The Niçois, or inhabitants of Nice, often refer to the impressive, beautiful mountainous territory above the City somewhat mysteriously as the ‘Beyond’. However, it is officially known, more prosaically, as the ‘Pays Arrière Niçois’ or Nice’s Back Country.
This is part of the old County of Nice and 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 slopes of this wilderness. This Itinerary covers the western side of the Mercantour and the Vallée de la Vésubie.
Before you begin: Get a copy of the Michelin Departmental Map 341. This drive involves negotiating some challenging roads and takes you into Nice Beyond, the amazing mountainous region just behind Nice which, surprisingly, can be reached in little over an hour from the city. Part of the itinerary can easily be accomplished in one day but an overnight stay (or two) is recommended. A great place to stay for a short break (or longer) is la Zourcière near St-Martin-Vésubie.
I have included some mini-itineraries as diversions from the main route. If you choose any of these you will need more time as the roads are very steep and twisty.
Leave Nice on the D6202 from near the Airport, direction Digne. In about 31 km at Plan du Var turn right into the D2565, direction St-Martin-Vésubie. Here you enter the dramatic Valley of the Vésubie. Continue for 10 km till St-Jean-Rivière.
===> Explore more local itineraries via the RELATED links below.
From St-Jean take the D32 up to Utelle a remote village on the old salt road or Route de Sel. From Utelle follow the D132 to Madone d’Utelle where you will discover a sanctuary built by Spanish sailors who attributed the Virgin Mary with saving their lives in a terrible storm. The Sanctuary also has a refuge, a simple restaurant (call ahead to check if open) and a shop.
Return to the D2565 and turn left. The road follows a deep gorge which flattens out with olive groves and vineyards until you reach Lantosque in a further 11 km. About 5km further on you come to Roquebillière. or ‘Rock of the bees’. From here you get a great view of Bélvèdere perched on the mountains above.
Head further up the valley and in 13km you will reach St Martin Vésubie a popular summer mountaineering resort and one of the gateways to the Mercantour. St-Martin is often referred to as ‘Suisse Niçoise’ because it is surrounded by high mountains. There are two ‘Mini Itineraries’ from here:
From St-Martin continue along the D2565 for 3km and turn right onto the D89. Follow for 5km to the Nordic Skiing Centre of Le Boréon which also incorporates the amazing Alpha Loup Wolf Centre. The Centre seeks to promote a better understanding of the much maligned wolf. This is a great place to visit if you have children in your party – they’ll love it. Return to St-Martin the way you came.
From St-Martin continue along the D2565 for 8km to the ski resort of La Colmiane where, Summer and Winter, you can enjoy a great variety of activities and some great views of the Mercantour. Return to St-Martin the way you came.
Return towards Nice on the D2565 and continue for 13 km and turn left onto the D171 to the perched village of Bélvèdere from which there are great views of the Vésubie and Gordolasque Valleys.
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