Comparison of the GR5 to Nice vis-à-vis the GR52 to Menton
Because it is the end of “The GR5”, and because it takes a two to four days less time than the GR52 , and because the GR5 has much less vertical elevation to negotiate (i.e., it is easier), many walkers will be tempted to end their journey at Nice. “Enough of this hardship on the trail!!!” they may say.
Lac du Basto, Valley of Marvels on the GR52
I strongly recommend, rather, that you take the GR52 variant of the GR5 to Menton. The are four good reasons: First, the GR52 Balcon des Mercantour route is 1,000 meters higher than the GR5 and does not traverse empty arid hills with very little to see. (On the other hand, if you would prefer to be in more civilized parts, charming St-Etienne-de-Tinée and the Auron ski area on the GR5 may appeal to you.)
Second, nowhere on the GR5 network is there any terrain like the Vallée des Mervilles (Valley of the Marvels)— a sort of moonlike, thunderbolt-struck area, which, like the GR52 routes out of Larche is more desolate than anywhere else in France.
Third is that the last day’s descent from the Alpes to the Mediterranean Menton is literally “unforgetable”. At a distance of 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) from the Mediterranean your elevation still is 1,090 meters (about 3,600 feet). The drop of the mountains from there is steep and the view is gorgeous, up the Mediterranean coast to Monte Carlo and beyond. As you descend, views are constant. At lower elevations you pass through attractive countryside, then lovely villas with subtropical vegetation, and finally you come down the last few steps—to the Mediterranean. The descent to Nice on the GR5, however, which I have also made, is very gradual. Views are limited. You will be practically at sea level long before you reach the Mediterranean. So you will finish with a long and somewhat boring walk through mundane sections of the city of Nice. To summarize, the last days of your GR5 trip are not memorable.
Forth, the beach you descend to in Menton is of sand, while in Nice the beaches are of large pebbles (galets). A sand beach and a dip in the Mediterranean is a wonderful way to end a journey!
Both Nice and Menton are on the main French Riviera train line (that is very crowded in summer). A very inexpensive bus line along the coast also exists (also extremely crowded), but during the summer road traffic barely moves forward along the Riviera coast.
Menton has several impressive sites, and Nice has many impressive sites and museums. There are also many famous sites to see between Menton and Nice if time permits. Many top-level gastronomic restaurants are located in Menton and Nice — and between them. You must get to Nice to connect to long-distance trains or to flights. The Nice Airport is served by tram from the main train station.