Looking for a green escape to the highly crowded Côte d'Azur during summer? Why not take a break in the Mercantour National Park, at the Allos Lake?
The Mercantour National Park is a must-do if you are looking for some green and some beautiful mountain landscapes. Hiking fans? You’ll love this park as it has dozens (or more) different ways to enjoy varied landscapes and incredible biodiversity. There are walks for all levels and for all ages. Mercantour site is well-built and give you full information about the departures of excursions and the different maps available. And Val d’Allos might be one of the most famous area for skiing but also for hiking!
A large national park and a refuge for many species
The park covers over 68,500 hectares (which does not mean much to me but this represents around 97,000 football stadiums …does it help? :P) and has one of the highest top of Europe; the Cime du Gélas which reaches 3143 meters. Moreover, the Mercantour is a very important natural reserve as it has more than 2,000 plant species, 30 of which are endemic and 200 classified as rare. 8 species of mammals cohabit including wolves and 7 ungulate species that are only found in France on top of the 153 bird species. The Mercantour Park is candidate to become heritage of UNESCO.
There are 6 different valleys in the Mercantour Park. We chose to visit one of the most famous, a simple hike without difficulty; leading to Lake Allos. This trail is in the Haut-Verdon valley, 120km from Nice. We walked about 9 km in 2h30 starting from the Laus parking including a short break for lunch. If you leave from the Val d’Allos, the walk can be longer (it will take you twice the time). We chose not to walk too much that day, because of a knee problem.
Located at 2230 meters above sea level, the Lake Allos is the largest natural lake in altitude in Europe. Its depth is about 48 meters and take about 45 minutes to walk around. To access it, there are plenty of signs and tags which will show you very well the way and the distance times. To customize your ride so it suits your pace and your desires, you just need to follow the signs. For example, from the Allos Lake itself, you can extend your journey by continuing to the Col des Encombrette, which will add an hour walk.
The park is located about an hour and a half from Nice by car (the site says 50 min, but if you want to drive slowly through the mountain roads, it can be a bit more more than that), but of course we encourage you to get there with public transportation or to try carpooling.
Access to the Allos Lake
- By car, always follow the roads N202 and D908. You will see a few villages on the road like Colmars, very pretty with its medieval old town. You will time travel to 600 years ago in this tiny walled city. Once past Colmars, you continue on the D908 until Parking Laus is indicated. This car park is open according to weather and in high season (from July 2 to August 28), it costs 8 euros per car. If this car parking is closed, it is possible to park at Val d’Allos and follow the red and white markings to join the Lake Allos. A third parking was set up, this one is free, located at the bottom of the park, called the parking Cluite.
If you go by car, car pool! It will reduce your carbon footprint! Here are the two biggest french carpools sites. Those sites are only in french though, but with Google Translate you should get your way through.
- By public transport, if you wish to reach the start of the hike, we do not recommend the bus, first because it will take too much time, and because there is no direct bus from Nice. We sought, but no way to find one bus going directly to the Val d’Allos. So we recommend the Pignes train (schedule in the link)! There is a beautiful track between Nice and Digne, stopping at Thorame -Haute, where you have to leave the train to take an inter-valley shuttle. The shuttle will take you to the Val d’Allos town to find the marked path to the lake of Allos. The train costs 32 euros per person round trip and the shuttle is free. Also consider to stop on the way in the villages like Villars. To learn more about the villages that are on your route, you can go to this site that will give you more information.
Whether you are by car or by train, you will discover beautiful sceneries. Take the time to observe them and drive slowly! This will reduce your carbon footprint! And once there, take your shoes and your devices out because the scenery is amazing in the park.
You’ll find plenty of useful information on the website of the tourist office of Val d’Allos, like for the activities that can be practiced in the region of for accommodation if you want to stay around. You’ll find all routes of Mercantour walks on Google Street View. For more information, click here. Unfortunately, the Lake Allos is not yet available on Google Street View. .
The park is very clean and well maintained. Please do not leave any garbage behind you. You must keep them and throw them yourself outside of the park. Dogs are not allowed in the Valley of Haut-Verdun and near the Allos Lake, even carried in your arms. Finally be aware that you will see a lot of marmots, especially in summer, but it is important not to feed them! This may be harmful to them.
You can not swim in the lake either, because the water is very clean, and bathing there might contaminate it and impacting its ecosystem.
The site is relatively popular and its access is strictly regulated in summer, to allow nature & life follow its path in this exceptional place that once was a glacier and which now houses a large biodiversity. If you want to know more on hikes that exist in the Mercantour park, other than the Lake of Allos, you can visit the Mercantour website (in French only unfortunately) or you can also check this other site that gives lots of tips about hiking in the Mercantour. You can also find interactive maps of hiking on this site.
Some other useful links for transport on the Côte d’Azur and the Alpes Maritimes to move more easily: the site of the Lignes d’Azur (the biggest bus company in the French Riviera) and a site to help you calculate your routes. Both exist in English.
And take a sweater! It can be quite chill at 2000 meters above the sea!!