The Maritime Alps span the French/Italian border and lie just an hour or so north of the Mediterranean coastline. Their altitudinal range (with peaks rising from sea level to 3,000 metres), and their mixed geology (offering a combination of acidic and calcareous soils), are the key to the amazing diversity of plants to be found within such a relatively small area, amongst them many endemics. Perhaps the most iconic of those we hope to see is The Ancient King (Saxifraga florulenta) which flowers just once in 30 years, then dies! We will search for its characteristic rosettes of leaves amongst the colourful displays of Pasque Flowers, gentians, orchids and Alpenrose on the rocky slopes. By contrast, the lavender, growing next to Alpine Clematis, will remind us that the Mediterranean is not far away!
This 2-centre holiday provides an opportunity to enjoy this fascinating flora, together with a wealth of butterflies and such iconic montane stars as Griffon Vulture, Golden Eagle, Chamois and Ibex, on daily walks amongst the region’s rugged alpine peaks and deep, wooded valleys — all at their very best in June.
After a flight to Nice, and a drive north along the Roya Valley to the Colle di Tenda (the road tunnel into Italy), our first base will be a family-run hotel in the charming, ancient Italian village of Entracque, in the Gesso Valley. From here we will explore the area on foot, aiming to cover between six and 12 kilometres each day, at botanising pace, looking for the area’s special flora. Walking from the hotel, we will explore the limestone Gorge della Reina, home to the rare endemic Primula allionii, along with the local Marginate Primrose (Primula marginata). Thick-leaved Saxifrage (Saxifraga callosa) abounds, with its white fountains of flowers, while the inner recesses of the gorge may hold Saxifraga diapensioides. We will return to the Colle di Tenda, where our ridge-top walk will take us past some of the 19th century Border Forts, and where we shall look for the beautiful Allium narcissiflorum, Delphinium dubium, Edelweiss (Leontopodium alpinum), and vanilla orchids (Gymnadenia rhellicani and the endemic Gymnadenia corneliana), alongside Long-spurred Pansy (Viola calcarata), and the many houseleeks (Sempervivum ssp.). Another endemic, Narrow-leaved Catchfly (Silene campanula), prefers damper areas, under the Green Alder (Alnus viridis). From the little hamlet of Palanfrè, we will walk through Beech woodland, where Bird’s-nest Orchids (Neottia nidus-avis) and Coralroot Orchids (Corallorhiza trifida) grow. In the meadows, we will look for the rare yellow Fritillaria tubiformis ssp. moggridgei with its delicate bells.
For the second part of our tour, we will cross back into France to the comfortable Hotel de la Châtaignerie, in the Vésubie Valley. We drive via the Vallone di Sant’Anna and the Colle della Lombarda, at 2,351 metres, where we may find Potentilla valderia, Piedmont Saxifrage (Saxifraga pedemontana), and the rosettes of the endemic Hen-and-chickens Houseleek (Jovibarba globifera ssp. allionii), and enjoy the stunning views. We then descend to the Tinée Valley, as we continue to the village of Saint-Martin-Vésubie, which takes as its title ‘La Suisse Niçoise’. From here, we will explore the south-western slopes of the Maritime Alps, around the Val de Blore and Le Boréon. On these more southern slopes we hope to find the red Lilium pomponium, Gentiana ligusticum, Vallino’s Spurge (Euphorbia variabilis ssp. valliniana) and the Maritime Alps Pansy (Viola valderia). The more Mediterranean flora of Rimplas, the location of one of the forts on the WWII Maginot Line, includes Lizard Orchid (Himantoglossum hircinum), together with both Prickly and Phoenicean Junipers (Juniperus oxycedrus and J. phoenicea), Spiny Spurge (Euphorbia spinosa), and Cupidone (Catananche caerulea). Butterflies we will be hoping to find include Great Sooty Satyr, Scarce Swallowtail, Cleopatra, Dusky Heath and Escher’s Blue.
Our experience of these famous Rivieras will be far removed from the glitz and glamour of Cannes and Monte Carlo. Instead we will enjoy a week of measured tranquillity and stunning views of the deep blue Mediterranean, amongst carpets of wild flowers and clouds of butterflies in this little-explored hinterland of the Corniche.