The Mercantour National Park was created 1979 and is one of 7 national parks in France. It covers 685 square kilometres (268 sq miles) of mountainous landscape in the south-east of the country, bordering right on the French Riviera towards the south. To the north and east the park continues across the Italian border into the Parco Naturale delle Alpi Marittime.
Its impressive snow covered peaks clearly visible from the coast, one can be fully immersed in the utter silence and solitude of the mountains after less than 2 hours drive from Nice - less than 20km distance, as the crow flies, from the southernmost tip of the Park to the Mediterranean Sea.
A landscape which will impress by the sheer beauty of its mountain peaks, deep valleys and gorges, but which will also amaze you at a much smaller scale when discovering the many rare and native plants and animals living here.
In addition to all these natural wonders, you will also be able to find signs of early human presence, in the form of some 40,000 rock engravings, dating back to the Bronze Age period (from 3300 to 1200 BC), in the Vallée des Merveilles.
Below an impression of the regions, as photographed during the many walks I have done in this beautiful park.
There are many beautiful walks and hikes to be done here, in total there's about 600 km (375 miles) of hiking trails; see also scenic walks.
There's are many protected species to be admired, some of them endemic to the region. Wolves have recently (during the 1990s) returned to the Park, and the bearded vulture was re-introduced in 1993.
One of the endangered, and now protected, plant species is the saxifraga florulenta, gracing one of the emblems of the Park.
The many beautiful villages in the immediate vicinity of the park also merit a visit, such as Tende, Breil-sur-Roya and Entrevaux.
There are a number of possible starting points, depending on where you want to go and what you want to explore.
Tende is a good starting point if you want to explore the Vallée des Merveilles. From Nice you will pass through Sospel and Breil-sur-Roya, both worth a visit as well.
If you're driving your own car, there is a tourist train service from Nice to Tende; see the Train des Merveilles website for more details (and a nice English language tourist brochure).
St Martin-Vesubie and Isola are both departure points for numerous walks.