At their southernmost, the Alps form the border between France and Italy. The peaks spill into the Mediterranean, and the sea lends its name to the range: the Maritime Alps. It’s about three hours via train from the French coast to the trails in Italy’s Piedmont region that form a hiking excursion between rifugios. These chalets offer comfortable lodging, regional cuisine and local wines.
The Grande Traversata delle Alpi, a 620-mile trail, crosses the entire Maritime Alps and then some. It takes 55 days to hike in its entirety. But there’s a portion within the Province of Cuneo that’s perfect for a long weekend. A four-day trek takes hikers from the village of Limonetto into the regional Parco Naturale Alpi Marittime and the villages of Palanfré and Trinità, with optional walks to the 19th-century border forts or to commune with the animals at the Man and Wolf Center. Train stations close to either end of the route make getting there and back easy. Best of all, the rifugios transport luggage. Hikers just need to carry daypacks.
An unencumbered ramble through high meadows with a fabulous meal at the end? When Italians told me about it, I thought, Now, this is my kind of trek. What I discovered is that Alpine hiking isn’t for the faint of heart. Along with two companions, I scaled 7,500-foot summits, scrambled down cliffsides and traversed a dozen miles of varied terrain a day. It took us double the time noted on the yellow trail signs, which seem written for expert mountaineers.