The Parc National du Mercantour is a long, narrow band of mountains, near the Italian border, that runs for 75km from south of Barcelonnette to Sospel, 16km north of the Mediterreanean. A haven for wildlife, it holds colonies of chamois, mouflon, ibex and marmots, breeding pairs of golden eagles and other rare birds of prey, great spotted woodpeckers and hoopoes, blackcocks and ptarmigan. In recent years grey wolves, which disappeared in the 1930s, have returned from neighbouring Italy. The flora too is special, with unique species of lilies, orchids and Alpine plants, including the rare multi-flowering saxifrage.
Numerous paths cross the park, including the GR5 and GR52, with refuge huts providing basic food and bedding for hikers. The Maisons du Parc in Barcelonnette, St-Étienne-de-Tinée and St-Martin-Vésubie can provide maps and accommodation details as well as advice on footpaths and weather conditions; see also wmercantour.eu. Camping, lighting fires, picking flowers, playing radios or disturbing the delicate environment is strictly outlawed.