Sleep in an igloo in the Mercantour

© T. Joly
Have you ever dreamed about experiencing the traditional Inuit way of life ?... If so, a travel company offers you snowshoe trekking tours with overnight stay in a self-made igloo in one of France’s most beautiful National Park.

[ Practical ]

Getting there
- By road
100 km from Nice on autoroute A8, then on D6202, D4202 and D2202.
- By bus
Bus from Nice to Entraunes, 7 km away from Estenc. Ticket : €1. Duration of the journey : nearly 3 hours.
Tour price
€130 per person from Estenc including snowshoe hire, one night in igloo, two lunches, dinner and breakfast.
Additional cost for pick-up in Nice.
Information
- Riviera Côte d’Azur Tourist Office
Tel : 0493377878
www.cotedazur-montagne.com
- Mercantour Evasion
Tel : 0493561135
www.mercantour-evasion.com
A tiny village located at the Northern tip and in one of the most remote areas of the Alpes Maritimes department, Estenc stands at an elevation of nearly 2,000 m on the edge of the Mercantour National Park. Surrounded by snow-capped peaks, it’s the departure point of the 2 days / 1 night tour run by Mercantour Evasion for tourists wishing to experience some aspects of traditional Inuit way of life.
First, a mountain guide takes you snowshoeing through the tranquil snow covered wilderness and larch forests, past stunning scenery to a flat spot perfect for igloo building.



© T. Joly
 Forty blocks of snow
After a picnic and an introduction to techniques for building a safe and comfortable igloo, you build your own with the helping hands of the guide and his bag of tips. Specific skills are indeed required for construction and without advices it would take you a few attempts to get it right. It’s also a hard work and it takes between two and three hours to build a two or three-person igloo. Very powdery and sugar like snow being impossible to build an igloo with, you first need to find hard packed snow that you can cut and shape. So, to find it, you have to dig down both on the building site – to create the bottom and lower part of the igloo - and on the quarry site from where you extract the blocks needed to the upper part.
Then using a saw, you have to cut about forty rectangular blocks of snow weighing up to 20 kg.



© T. Joly
 Between 0° and 4°C
After putting a first row of blocks around the base, you continue adding blocks in a giant spiral, using your saw to precisely stack and fit them together, until you get to the top.
The interior height is about 160 cm from floor to top of dome, but much lower on the sides, where you sleep. As heat rises and cooler air settles, bedding is indeed set up on elevated platforms, so you are in the warmest part of the igloo for sleeping. If you suffer from claustrophobia, it’s not for you.
To help prevent warm air from escaping the igloo, its floor is above the entrance tunnel rabbit-hole style. In addition, at night it is blocked with a block of snow or rucksack. Thus, the indoor temperature ranges between 0 and 4°C even if it’s – 20°C outside. You are also provided with a cold weather sleeping bag and an insulation mat.



© T. Joly
 Dinner in a refuge
Building an igloo makes you sweat and to avoid hypothermia it’s better changing into warm dry clothes as soon as you have finished. Mercantour Evasion chooses an igloo location 15 mn walk from the Refuge de la Cantonnière, near Estenc, where you can take a shower, change out your clothes, relax and have dinner. This more than warms you up for your overnight stay in igloo. If some people get scared by the cold or the narrowness of the igloo and prefer not to venture back out, they can stay overnight indoors.
The next day you wake up in truly unique surroundings and after enjoying an open-air breakfast, you set off to another day of snowshoe trekking and head back to civilization in the afternoon.
This tour can be carried out daily when there is enough snow – normally from December to March - and is designed that everyone with a normal physical level can participate. No prior know how necessary.


October 18, 2016
Thierry Joly