Sunday, 4 March 2012

Flora in the Mercantour

The skies may be grey here today in the Mercantour, plus Nice Carnaval and "all that jazz" finishes on the coast of the French Riviera, but we are getting geared up for the portents of a great and early spring. It is always strange to imagine mimosa blossoming in February, when we are up here in the snow, but such is the charm of the Alpes-Maritimes department in France, sandwiched between the Med, the Ecrins and the Savoy, Provence to the West and Liguria in Italy, to the East. This fine region is unique and, away from the flim-flam in Nice, it boasts about half of all the plant species in France plus 40 or so which are endemic to the area - including both the Mercantour and the Italian Alpi Maritimi, across the border. The fine picture was taken a couple of years ago in the Valmasque, up the Roya Valley and in July when we are very pleased to be offering a Flower Power short break holiday. Not boasting of a huge awareness of flowers but enough to satisfy most people's interest in the glorious coloured (or not so coloured) fellows!! The other photograph was the following day - much higher up!! For hard core botanists we would hope to be able to muster the knowledge of our local expert Alain Creton who also does guiding in English and what's more has a teepee available in the splendid Merveilles Valley. Another interesting trail was established by an Englishman, Christopher Betts, some decades ago and although the trail is now looking rather neglected, it does form a rather formidable section of a superb walk during this holiday week. More information about Christopher Betts' work here. Following a tributary of the Bevera river south - is most fabulous for hard core canyoning as well as having a mass of "dingly dell" type flat sections to enjoy. One of the most joyous sights is to reach the Pas de L'Arpette from the Gordolasque (some 1000m of ascent) and to then look down to the glittering lakes of the Vallee de Merveilles or Valley of Wonders if you must!!, and a carpet of blue spring and trumpet gentians - as uplifting as a copse of bluebells in the UK, but with views. Edelweiss and the rare white blooms (currently not allowed to be picked) for the making of genepy are rarer sights - but we know where they are.

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