Winter hike to Madone d'Utelle

Village of Utelle with the Mercantour peaks in the background

Driving up the Vésubie river valley, the change in landscape is abrupt. Immediately after the intersection at Plan du Var, in Gorges de la Vésubie the mountains rise several hundred meters straight up on both sides above the narrow valley .

On a plateau at about 1180 m north of the valley lies the Sanctuary called La Madone d’Utelle. The sanctuary was constructed in 1806 at the location where an oratory was first built in 850 by Spanish sailors to thank La Madone for saving them from a shipwreck.

Walking along GR5 from Utelle and leaving GR5 at signpost 6

Nowadays Madone d’Utelle is an important pilgrimage site. There is also a small hostel and restaurant which serves plat du jour, the dish of the day, when they are open. Their gift shop even sells Pastis made by the Father. Their web site in French has more information.

For hikers, several interesting possibilities exist. Below the Sanctuary, the GR 5 trail goes through the village of Utelle (about 800 m). The paved road up to Utelle starts from the village of St-Jean-La-Rivière. From Utelle, the road continues further up to the sanctuary. We have previously hiked to the Sanctuary from a hamlet called la Villette. A more interesting variant might be the one described here: Starting from Utelle along GR 5 southwest. The trail is excellent.

At signpost 6 you leave GR 5, ascend along a narrower and steeper path first to Col d’Ambellarte (967 m) then follow yellow marks to Crête de la Madone.

Sanctuary of Madone d'Utelle and the view when descending back to Utelle

The trail back to Utelle is well marked and kept as well. The whole circuit is about 8 km and the total vertical ascent very reasonable at 500 m.

We did this hike one Monday in early January so not surprisingly the restaurant was closed. A packet of nuts and dried fruit and some sports bars was a sufficient lunch which we enjoyed sitting outside in warm sunshine. We certainly recommend this tour that offers great views all the way.

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