This dazzling collection of ancient petroglyphs isn’t well known outside of France. Its remote location and the lack of information about the site in any language other than French conspire to keep this remarkable place something of a secret.
An estimated 38,000 to 50,000 carvings are spread across two sites on the slopes of Mount Bego within Mercantour National Park in southern France: the Vallée des Merveilles, translating to “Valley of Wonders,” and the less-visited Val de Fontanalba.
The petroglyphs here date from the Neolithic era up to the Bronze and Iron Ages, through to the Roman and medieval periods. There are carvings of weapons, animals, and geometric figures, yet their meanings are still a hot topic of discussion. Some of the designs are believed to have been used to measure the passing of time and track the movements of the Sun.
The valleys are rich in wildlife and offer the chance to see ibex, chamois, tons of marmots, and rare birds, such as the bearded vulture. As you climb into this high alpine region, it’s fascinating to try and imagine the mindset of the people who carved these images up to 5,000 years ago.
The nearby town of Tende is also home to the excellent Musée des Merveilles, which houses some of the original engravings, as well as copies of the most famous ones. It is located at Avenue du 16 Septembre 1947 and free to the public.
Know Before You Go
To view the engravings you must be accompanied by a guide because the carvings are fragile and slowly disappearing due to erosion. You can book a tour on this website. The area is usually only accessible from June to October because of heavy snowfall. This is a high altitude trek that takes about 2-3 hours one way. It is possible however to hire a 4x4 vehicle to take you most of the way. It can be challenging to find English-speaking guides and there is very little tourist information available in English.