Hiking (mountain trail, in places narrow and exposed)
Alpine route (equipped or very exposed section, snow field, blocks)
St Sauveur-sur-Tinée » St-Martin-Vésubie
This stage leaves St-Sauveur-sur-Tinée on the GR® 5 to reach the Valdeblore valley and its hamlets (Rimplas, La Bolline, La Roche then St-Dalmas and the La Colmiane resort), before dipping on the GR® 52A down to the fortified medieval village of St-Martin-Vésubie, capital of the “Niçois Switzerland” and stage destination.
The trail follows the GR® 52A and GR® 5, marked in red and white, as far as St Martin Vésubie. Leave the village on departmental road D2205 heading south for about 400m and then take the left-hand tarmac path that climbs to the St Roch chapel (marker 169). At the first bend, leave the tarmac path to take a well-made path on the right. It passes below the chapel and follows the old road that joined Saint-Sauveur to the Valdeblore villages higher up. After this climb, cross the Isart ravine (about 800m), walk past the Bataille area and then circumvent the Roubinastre ravine on a remarkable path that is cut into a scarped badland area. This brings you out below the village of Rimplas (1,016m). The trail takes the path that passes below the road running parallel to it and enters the Valdeblore area. It joins departmental road D2565, which it follows downward for 200m and then turns left onto the old path running above the hamlet of Planet. Cross the Gros valley on a little bridge, from where a climb to the foothill with the chapel of Saint-Donnat starts. Cross the old glacial terrace covered in meadows to reach the D 2565 at a bend near the church of Saint-Jacques (one of the Bolline churches) (995m). From the bend, leave the GR® 52A behind on the right and take the little road opposite that heads uphill. On leaving the hamlet of Roche, take the D2565 and continue eastward on the old path that stays below this road. Cut across a bend in the road, pass below the chapel of Saint Joseph (1,181m) and rejoin the road (1,233m), which must be followed to the east for 1km as far as Saint-Dalmas-Valdeblore (1,290m). Cross the village towards the east. On leaving the village and after passing the church on the left, leave the road climbing to the St Martin pass at a large bend to the left and take a little road below it that heads to the east. Follow the red and white markings for the GR® 52A, walk past the winter caravan park, where the road is left behind in favour of a forest path that climbs to the St Martin pass. Pass through the hamlet on the road and continue on a descent for roughly 200 metres, turning right after the roundabout (marker 92). The path then leads directly east into the pine and hazel forest. First on a gentle slope and then after several hairpin bends, it leads to the St Nicolas area. Cross the D2565 and the Boréon to reach Saint-Martin-Vésubie. (Paul Guglielmi, CDRP 06)
Natural and cultural heritage
The hamlets of the “Valdeblore” valley (from the Latin ora, straight and grassy slope) belonging to the peripheral zone of the Mercantour park stretch out between Tinée and Vésubie. On leaving St-Sauveur, the path is framed by the chapels of St Roch, who protects against the divine wrath that caused the plague epidemics. On the outskirts of the chestnut tree forest, the rocky outcrop of the Rimplas fort (built in the early XXth century) overlooks the Valdeblore valley, once forced into self-sufficiency every winter, and defies Mount Pepouiri in the North. This first construction in the Maginot line, a fortification on the post-war Franco-Italian border, with its cupola and its chapel of Ste Madeleine, overlooks the Tinée valley in the South. Next, La Bolline offers a display of Italian architecture with its narrow streets, chapels and Roman churches. The traditional chestnut festival gathers the villagers together every year. The climb to St Dalmas, an alpine farming village established in a verdant setting and overlooked by the Caïre Gros peak, passes the “restanque” terracing for cereal crops and irrigation channels. Since the year one thousand, the church of Ste Croix, the only Benedictine sanctuary in the region, has heard the invocations of the faithful for protection from the gods. This is the cradle of the legends of the “Bramafand” stream, whose waters carry with them the cries of famine (hence the name) of the wives of lords away on crusade, locked up by their husbands in the famous Frema cave to ensure their fidelity. The climb continues to the family ski resort of Colmiane across the larch-strewn sub-alpine zone. To the north of the hamlet, a popular location for sports activities, the Suc pass (30min on foot) offers an exceptional panorama over the granite Gélas massif. The particularly varied flora of this arid limestone zone invades the alpine pastureland and the terrain ravaged by burning stubble. The hundreds of varieties (several are protected) were once used as sustenance during the famine periods at the end of extremely harsh winters or as natural medicines. The dip down to St Martin-Vésubie, symbol of “Niçois Switzerland”, opens out into the centre of the prized Niçois high-altitude garden, made possible by a tramway (1909-1928). This fortified village in the midst of the plane and chestnut trees is an unmissable stage in the Baroque Nisso-Ligurian route, a vestige of the County of Nice. It is an example of typical architectural heritage: a “béal” (open-air water channel for the irrigation of gardens) flows down the middle of the main street, and the baroque churches steeped in history are scattered among the stone houses with wooden balconies. Frairie square offers a view over the little Madone de Fenestre valley (through which stage 144 of the red trail passes). (Sara Zeidler, Gilles Chappaz, Grande Traversée des Alpes)