail but I imagine these were very fit and healthy people who are well-accustomed to hillwalking. We completed this hike in around 4-5 hours but I recommend that you allow a full day. The path rises steeply in places but there are stepped stones to aid your climb. We did not visit ourselves, but there is a mountain hut nearby, so you may like to research this and rest there during your hike. You can visit the tourist office in Saint Martin-Vesubie for a route card and other information before the hike.

If you have any questions about this hike or about the Parc du Mercantour, please comment below and I will do my best to help you.

More photographs

Mountain top showing through trees

driving to the start of the hike

A small farm building which sells cheese near the trail

Forest path to Lac Du Trecolpas

Leanne Downs posing for a picture in hiking gear

Small pine tree bathed in sunlight

Signposting for the hiking route to the Lac du Trecolpas

small wooden bridge across a stream

A stream in the Mercantour National Park

Close up of pine tree leaves

cows grazing in the forest near a stream

a river in the parc du mercantour

hiking trail below a mountain

Leanne Downs hiking to Lac du Trecolpas

Lac du Trecolpas in the Mercantour National Park

Lac Du Trecolpas

the mountain terrain near the lake

hikers chatting in the mercantour national park

a track in the mercantour national park

a mountain peak

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