Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
Way-Marking: Typical GR Markings
Trails: Mostly steep mountain paths
Lodging: Good supply of small hotels located in town.
Best Season: Spring and fall
Highlights: Exceptional area of France with medieval villages, beautiful scenery. French with a dash of Italian.
The GR52A, known as the Panoramique de Mercantour, begins high on the Italian border at the Col de Tende. It sweeps down through the beautiful Roya Valley toward the Mediterranean Sea.
The Maritime Alps are part of Provence and though not on the scale of the Himalayas or Rocky Mountains, these mountains are high and particularly rugged. The hiking should not be underestimated. The word “switchback” appears to have no french equivalent as trails rise and fall abruptly. Roots, rocks and rubble make underfooting difficult so good boots and poles are important. Challenges aside, the GR52A offers some of the best hiking in the world. The fall color rivals New England and helps to occupy the mind. There are gorges, river valleys and high passes. Trails are abundant and easy to follow.
Villages and towns cling to rocky hillsides and streets are lined with painted facades reminding the walker of the Italian heritage of this easternmost part of Provence. Nothing is new except the plumbing and electricity. Old windows, old paint, old everything. “Crumbly” is a good word
After traveling south along the river for several days the GR52A turns west and climbs to a rocky pass of pine trees and the Yeti Inn, a run-down 1960′s ski lodge. Here the walker can enjoy an evening meal by the fire. If business is slow, don’t be surprised if the owner serves breakfast in her robe and pajamas. Gotta love France.
The hiking here is not easy and the lodging is old and crumbly. If you’re ok with those two things and enjoy something different, this route is a winner. Go in October for the color.