Important: Ask at the Gîte de Larche about snow conditions on the Pas de Cavale (2671 meters, 8763 feet). If they tell you it is blocked with snow, as it may be into late-July (as was the case on my second visit), the same “Salse Moraine Valley” shown in the photo below and the GR5 there may be joined by a somewhat lower trail via the Col de Pouriac (2506 m, 8221 ft). The trailhead is in Italy, four kilometers southeast of the GR5 on the main highway from Larche. Figure that this detour will add an hour and one-half to your walking time, more if you have to contend with snow banks. If you are an easy going walker, offer to pay the gite owner or a hotel employee to transport you to the Italian trailhead by car, saving 3 hours.
II highly recommend that you depart before 8am to be off the high and exposed passes before mid-afternoon. In general, from Larche to the Mediterranean, it is wise to set off at 6 or 7 in the morning, to do your climbing before the sun is overhead.
You leave Larche by the highway and quickly branch onto a minor road, which, after an hour, curves southwards and enters the Mercantour National Park. Now on a trail, the GR5 climbs 1,000 meters to the Pas de la Cavale at 2,671 meters (8,763 feet) in a total of 4 1/2 hours (not including rest stops). Looking ahead from the pass of the Pas de la Cavale, the scenery resembles a moonscape.
From the Pas de Cavale
Notice the Lac d’Angel on left below. The trail to Bouziéyas runs from there along dried river towards the right.
The following photo is to the left of the one above, with a wider angle view. This is where you would be going if you were taking the GR52 route that required bushwhaking.
Descend on the GR5 to the lakes d’Angel in the Salse Moraine Valley at 2,343 meters Looking back now at the Pas de Cavalle pass, you will wonder how you ever came down the cliff.
Looking back at the Pas de Cavale from Lac d’Angel.
The GR5 Route:
After descending from the Pas de Cavale, the GR5 bears slightly to the right, and continues to the Refuge of Bouziéyas (at 1,883 meters) in just over two hours.
Town of Bouziéyas. In the distance on the left, where GR5 crosses the pass tomorrow towards St-Etienne-de-Tinée
Lodgings are infrequent in the Alps Maritimes, so you have only a few choices: After the 7 hour, highly vertical day from Larche to Bousiéyas, it would be desirable to have a light day and to stay in an urban setting for a change, so you might wish to select a 5 1/2 hour walk to the pleasant and picturesque old town of St.-Etienne-de-Tinée (day 2).
Tip for Easygoers, short of time, wishing to hike the GR52 route to the Vallée of Merveilles and Menton:
Take a bus from Saint-Etiènne-de-Tinée to Isola Isola Village and transfer to the bus to Isola 2000, arriving at midday – no more than 4 Euros), or a taxi from Saint-Etiènne-de-Tinée (33 kilometers) or from Bouziéyas the day before, about 46 kilometers plus 13 kilometers for the cab to come from St-Etienne-de-Tinée).
From Isola 2000, the same day, walk to Boréan in 5 to 5 1/2 hours. See below for walking directions. This gains 5 days from Saint-Etiènne-de-Tinée or 6 days from Bouziéyas compared to the official GR5–GR52 route, missing GR5 terrain that is not so interesting.
Continuing from St-Etienne-de-Tinée
If you stay in St. Etienne, then it is a short day of about 4 1/2 hours via Auron to the Gîte d’étape at Roya (day 3) , followed by a 6 1/2 hour day to the fine Gîte d’etape at Longon (day 4). This is easily manageable, but note that after Roya you will be walking on completely bare mountain ridges with no water, and without shade. Then you have a 4 hour walk to Saint Saveur-sur-Tinnée (day 5) and another 4 hour walk to Saint Dalmas-Valdeblore (day 6).
You could lessen the number of days to 5 if you stay in Auron, and walk a very long 10 hour day to Roya.
The GR 52 branches off in Saint Dalmas-Valdeblore to the north, with a 4 hour climb, mostly on bare ridges, to the Col du Barn, and an almost equal descent of 3 hours to Boréon (day 7 from Larche).
Tips for easygoers on June weekends and in July and August: Take the Telecabine de la Pinatelle up from St-Etienne-de-Tinée, and follow the dirt road, with a slight loss of altitude, into Auron. Take the chair lift de Blainon to the top station and walk down the ridge to the pass.
View of Auron and GR5
On leaving Auron, after crossing the lift clearing, mountain bike trails confuse the way and there is no sign for the GR5. Keep left here,where the poles are, straigh ton:
View from Col du Blainon towards Roya and Mount Mounier:
Boucatin grazing, on side of Mt. Mounier, side-trip above the Col de Crousett.
Looking back north towards Roya, note that the GR 5 runs for long distances over treeless ridges.
View towards, on right, the Pas de Barn climbing from Saint-Dalmas-Valdeblore on the GR52.
Note that there is no shade.
The GR5 from Saint-Dalmas-Valdeblore to Nice
Your 5th day from Bousiéyas (and 6th from Larche), will have brought you as far as St. Dalmas-Valdeblore. The old GR 52 branches off here .
Your final 2 nights on the GR5, are spent in the charming tiny hill town of Utelle, an 8 hours’ walk; and then in Aspremont, another 7 hours’ walk (though you could stop in the less charming Levans, after 5 hours.
Aspremont Village, a 3 hours’ walk from the coast at Nice.
A final short day of 3 hours from Aspremont or 5 hours from Levans takes you to the Mediterranean coast in Nice. The final section of the GR5 is through city streets of no interest until you reach the coast.
It will take 7 days total from Larche, not counting nights in Larche or Nice.
Nice has many sights and museums worth visiting, and train and air connections to many destinations in Europe. The public and private beaches on the Mediterranean are of rounded stones (galets). The Côte d’Azur has many fabulous tourist destinations.
For a description of the GR52 from Larche to Menton, click here.