1. Days needed
We took a day to get to Nice, spent six days walking, and a day to get back to London. The walking days varied in their difficulty: the first two were quite easy, and the last three quite difficult, with a lot of ascent and descent. Poles would be helpful; we didn't take them because we were carrying cabin baggage only.
You could shorten the walk by taking the bus to St-Martin-Vésubie (see the GR52 walk) and starting there, thus 'saving' two days.
There is also a train back to Nice from Sospel (see the GR52 walk), cutting off the final day. Or you could stay at Sospel - local walks are described
here. If you were really tight for time, it might be possible to catch a late flight back to London that day, but we spent time in both Nice and Menton and were glad we did.
Although there was no one moment in this walk that I thought was difficult, these are very lonely paths - we met only five walkers doing the kind of thing we were doing. Spraining an ankle or getting lost on these hills could be quite serious. We don't use GPS, but maybe this is a time when it could be useful; I was getting a mobile signal.
2. Getting there and away
From London: EasyJet or Eurostar & TGV to Nice. There is a shuttle into town.
Bus to St-Sauveur: No 740 with
Ticket costs €1.50! (Though you have to pay a bit more for your bags if you don't take them in the bus.) It goes from near the train station, but then calls in at the airport (both terminals).
Getting away: Bus number 110 goes from the Menton Gare Routière to Nice airport; but spends a lot of time in the traffic along the Côte d'Azur, so get an early one! (There is also a train to Nice station.)
Map number IGN 165 (1:100,000) has the whole route. In addition we had 1:25,000 maps 3741OT and 3741ET (GPS compatible) to cover the main part of the walk. We didn't miss the details at either end, but it certainly added to the unease of the final 1000-metre descent into Menton.
For more detail on walking this entire area, the Topo Guide Réf. 507 covers
Le Mercantour. It's in French, but as it consists of maps and descriptions of short sections,
it could be useful even if you don't read French.
4. The route
I have listed walking times, as ascent and descent seemed more important than miles (it is
about 71 miles altogether). The signage (red and white paint flashes) is generally good, and the signpost numbers correspond to numbers on the 1:25,000 maps, which is always encouraging.
Arrival: Nice: we stayed at Hostel Smith, very cheap and convenient.
Day 1: Bus to St-Sauveur; one and a half hours ride. Walk to La Bolline (about 3 hours)
We stayed at the Hotel de Valdeblore. Perfectly nice room, though on the day we were there the patron's hotelling skills were roughly on a par with those of Basil Fawlty.
Day 2: La Bolline to St-Martin-Vésubie. About 6 hours walk. There were signs saying the GR52A was closed (probably a landslide), so we went on the GR52.
The Hotel we had booked was closed, so we stayed at the
La Bonne Auberge.
Day 3: St-Martin-Vésubie to Bélvedère. About 7 hours walk.
There are a lot of gîtes around Bélvedère, but we stayed in a flat on the
town square run by Béatrice Piston, bergeriedeKakisse@gmail.com.
Day 4: Bélvedère to Col de Turini. About 7½ hours walk.
In the morning, to La Bollène, the GR52A wanders around, and route finding is difficult. In June 2015 the path before post 249 had been swept away. This made for a three-hour, frustrating morning, and you might do better to wander via the charming little roads, because there is a huge climb coming up. Post 186 is marked on my map as being at the top: it isn't, the small wiggles are yet to come. We encountered a lot of fallen trees before post 191 (quite a steep climb from a lower forest path to a higher one).
We stayed at Le Ranch.
Day 5: Col de Turini to Sospel. 8 hours walk. This was a long day, even though we took
two short cuts. When we got to post 15, the route round looked very long and a bit vertiginous,
so we took the direct route involving careful route-finding along the ridge, then a sharp right and down the side of the ridge on a path that looked as if it might give out, but didn't. Then a climb to post 19, where the path seemed to cling to the cliff longer than we were expecting. When we got down to the D2566 (post 55) we left the GR52A and came in along the road.
We stayed at the Auberge du pont Vieux, right by the old bridge, run by Tim and Pamela Copeman (English), which provides all you could wish for after a hard day's walking.
The standard map of Menton is very good, and you might be able to pick it up here (there is a tourist office).
Day 6: Sospel to Menton. 7 hours walk plus time to get to our hotel. The path is now the GR52. After we gained some height we were in cloud, which we suspect is quite common. After our map ran out we followed the signs. The Col du Berceau had no post that we could see (indeed we couldn't see anything). However there is only one GR here, so it's just a matter of locating and following the paint.
When you get down to Menton, the signs take you on a road under the Motorway, across to a downward passage which eventually
comes out in a housing estate by a road, which is the Boulevard de Garavan. Turn right on this, and you will eventually get to the top of the Old Town.
We stayed at Claridge's, of course.
2015 Jeremy Polmear