Hiking in the Maritime Alps

Submitted by HedonisticHiking on 12 Sep 2023

2024 will see us returning to the border area between France and Italy, hiking in two stunning National Parks which are home to a unique cultural and natural heritage. On the French side we hike in the Mercantour National Park and on the Italian side the Maritime Alps National Park. There are around 100,000 hectares of protected natural environment which connect the Alps with the Mediterranean sea.  The two areas of National Park were first twinned in 1987.  In 1998 a Charter of Cooperation was signed in a bid to strengthen their cross-border identity. In June 2013, the Parks approved the creation of the Gruppo Europeo di Cooperazione Territoriale, forming in effect the first genuinely "European" Park.

The territories of these two parks have been closely linked for millennia and the 36,000 rock engravings which can be seen in the Valleys of Wonders and Fontanable are evidence of man's occupation dating back to the Copper and Bronze Ages. Centuries later trade routes developed between Nice and Cuneo and a network of roads similar to the ancient Salt Routes evolved between the two cities. People shared cultural traditions and similar Occitan dialects.  In the 1850s the area belonged to the Kingdom of Sardinia, and King Vittorio Emanuele II declared it a Royal Hunting Reserve.


Following Italy's unification in 1861 plans were drawn up to protect the borders of the new Kingdom. Frantic construction projects and renovations of fortifications through these mountain passes were undertaken, to protect routes into the Po valley. There are many remains of these forts in the area and they are one of the most striking features of the landscape. Our new itinerary for 2024 takes us to the fortified Italian town of Vinadio, where the Albertinian Fortress was commissioned in the 1830s, to defend against unstable relations with neighbouring France.

Numerous endemic plants such as rare lilies and orchids are found in this area. The parks are also home to chamois, ibex, deer, wild boars and also wolves, foxes, stoats and marmots. More than 150 species of birds have been recorded, including many impressive raptors like the golden eagle and the bearded vulture with a magnificent wingspan of 2.8 meters. The birds and animals of course take no notice of the national borders but, now that the two parks work as one, the park rangers can protect and preserve these rare species more effectively than ever before. We see more wildlife in this hike than on any of our other routes.


Our France and the Maritime Alps tour has a new itinerary for 2024 and offers one of our most spectacular and challenging hiking holidays. The scenery is jaw-dropping and each day finishes with a true sense of achievement.  A solid level of fitness is required to maximise enjoyment of these hikes, as most days there is no vehicle access in the middle of the day and both guides walk with the group and carry the picnic lunch.  The cross-border influences are fascinating and, with a start in Nice and a finish in Turin, this hike has it all.  Our tour in 2024 runs from the 15th - 23rd June.