Explore Nice‘s back country along the Roya Valley. The Niçois, or inhabitants of Nice, often refer to the impressive, beautiful mountainous territory above the City somewhat mysteriously as the ‘Beyond‘ but it is officially known, more prosaically, as the ‘Pays Arrière Niçois’ or Nice’s Back Country. Part of the old County of Nice, nowadays much of it is contained within the Mercantour National Park.
There are high mountains such as the Cime de Gélas (3143m) and Mont Bégo (2872m), picturesque mountain villages such as La Bollène Vésubie, Sospel and Saorge and, if that’s not enough, wild wolves roam the upper reaches of this wilderness. There are two main itineraries and this one tends to cover the Eastern side of the Mercantour and the Vallée de la Roya.
Before you begin: Get a copy of the Michelin Departmental Map 341. This drive involves negotiating some challenging roads but Nice Beyond can be reached in over an hour from the city. Part of the itinerary can easily be accomplished in one day but an overnight stay (or two!) would allow you to explore much more. It is also possible to travel by train from Nice to Tende, on the Train des Merveilles.
As already mentioned, I have included some mini-itineraries as diversions from the main route and if you choose any or all of these you will need to allow much time more as the roads to these are very steep and contain many bends. Note the first part of this Itinerary is the same as Another Scenic Drive into the Beyond.
A great place to stay is for a short break (or longer) is la Zourcière near St-Martin-Vésubie.
Leave Nice on the D6202 from near the Airport, direction Digne, and in 31 km at Plan du Var turn right into the D2565, direction St-Martin-Vésubie. Here you enter the dramatic Valley of the Vésubie and for 10 km till St-Jean-Rivière.
Mini-Itinerary (a) From St-Jean take the D32 up to Utelle a remote and interesting village on the old salt road or Route de Sel. From Utelle follow the D132 to Madone d’Utelle where there is a sanctuary built by Spanish sailors who attributed the Virgin Mary with saving their lives during a terrible storm. The Sanctuary also has a refuge and a simple restaurant (call ahead to see if open).
Return to the D2565 and turn left.
The road follows a deep gorge which then flattens out with olive groves and vineyards until you reach Lantosque in a further 11 km. Continue for 2km till you see the signs for La Bollène Vésubie, turn right on the D70. Drive up the hill negotiating hairpin bends until you reach this picturesque village on the Monte Carlo Rally route. The best views of the village are from the D70 as you climb towards the Col De Turini.
Mini-Itinerary (b) When you reach the Col take the D68 towards the Authion Plateau.
===> Explore more local itineraries via the RELATED links below.
Eventually you will arrive at the Monument aux Morts commemorating the naval fusiliers who died here in 1945. Also look out for remains of forts, a wrecked US tank and remnants of the Maginot line.
Return to the Col and take the D2566 for 24km in the direction of Sospel. Discover the wonderful 12th century fortified bridge over the river Bévéra in this old place on the Route de Sel. From Sospel take the D2204 for 21km towards Breil sur Roya which has a very Italianate feel to it. Hardly surprising as it’s only a short distance from the border. Continue on the D6204 in the direction of the Col de Tende for 6km and turn right up the hill. Soon you will reach the spectacular perched village of Saorge set in a natural amphitheatre overlooking the Roya Valley.
Mini-Itinerary (c) If you have time, head a little further north where there are three places worthy of interest. Continue along the D6204 for 10.5km, turn right on the D43 and after 2.5km you will arrive in the delightful village of La Brigue.
Return to the D6204 and turn right and in about 4 km you will arrive at the Alpine town of Tende which is also on the old Route de Sel. Many visitors come here to visit the amazing Vallée des Merveilles. Here you can discover fascinating prehistoric rock carvings high up in the mountains at the foot of Mont Bégo. However, this is something which is not to be taken lightly and needs some careful planning.
Note: You need to be accompanied by official guides if you want to see the carvings. For the less adventurous there is always the Musée des Merveilles in Tende.
You can return to the coast from Saorge either via Sospel and Menton or via Ventimiglia in Italy.
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