Hike around Col de la Cayolle

The automobile road through Col de la Cayolle mountain pass (2326m) was completed in July 1914. A great opening ceremony was planned months in advance. President Poincaré would drive in a convoy from Nice to Barcelonette on the 10th of August and have a lunch at Col de la Cayolle. The préfet gave detailed recommendations; it would not be any banal family picnic, but a sumptuous lunch comprising langouste, gigot d’agneau et meringues with champagne, fine wines and cognac served by the Hôtel de Paris from Monaco.

 But the European political situation worsened rapidly leading to WWI. On the 29th of July the president cancelled the opening ceremony. An official opening ceremony was never held but Col de la Cayolle has now well served drivers during the summer season for one hundred years.

 Our hike in these historical surroundings starts from signpost 284 just after entering the Mercantour National Park. You can park at Refuge de la Cantonnière just above the hamlet of Estenc or at the entrance to Mercantour. The trail ascends nicely in a larch forest to the cabins of Sanguinière, and then further to Col de la Boucharde (2539m) which is the highest point of this hike.

The trail then crosses a small plateau and descends down to the Cayolle- Barcelonette road. Follow the road about 500m, and then ascend to the Refuge of Cayolle along GR 56 marked with red and white signs. The trail is elsewhere marked with yellow signs. From the refuge ascend to Col de la Cayolle and signpost 300. From there start descending back to the starting point, signpost 284.

This is a great hike! We made it in the beginning of September on a gorgeous sunny day. The ascent to Col de la Boucharde is almost continuous but moderate and the descent from there to the Cayolle- Barcelonette road is a bit steep, but there are no difficult parts on the trail.

The views are fantastic all the way and the surroundings very variable. The peaks of Mont Pelat (3050 m) and Cimet (3020 m) are visible during the descent from Col de la Boucharde. The peculiar summit of Roche Grande (2752 m) dominates the view on the way back to the starting point. The only minus is the long drive from Nice; about 2 h depending on the traffic. But there are many small hotels in villages in the Haut Var Valley. The last hotel, Hôtel/Restaurant Le Relais de la Cayolle,is in Estenc just before Col de la Cayolle (www.valdentraunes.fr). Total ascent: 870m

Total hiking time: about 6 h

More information in French here

IGN Map: Haute Vallée du Var 3540 ET


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