Trek the Alpes-Maritimes.

May 5, 2009
Outside Magazine

Alpes-Maritimes    Photo: courtesy of MDLF/Fabrice Milochau

THE TOP REASON TO TREK the southeastern slice of France wedged between Provence and Italy? After a week or two of seven-hour hikes through cobblestone villages in the Alpes-Maritimes and across the Alps, you'll actually earn that Campari on ice when you reach the Côte d'Azur.

Set off in summer to ensure lodges are open and for the region's guaranteed sunshine. From Larche, the 120-mile route passes into Mercantour National Park and over the 8,763-foot Pas de la Cavale. By this time you'll have noticed the second reason to hike here: the abundance of chamois, marmots, and ibex prancing in the towering sandstone cliffs, and a dearth of fellow backpackers. No need for a tent or substantial food, because a gîte d'étape (about $40 per person; will be your home along the way. Ask back-slapping locals at dinners of mutton, handmade pasta, homegrown greens, fresh-fruit-filled pastries, and wine where all the tourists are and they'll tell you that most people only go to the Riviera.

Schedule a day for the Vallée des Merveilles, where 35,000 Bronze Age petroglyphs are strewn along the path and across red-rock monoliths guarded by glacial lakes. Two days later, when the Mediterranean finally comes into view, there's still the matter of a 3,400-foot descent separating you from Menton and the coast. Your tootsies will be moaning, but that's easily remedied by the bath-warm sea.