For friendly, expert advice call: +44 (0) 1962 733051

France & Italy: The Maritime Alps

Tour Code: FRA27

An 8-day holiday focusing on the plants, as well as the other natural history, of the beautiful Alpine hinterland of the French and Italian Rivieras.

8 days from £1495(inc flights) Land Only Price: £1345 SRS: £150

The Maritime Alps span the French/Italian border and lie just an hour or so north of the Mediterranean coastline. Their mixed geology and altitudinal range are the key to the amazing diversity of plants found in a relatively small area. After a flight to Nice we cross over into Italy and drive to our first base in the Gesso Valley. We’ll explore the area on foot, covering between 6 and 12 kilometres each day, at botanising pace, looking for the area’s special flora. We then cross back into France and check in to our comfortable hotel in the Vesubie Valley from where we’ll explore the south-western slopes of the Maritime Alps looking for alpine and subalpine flora, as well as butterflies such as Black-eyed Blue. Among the special plants we'll look for are the iconic The Ancient King (Saxifraga florulenta), which flowers just once in 30 years and then dies; on rocky slopes, the sight of Lavender growing next to Alpine Clematis serves to remind us of our proximity to the Mediterranean!

  • We will look for the characteristic rosette-shaped leaves of The Ancient King
  • Pasque Flowers, gentians, orchids & Alpenrose on rocky slopes 
  • 2-centre holiday, in France & Italy
  • We’ll search for Lilium pomponium, Gentiana ligusticum & Saxifraga cochlearis
  • Escher’s & Meleager’s Blues, Black & Great Sooty Satyr among butterflies
  • Camberwell Beauty & a variety of fritillaries are found in the area
  • A leisurely paced holiday amongst stunning scenery & carpets of wild flowers
  • Led by expert naturalist guide
  • Food

    All included in the price


    Both hotels family-run and all rooms have private facilities.

    Lilium pomponium

    Lilium pomponium

    Outline Itinerary Download

    Day 1 Fly Nice and transfer Entracque (Italy).

    Day 2/4 Botanical walks in the Parco Naturale delle Alpi Marittime.

    Day 5/7 Botanical walks from the Vesubie Valley.

    Day 8 Transfer Nice; fly London.

    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.

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    Mrs A.Horton
    June 2015
    It was great to have "family run" hotels.
    Mrs A. Horton
    June 2015
    Knowledgeable, experienced, sensitive guides - Excellent.
    Mr & Mrs Emarton
    June 2015
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    Brilliant organisation and leaders.
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    Sun 11th June 2017 - Sun 18th June 2017



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    Flights: Flights are included in the tour costMore info

    Regional Departures: Regional Departures are available. Call 01962 733051 for detailsMore info

    Land only cost: £1345 More info

    Room sharing options: More info

    Visiting: France

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    Andy Tucker
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    It was great to have "family run" hotels.
    Mrs A.Horton, June 2015