Since it was created in 1979, the Mercantour Park has become one of the most popular of the seven French national parks, with 800,000 visitors every year, enjoying the 600 km of waymarked footpaths and visiting its 28 perched villages.
The protected area covers some 685 square kilometres, consisting of a central uninhabited zone comprising seven valleys – Roya, Bévéra, Vésubie, Tinée, Haut Var/Cians (in the Alpes Maritimes) plus Verdon and Ubaye (in the Alpes de Haute Provence) – and a peripheral zone comprising 28 villages. Many of them are perched villages, concealing great architectural riches (numerous churches decorated with murals and altar pieces by primitive Niçois painters). More than 150 rural gites are located within the Park.
In the heart of this setting of vertiginous summits (including Mont Gélas, the highest point in the Alpes Maritimes at 3143 m), lies a gem listed as a Historical Monument, the famous Vallée des Merveilles, the aptly named valley of marvels.
At the foot of Mont Bégo, climbers can admire some 37,000 rock carvings dating back to the Bronze Age representing weapons, cattle and human figures that are sometimes very mysterious. Other less sporty visitors mustn’t forget to have a look round the Musée des Merveilles at Tende.