Our loop hike begins on the main Vésubie Valley road D2565 (borne 1). We hike up to Cros d'Utelle hamlet (borne 3), northeast up through the hills overlooking the western side of the Vésubie to the Chapelle St-Antoine (borne 5). Curve northwest and southwest to the Col d'Ambellarte (borne 118). Head south, just a bit of uphill to the ridge then all downhill, past Baraba (borne 104) and back into Cros d'Utelle hamlet (borne 3). A bit of water from the tap there, then down to the main road to finish the hike (borne 1).
Starting altitude at the road (borne 1) is about 280 m. The hamlet of Cros d'Utelle (borne 3) is about 350 m altitude. Chapelle St-Antoine (borne 5) is 673 m. Col d'Ambellarte (borne 118) is 967 m.
It took us about 3 hours from the start to the Col d'Ambellarte (borne 118), traveling solo, fairly fast, but with frequent photo stops along the way.
From the Col d'Ambellarte (borne 118) to the top at the Crête de la Madone (borne 117), 1180 m, was a good half-hour trudging up the exposed stony hillside. We counted just under 2 hours for the up and down (bornes 118, 117, 118), including a good long rest at the top and wandering around there.
From the Col d'Ambellarte (borne 118) it's a short, shady hike south up to the ridge (borne 105), 1043 m. It's about 2 hour's hiking from the Col (borne 118) down to Cros d'Utelle (borne 3), and another 15-20 minutes down to the road (borne 1).
We did the loop in about 5-1/2 hours, in 2004 and 2008. The 2008 hike include a side jaunt up to Crête de la Madone, adding a couple of hours to the whole journey.
Cros d'Utelle - Madone Hike
From the main road, (borne 1) is at the junction of the D67 where it branches off towards Cros d'Utelle.
Just a few meters up the D67, (borne 2) marks where the trail turns off to the right, going more-or-less straight up the wooded hill and crossing the zig-zag road now and again. There are a couple of places where road works have changed the path a bit, but it's a well-marked GR; just look around for the continuation of the trail, and don't go very far on the paved road.
The center of Cros d'Utelle, across from the church, has a small "fountain", with a faucet for fresh water. Make sure you fill up, because there isn't any other on the trail.
You head out of town northeast on the road, but almost immediately look for the trail that goes off to the right and follows along the hillside. It's easy to miss the markings if you're not looking carefully, so don't continue far along the road.
It's about 15 minutes to (borne 4), where you go right, towards the Chapelle St-Antoine on the GR5.
The section of trail from borne 4 to the Chapelle St-Antoine (borne 5) is a lovely part of the trail. Much of it through trees, but much also along the edge of the hillside, with a picturesque path cut along the edge of the hill.
It's about an hour's hike along this portion until you reach the chapel. The (borne 5) is actually just past the chapelle area. If you look around here a bit, you can see the ruins of old walls lost in the underbrush, and of course the less-ruined pair of house on the northeast side of the chapel. A wooden plaque here dates the Chapelle St-Antoine to 1686.
About 30-40 minutes up the trail from the chapel, borne 6 marks the junction where the GR5 continues north to Utelle. Here we turn left, following the yellow PR marks up the hill to the west and southwest. Freshly cleared marked in August 2008, the trail goes up past an old stone bergerie to a wide (and flat) grassy clearing at the top, at borne 118.
If you're doing the side jaunt to the Crête de la Madone, go to the right (north) here. A wooden borne 118 at the east side of the clearing points to Madone d'Utelle.
The hike up is generally steep, zig-zaggy and over an exposed rocky hillside. There are a couple of places on the way where the stony "road" continues to the left and a steeper-looking yellow-marked trail goes to the right. The left-hand "road" goes directly to the lookout point on the ridge. The yellow-marked trail goes more towards the east and comes out at borne 117. We're told the yellow-marked trail is a bit easier towards the top, but there's probably not much difference.
The view at the top is magnificent, of course, including down onto the village of Utelle. There's no water source at the top, but there is a small "buvette" restaurant, where you can buy a drink or a meal. The "Sanctuaire Notre-Dame des Miracles offers a Pilgrim's menu for 11€, without drink.
If you're not enticed to continue north into the mountains, it's back down the way you came up.
Continuing the Loop South
At the south side of the clearing another wooden borne 118 points to Col de la Moutète, Le Reveston, Le Chaudan. That's the trail you take, but only to borne 105 (because you're not going to any of those 3 places).
The hike up the hillside south is mostly shady, and comes out in 15-20 minutes on a clear ridge with a great view.
At borne 105 continue straight ahead (south), down past the little shepherd's house, towards Collet de la Signora and Le Cros d'Utelle.
It's about an hour of downhill hiking with nice views to borne 104, although the last bit of trail has an annoying black laying along he center of the path. The thick hose has been there a few years now, so it will probably still be there when you take this hike.
The trail down from borne 104 wasn't very well marked, but it's all downhill and the destination is obvious.
When the trail arrives at the outskirts of the hamlet, probably Le Collet des Moutons, it's supposed to continue east to rejoin borne 4. It's not well marked here, and twice we've ended up on the road and back at the hamlet (borne 3).
A short rest at the "village", then back down the GR5 to the road below, and rest for our weary feet.
IGN (1/25,000) #3741 OT "Vallée de la Vésubie"