The Mercantour National Park is in the Alpe-de-Haute-Provence and is an amazing place to visit. Its peaks soar to more than 3,000 metres in height and the park is home to numerous glacial lakes and six individualistic and unique valleys. What’s more the Mercantour National Park is just an hour away from the coast and easy to get to.
This is the last bastion of the Alps, where they finally surrender to the Mediterranean Sea. And it is this juxtaposition of a maritime and alpine climate that influences the uniqueness and diversity of the landscapes and the Park’s flora (over 2,000 plant species) and fauna (58 species of mammals, and 153 species of bird).
As elsewhere across Europe, the imprint of man adds to the richness of nature, and adds to the cultural heritage of a remarkable region.
Things to do in the Mercantour National Park
Lovers of wildlife will have their appetites satiated here: chamois, ibex and mouflon inhabit the crags of mountainsides, while the forest provide shelter for red deer, roe deer and wild boar.
Elsewhere, you hear the pert whistle of marmot, or may catch a glimpse of mountain hare and stoat, the latter dressed up in its winter coat of ermine. If you look closely you may even glimpse a groundhog.
Among the valleys – Ubaye, Verdon, Var, Cians, Tinée, Vésubie and Roya-La Bévéra – the proximity to the Côte d’Azur adds the fragrances, aromatic and sensual, of Provence, the Alps and Italy.
Above those valleys fly some of the largest birds in the world: the bearded vulture and the griffon vulture both of which, remarkably, had disappeared from the Alps before the start of the 20th century.
They were finally accorded the status of protected species in 1981, and griffon vultures reintroduced in the gorges du Verdon in early 1996. The golden eagle flies here, too, and while great in size, seems small compared to the vultures.
Read our article on: Birdwatching in France
Mercantour National Park spans an area of around 679 square kilometres. It goes without saying that there is a lot of ground to cover so it’ll come as no surprise that there are plenty of things to do.
Hikers and wildlife lovers will adore the trails where plenty of interesting flora and fauna can be spotted.
If you’re a bit of a thrill seeker then why not head to the Artuby Bridge in Vernon where you can have a go at bungee jumping from its 182-metre height?
There’s also an excellent sky diving experience from 4000 feet that’s based at Gap Tallard and certainly isn’t one for the faint hearted but it will give you the best aerial view of the national park.
Or for those who prefer to keep their feet closer to the ground but still want an adventure, there’s the option to try out parasailing in Nice.
If you want to explore the national park in a different way, there are river rafting opportunities as well as canyoning and rock climbing so there’s something that will appeal to everyone.
The wolves in the area are one of the biggest attractions and heading to the Alpha Parc gives you an opportunity to learn more about these magnificent creatures. For animal lovers, there is also a donkey trekking experience leaving from Anes de Blore.
If it’s architecture that’s more your cup of tea then a trip to the Mercantour National Park would not be complete without a visit to the Sospel Cathedral.
A truly stunning building dating back to the 1300s that sits in a beautiful Provencal style square and is home to some incredible artwork and artefacts.
Wildlife in Mercantour National Park
The Mercantour National Park is one of the places in France that doesn’t get nearly as much attention as it deserves.
One of the prime attractions here is the mind blowingly beautiful Lac d’Allos which sits more than 7000 feet above sea level and is a glacial lake nestled in a pristine valley.
But one of the major attractions of the Mercantour National Park is its wildlife. If you’re keen to see nature at its best then you’re in the right place. There are a lot of hiking opportunities within the national park and this is a great chance to spot some of the area’s most precious creatures.
One of the things that most people set out to see is the stunning chamois, a type of goat and there are many living in the Mercantour National Park. If you’re lucky you might even run into an ibex.
There are several of these living in the national park but they are one of the more rare spots, so be sure to keep your eyes open for these timid creatures.
Marmots are in abundance in the Mercantour National Park and are easily spotted burrowing around the mountains.
Many hikers are treated to a meeting with the stunning mouflon. This is a type of sheep that is native to the area and with beautiful curved horns and a unique colouration, it’s definitely a wildlife spot that you’ll not easily forget.
But it doesn’t stop there. Bird lovers will be delighted at the opportunity to get up close and personal with the mighty golden eagle which can often be spotted soaring overhead.
There are other flying creatures such as an array of moths and butterflies but the real attraction are the wolves. There’s even a visitor centre where you can learn more about these magnificent creatures that migrated here from Italy some 30 years ago.
Are there wolves in Mercantour National Park?
Yes, wolves can be found in the Mercantour national Park. These dynamic beasts were once present throughout Europe, but were victims of a campaign to exterminate them, resulting in their final disappearance from France in the 1930s.
But, in 1992, one lone intrepid wolf ventured into Mercantour from Italy, and since then, wolves have been colonising the Alps, resulting in an estimated 30 animals in Mercantour alone.
Information for visitors to the Mercantour National Park
The Mercantour National Park has a head office (Le Siège) in Nice, supported by seven geographic sections.
Parc national du Mercantour
23 rue d’Italie
06006 Nice Cedex 1
Tel: 04 93 16 78 88
Parc national du Mercantour – Secteur Haute-Ubaye
La Sapinière – 04400 Barcelonnette
Tel: 04 92 81 21 31
Parc national du Mercantour – Secteur de la Haute-Tinée
Maison du Parc national du Mercantour – Quartier de l’Ardon – 06660 Saint-Etienne-de-Tinée
Tel: 04 93 02 42 27
Parc national du Mercantour – Secteur Moyenne-Tinée
Résidence La Colombe – Champ de Foire – 06420 Saint-Sauveur-sur-Tinée
Tel: 04 93 02.01 63
Le Haut-Var Cians
Parc national du Mercantour – Secteur Haut-Var/Cians
Le Ciastel – 06470 Entraunes / Maison Valberganne – 06470 Valberg
Tel: (Entraunes): 04 93 05 59 43
Tel: (Valberg): 04 93 02 58 23
Parc national du Mercantour – Secteur Roya-Bévéra
103 avenue du 16 septembre 1947 – 06430 Tende
Tel: 04 93 04 67 00
Parc national du Mercantour – Secteur Haut-Verdon
Place de la Coopérative – 04260 Allos
Tel: 04 92 83 04 18
Parc national du Mercantour – Secteur Haute-Vésubie
les Iris – Rue K. Serrurier – 06450 Saint-Martin-Vésubie
Tel: 04 93 03 23 15
What are French National Parks?
French National Parks are internationally recognised as areas of exceptional quality. They offer a remarkable combination of land and sea areas, and are protected areas of flora and fauna and exceptional wetlands ideal for birdwatchers and nature lovers. there are 10 nation parks in France.
Collectively, they cover about 9.5% of French territory (60,728 km2), and attract almost 9 million visitors each year.
How many national Parks in France?
France has ten national parks, of which six are within the mainland of France, protected areas that are home to an exceptional wealth of flora and fauna.
The public body for France’s national parks, the Parcs Nationaux de France, was created only as recently as 2006, under the Ministry for Nature Protection. The ministry’s goal is to promote the parks, strengthen their common culture and contribute to the quality of their management.
The national parks are governed by a charter, aimed at protecting and developing them. The charter unites all interested parties, particularly the communes, which are vital to the success of the scheme, and have the option of subscribing to the park’s charter.
In doing so, they come together in a strategy of environmental solidarity that works to protect biodiversity, the improved functioning of institutions, the management of natural and cultural heritage, and visits by the public.
Priority is given to the protection of habitats, plant and animal species, landscapes and cultural heritage.