The GR52 from Boreon to Menton

Days 7 – 11 from Boreon to Menton:

From Boreon to the Vallée des Merveilles on the GR52

From Boréon the lodgings are spaced as follows: Madone de Fenestre (guarded CAI refuge) 4 hours (an extra 1 1/2 hours by the Col de Fenestre variation); from Madone de Fenestre to the Refuge “Nice” 3 1/4 hours; from the Refuge “Nice” to the Refuge des Merveilles, 4 1/2 hours.  These refuges may all be reserved here: Réservation, Refuge des Merveilles. The refuges stay open until the end of September, except the Nice refuge closes in mid-september.

It is your choice whether to take 2 days (as my group did) or 3 days,  from Boréon to reach the Refuge des Mervilles. Consider combining the first two days into one, not staying in Madonne de Fenestre (but definitely visiting the church), and rather pushing on to the Refuge Nice, or after mid-September staying at Madonne de Fenestra and walking in one day to the Refuge des Merveilles. Definitely do get a very early start each day, because this country is very hot and exposed at midday (and cold at night). Carry extra water.

Lac du Basto, Valley of Marvels on the GR52

If you are interested in seeing many of the engravings in the Vallée des Merveilles, I suggest planning for this in advance by arranging for a guide with the Refuge des Merveilles.   Much of the famous prehistoric rock art in the Vallée Des Merveilles has been defaced or washed away, and what is remaining is hard to find without a guide.  None the less, without a guide, the valley is exciting.

 

How to handle the 2,050 meter (6,700 foot) descent from the Pas de Diable (elevation 2,346 meters), after the Vallée Des Merveilles to Sospel (elevation 350 meters)

 

An escape route from the GR52, which my easygoing friends took, leads eastwards from the Refuge des Mervilles: A two-hour downhill walk leads to the train station at St. Dalmas-de-Tende. From there trains run to Sospel (and to Nice). If you bypass the GR52 descent, do by all means stay overnight in Sospel and walk the final day to the Mediterranean at Menton.

The GR52 has been rerouted since I first walked it. In now visits the very nice Gite d’Etap – Refuge called L’Estive and the Hotel Le Yéti at the Baise de Camp d’Argent (1737 meters, about 5,600 feet of altitude). http://www.estive-mercantour.fr/Contact-Estive.html.  You can see the new routing on the map of the Geoportail web site at the”town” level of magnification. If you take the new routing of the GR 52, it will add at least 1 3/4 hours to your walking time, and you will need to spend the night there; so use the old routing via signposts 150 and 151 if you plan to descend all the way to Sospel in one day.

Sunrise, Hiker and Lake de la Muta, near the Pas de Diable.

Start at the crack of dawn, so you won’t spend too much time in the heat. You will be walking roughly 35 kilometers (21 miles) over 8 1/2 hours if you choose to make the entire descent in one day.  Carry extra water, whichever routing you take. This descent is a ridge walk, and there are no drinking water sources.

Watch your walking technique: Don’t bang your legs down, and don’t keep your knees straight. Use your quadriceps to cushion your steps. Tread as lightly as you can. (My hiking companion—who was stronger than I —ran down many slopes jumping from rock to rock. As a result, he couldn’t walk the next day, and very sadly, his knees were never as good afterwards). By all means, use shock-absorbent innersoles, and use trekking poles to help cushion your steps.

Pas du Diable (Pass of the Devil).

The Mediterranean is somewhare out there in the distance.

An hour and 1/4 from the Refuge Des Mervilles lies the Pas du Diable (Pass of the Devil) at 2,346 meters (about 7,700 feet). Sospel, your destination, is at 350 meters. (1,100 feet)!!!

At the Pointe des Trois Communes, which is where you arrive at a concrete wall with a hole in it, you must make a choice. The GR52 was rerouted in about 2009 to pass through the Camp d’Argent, adding about 1 hour and 45 minutes of walking time. The sign at the Pointe des Trois Communes (#410) is on the back side of the sign post, and it is easy to miss. If your knees bother you, or 8 1/2 hours to Sospel (as always, not counting stops) would be too much walking, turn west, staying on the GR 52 and spending the night at the gite-refuge L’Estive or the hotel Le Yéti at the Camp d’Argent. In 2012 I walked both the old and new GR52 sections, and in my opinion, the old routing is more scenic. Either way you go, unfortunately, you have a section on na asphalted road that was built in recent years. My timing from the Pointe des Trois Communes to the Camp d’Argent is 45 minutes (or less). The sign’s time for this section is wrong. My timing from the Camp d’Argent back to the old GR52 at signpost #151 is 1 hour 30 minutes.

Otherwise, walk directly from the Pointe de Trois Communes to the Baisse de la Dea (via signposts #150 and #151) on the old routing of the GR52 in about one-half hour. To do so turn east, and then immediately go right and left. Once you reach the ashphalt, I recommend you stay on it (rather than going into the valley and climbing up again) until it reaches a switchback, where you continue on a dirt road. Do go up to the left of the ashphalted road to look at the great view and wander about the ruins from the 2nd World War (going inside is not safe).

Dirt! Grass! Mediterranean Flora!

However you do it, it is a memorable descent, never boring. The flora changes as you drop in altitude and approach the Mediterranean.

Sospel is a very interesting, picturesque village astride the Bevera River. There are hotels and a gîte d’étape.

The Final Day of the GR52: The fantastic Decent to the Mediterranean

The main point about this day is: Don’t miss it. From the river in Sospel there is a 740 meter (2,400 feet) climb to a pass at 3,300 feet, a descent of 700 feet, and another 1,000 foot climb back to 3,600 feet. This takes 4 1/2 hours not counting stops. This last pass lies only 3 1/2 miles from the Mediterranean coast. As you descend, a mile from the water you are still at 600 meters (2,000 feet)!

Approaching Menton

As the ground falls away, the views are never to be forgotten. You can see up the coast to Cap-Martin, Monte-Carlo and beyond, as well as down to Menton and the turquoise blue Mediterranean.

Know in advance that your descent will not be easy; initially it is very steep and strewn with rocks for the first 300 meters vertical of the descent.

It takes 2 1/2 to 3 memorable hours—excluding multiple photo stops— to walk from the pass down to the Mediterranean. About one-half way down, make a slight detour up to the ridge on your left where you can see into Italy.

Once in Menton, among pennants and flags, walk onto the beach, and dip your toes in the Mediterranean. You have earned it! Spend an extra couple of days on the Côte d’Azur!

Menton is worth a stay, as well as the areas between Menton and Nice, including Monaco – Monte Carlo, are worth visits. Nice is full of tourist sites and fine museums, and also definitely worth a stay.  A train station is at the end of  GR52.  To return home by train or plane , you will need to travel to the Nice train station.  From there high speed trains go to Paris and other destinations, and a tram goes to the airport.  Buses ply the coast road, but road traffic along the coast during the summer months is extremely slow. The local trains to Nice are often packed, but a better alternative