• Mercantour National Park

Mercantour national Park

The magic of the Alps

Mediterranean or alpine climate?

A complex mix of climatic influences contributes to the uniqueness and variety of landscapes, natural environments, and the Park’s flora and fauna.

The Mercantour is the last promontory of the Alpine range, just before it descends toward the Mediterranean Sea.

Exploring the Mercantour is guaranteed to give you a permanent sense of wonder: at each bend in the path you are greeted by a new amazing spectacle. How can such a variety of impressions, sensations and landscapes be possible?

To find an answer, we would need to draw from quite a few sciences: geological formations of varied types were shaped by the Alpine upheaval, then hollowed out and eroded by water into deep, narrow gorges. Anticlinal valleys were formed by powerful glaciers, which in turn melted to form strings of sparkling lakes. Climate changes have left us with a large variety of species which have found refuge at high altitudes in  environments similar to those they enjoyed in the ice age.

The legacy of several thousand years of human presence adds to the rich natural surroundings, and will continue to do so in the future. The area is seeing the inception of numerous forward-looking activities, a sign of its great vitality. The Park’s rich cultural heritage also receives a good deal of attention. It is our hope that we will be able to share this heritage with future generations.

An abundance of wild fauna

Chamois, ibex and mouflons live together in the craggy terrain of the mountainsides, while red deer, roe deer and wild boars roam in the forest envi­ronments at lower altitudes. Birds are also present in remarkable variety.

One finds black grouse (also known as black­cock) or the grouse, also called snow partridge, the nutcracker, as well as large birds of prey such as the golden eagle; and now the bearded vulture has been gradually reintroduced with successive releases since 1993.

Flora unique to Europe

The many climatic, geological and geographical influences create a mosaic of diverse environments with altitudes rising from 100 m to over 3000 m and have endowed the Mer­cantour with an exceptionally rich plant life consisting of over 2000 plant species, from a total of 4,200 species known in France.

Among them, 220 are considered very rare and 40 are even classified as endemic, occurring nowhere else on Earth, such as the multi-blossomed Saxifraga florulenta.

A place like no other

A national Park is an area which has been recognised for its exceptional biodiversity, scenic wonder, and heritage. It is a designation which guarantees national and international recognition of its treasures and serves to ensure that the area is preserved to the highest degree possible, so that it can be passed on to future generations.

A national Park is a territory that is defined by the communities of which it is made up (the Mercantour consists of 28 of them). Its mission is to understand and protect nature and landscapes, as well as to preserve the heritage which earned it its classifica­tion as a national Park.

A national Park also has a responsibili­ty to “share its uniqueness” by making the public aware of the need to protect the environment. It does this by disse­minating knowledge and encouraging people to explore. The territories of France’s Parks are managed by public administrative bodies, under the aegis of the Ministry of Ecology

The core zone is the regulated section of the Park. It aims to provide the highest standard of protection for its natural, cultural and scenic heritage.

The ideal partnership zone, covering over 2000 km², includes the entire area of the Park communities (apart from the core zone) which have been invited to subscribe to the charter. For these communities, partnership involves significant responsibilities, involving the acceptance of shared objectives for the area’s sustainable development which strike a balance between nature, culture, human acti­vity, quality of life and scenic beauty.

The Ubaye Valley & The National park

Where Italy meets Dauphiné and Provence, a long valley follows the Italian border for 80 km near the Col de Larche to the lac de Serre-Ponçon (Europe’s largest man-made lake). Sheltered by mountains from the sea winds, the valley of L’Ubaye belongs to a range known as the “dry” Alps, or Alpes de lumière, with 300 days of sunshine and only 700 mm of annual precipitation.

There is striking contrast in its landscapes, between the vast, active and welcoming basin of Barcelonnette-Jausiers and the high-perched valleys: the upper Ubaye, Ubayette, Bachelard and Laverq, which lead to the region’s highest peaks, ascending to altitudes of more than 3000 m.

The valley of L’Ubaye has been able to preserve its strong identity and display its rich heritage in the museums that dot the valley. It has been the subject of much historical research into its traditional way of life, hunting and gathering, seasonal migration and the emigration of some of its people to Mexico, as well as its fortresses, frontiers, and landscapes.

  • Bachelard:

With its gorges and waterfalls, its larch forests and grassy slopes, Le Bachelard is an Alpine dale whose beauty can be easily observed from the Route des Grandes Alpes. In days gone by, life here was harsh because of the climate, the steep slopes and the isolation, and many people from the area emigrated. The road leads us to the Col de la Cayolle.

  • Alpine Ibex:

First protected in 1821 in the royal game reserve of Grand Paradis, the Alpine Ibex was reintroduced a century later into the Valdieri reserve, which was to become the Parco delle Alpi Marittime in 1980. To­day, 1200 ibex roam the neighbouring Mercantour massif, including more than 500 in Ubaye.

  • La Cime (2862 m) & Col de la Bonette Restefond (2802 m):

A guide table is provided to help you find your bearings in this immense panorama, which takes in the main peaks of the Southern Alps. The road pass of La Bonette is the highest in Europe. It crosses the watershed between the valleys of La Tinée and L’Ubaye which separates Alpes-Mari­times from Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. It is also a gateway for numerous migratory birds.

  • Col de la Cayolle (2326 m):

Without question this is the most beautiful and unspoiled route through the Mercantour, linking the upper Var valley to the valley of L’Ubaye. A trail leading from the pass takes you, after a short walk, to a superb viewing point over the lac d’Allos. Descending towards Barcelonnette, you can rest at the Refuge de la Cayolle, which in summer serves as an infor­mation point for the Park. On the other side, towards Entraunes, you can stop at the Refuge de la Cantonnière.

  • Bearded Vulture:

The last Alpine specimen of this bird was killed at the beginning of the 20th century. Since 1962 it has enjoyed protected status and has benefited from an international reintroduction programme. The first hatching in the wild in the Southern Alps took place at Saint Paul sur Ubaye in 2008.

  • Alpine Sea Holly:

This plant is typically found in the hay meadows and is common to an area of 5 acres in the Lauzanier valley, the only place it is found in the Mercantour. It was saved from near-extinction.


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