Top cultural outings in the Alps

The Southern Alps is home to high-level culture. At a museum, in the heart of nature, or on a tailor-made itinerary, these ten outings are not to be missed.

Admire the Saorge Monastery

A genuine architectural jewel at the gateway to Parc National du Mercantour, Monastère de Saorge is located in the village of the same name. Behind its doors lies a magnificent cloister lined with 4 galleries. Raise your eyes to admire the arches built in the 17th century, retracing the life of Saint Francis of Assisi. Listed as a historic monument in 1917, the story of this site is unveiled by your passionate and captivating guide Francisco. During the 2-hour tour, you will learn that the monastery – a Franciscan monastery until the late eighties – now harbour’s a writer’s residence. End your visit in style by breathing in the fresh air of the terraced garden. This is the perfect time to whip out your smartphone: with its ponds, pergolas laden with vine leaves and fruit trees, the decor is positively gorgeous. And the views over the mountains and Gorges de la Roya are unbeatable!

Explore the Musée des Merveilles

Head to the village of Tende to the North of Saorge for an exciting tour of the Musée Départemental des Merveilles. Welcome to one of Europe’s largest cave painting sites! What’s more, entry is free and the activities are suitable for all ages. Reproductions, information panels, fun videos and captivating slideshows lead you on a voyage into the Vallée des Merveilles and Val de Fontanalba in Prehistoric times. A lovely surprise awaits you at the end of the tour – but if you want to discover it, you’ll have to find the Shepherd of Tende first.

Roam the Route des Forts de la Roya

How about combining culture and walking? Pop a picnic into your bag and set off on the signposted footpaths of the Route des Forts in the French Southern Alps. The route departs from the Col de Tende and crosses the sumptuous landscapes of Vallée de la Roya. Seasoned walkers will enjoy tackling the entire 4-hour hike. Lined with Italian fortifications and the French forts of the Ligne Maginot des Alpes, the route promises a full immersion in a unique historic heritage. More than just a walk, this is a genuine voyage back in time.

Visit the Notre-Dame-des-Fontaines chapel

Art lovers simply mustn’t miss a visit to Chapelle Notre-Dame-des-Fontaines, set a few kilometres from the medieval villages of La Brigue. Nicknamed the « Sistine Chapel of the French Alps » – no less – it is adorned from head to toe with exceptional 15th-century frescoes. The particularly lavish chancel is the work of famous Italian painter Giovanni Baleison. Raise your eyes to appreciate the beauty of the 18th century stained-glass windows. You can enjoy a guided tour of this jewel from mid-April to mid-October.

Make like a knight at Fort de la Ligne Maginot

It’s time to take off to Fort de Ligne Maginot. You can’t miss it: perched on a rocky outcrop, this square construction that resembles a bunker stands guard over the little village of Sainte-Agnès. One of the border’s largest defence posts, this military fort served to ward off the Italian onslaught in 1940. Unique!

Follow the Contemporary Art Route

If you fancy a cultural escapade in the country, simply follow the D900A road, otherwise known as the Contemporary Art Route, linking Digne-les-Bains to Caraglio in Italy. On the programme: 8 sites tucked away in Alpine landscapes, showcasing works by eight international artists, located in Vallée du Bès, the hamlet of Vière, Le Vernet, Seyne-les-Alpes, Saint-Vincent-les-Forts and Col de Larche. A unique cultural experience to be enjoyed throughout the year. And why not try to meet the artists themselves at one of the special art route events?

Hike on the Via Alta

Don your walking shoes and head out to tackle the famous Via Alta. The Alpine section runs from Sisteron with its famous citadel to Clavière, on the Italian border, via Saint-Geniez, Tallard and Gap. This exhilarating hike also takes you to Mont-Dauphin and Briançon , home to two Vauban fortifications now listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In addition to its architectural prowess, the Via Alta, which crosses the Écrins Regional Nature Reserve and its neighbour in the Queyras area, the route positively overflows with natural marvels.

Gaze at the stars

If you’re mad about star-gazing, climb up to Europe’s highest observatory! Perched at an altitude of 2,936 metres, AstroQueyras in Saint-Véran  bathes in pure Alpine air, far from city light pollution. You can try out the giant telescopes guided by passionate experts. To reach the observatory, follow the path crossing the mountain pastures. Keep your eyes peeled: sheep and marmots might well be there to say howdy! You’ll also want to visit the Maison du Solei, in Saint-Véran too, or the interferometer on Plateau de Bure – an impressive cluster of giant satellite dishes.

Discover the stronghold of Mont-Dauphin

Built in 1693 by the military architect Vauban, the Place Forte de Mont-Dauphin is another must-do. If you want to penetrate the secrets of this magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Site, opt for a guided tour of the fortifications, underground galleries and ancient military buildings to grasp the military genius of its design, before stepping out onto the ramparts for a breath of fresh, pure air. Take a camera along to capture the unique views over Vallée de la Durance.

 

Escape to the Jardin de l’Apothicaire in Colmars-les-Alpes

Fancy a garden tour in the heart of the French Alps? Enjoy a walk in the gorgeous Jardin de l’Apothicaire in Colmars-les-Alpes, dedicated to the famous botanist Jean Saurin and forming part of the Maison-Musée du Haut-Verdon. The picturesque ramparts are lined with flowers, aromatic plants and therapeutic trees. You can enjoy chatting with the botanists during your visit – they will love telling you all about the plants, mainly found in the Vallée du Haut-Verdon and widely used as remedies in Saurin’s day.