Choosing Between the GR5 and the GR52

Comparison of the GR5 to Nice vis-à-vis the GR52 to Mentonimage


The following map shows the GR5 continuing south from Valdeblore and the GR52 from Boreon.

GR5 and GR52 routes near the Mediterranean

Many walkers will be tempted to end their journey at Nice, because it is the end of “The GR5”;  and because the GR5 is easier — that is, it has much less vertical elevation to negotiate:  “Enough of this hardship on the trail!!!” walkers may say.  And, then, depending how you decide to join the GR52 and how you combine refuges it can possibly take a day or two or three longer — or maybe not.

Lac du Basto, Valley of Marvels on the GR52

Regardless, I strongly recommend that you take the GR52 trail to Menton rather than the GR5 to Nice.  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.

Second, nowhere on the GR5 and GR52 network, and for that mater, nowhere else in France, is there any terrain like the Lac de Vens, Lac de Rabouns, and the Vallée des Mervilles (Valley of the Marvels)—  moonlike, thunderbolt-struck areas.   The GR52 routes are more desolate than elsewhere in France.  You will alwaysremember your days on the GR52.  (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, but afterwards the countryside is empty and dull compared to earlier days on the trail.)

Third,  on the GR52 the last day’s descent 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 nearby a nice sand  beach!  It is a day you will always remember!

On the other hand, the descent to Nice on the GR5 which I have also made, is very gradual. Views are limited. Long before you reach the Mediterranean you will be practically at sea level.  So you will finish with a long and somewhat boring walk on a hillside and then through mundane sections of the city of Nice.  The “beaches” of Nice are in the heart of the city and of large round stones called “galets”.   To summarize, in my opinion the last few days of your trip probably won’t be memorable.

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 is also extremely crowded).  However, during the summer road traffic barely moves forward along the Riviera coast, while the train speeds between the many stations.

  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 come to Nice to connect to long-distance trains or to flights.  The Nice Airport is served by a tram from the main railroad station.

The GR5 — From  Larche to Nice

The GR52 — From  Larche to Boreon

The GR52  — From Boreon to Menton