The ties between mankind and nature date back many thousands of years and here in Provence-Apes-Côte d’Azur, we continue to nurture them while striving to maintain a healthy equilibrium. Culture, history and ancient know-how… Discover man’s life and work as you explore our beautiful natural sites.
Look and understand
Situated in Aubignan, Vaucluse, Belle-Île is a wetland at the confluence of several waterways. The flooding of the surrounding meadows and harvesting of clay has given birth to a mosaic of bocage wetlands used for farming. You can find out all about them thanks to various information panels along the way. In Camargue, the Musée du Mas du Pont de Rousty, set inside an old 19th-century sheepfold, embodies typical local and traditional architecture. It is also the departure point for a 3.5 km footpath across fields, marshes and pastures to a traditional Camargue cowboy’s cabin nestling amid the reeds… Last but not least, Cœur d’Honoré on the heights of La Ciotat, stands witness to the farming legacy of the Calanques National Park, in particular terraced farming and dry farming such as olive trees.
Unity is strength
Adapting to the future
Typical of the Préalpes d’Azur, dry stone constructions have allowed man to conquer the slopes and harsh climate while preserving the soil’s fertility. Cap Azur, a proud holder of the Valeurs Parc Naturel Régional label, hosts various walks to assist visitors in understanding how the area has developed. In the highlands of the Écrins, pastures stretch as far as the eye can see: a mosaic of moors and larch forests where herds roam, stretching to altitudes of 2,800 metres. Pastoralism has forged these mountainscapes while preserving their delicate ecological balance. La Maison des Alpages guides visitors through the bovine pastures of Champsaur to the vast Plateau d’Emparis, where flocks of sheep graze… The mountains are packed with suprises and Queyras is no exception. Follow in the footsteps of Yves Fouque, an official Valeurs Parc Naturel Régional guide, for a fascinating foray into Living in the Mountains – or how mankind has adapted to life at the summit…
Timeless temples of memory
Traces of the past in nature
Testifying to Porquerolles island’s military past, the lagoons are dotted with remarkable constructions such as Fort Sainte Agathe and Château de Porquerolles, whose terrace offers exceptional views over the island and Bay of Hyères. Fort de la Repentance, nicknamed the invisible fort, is a legacy of ancient defence strategies; you can visit it on Heritage Days. Many ruins can be seen throughout Port-Cros National Park all the way to Giens Peninsula, crowned with the Batterie du Pradeau. Art and history lovers will definitely want to tour Mercantour National Park and aptly-named Vallée des Merveilles; its 40,000 cave paintings nestling in a rocky landscape transport you into an other-worldly dimension ruled by impressive summits and turquoise waters. Now a listed monument, Europe’s largest cave painting hub leads visitors on a compelling voyage into ancient lifestyles and beliefs…
Embracing the great outdoors
The village of Orpierre in the heart of the Baronnies Provençales Regional Nature Reserve owes its reputation to its jaw-dropping cliffs and love story with rock climbing, which saved it from abandonment in the Eighties. Since then, workers have carved and chiselled the rock and made the cliffs a haven of climbing routes: over 600 fully-fitted and safe routes from level 3 to 8c, accessible on foot.
Let’s head to the Verdon Regional Nature Reserve and Provence’s world-famed Verdon lakes. Temples of discovery, bathing and nautical pleasures, their sparkling emerald water are simply hypnotic. Among them, Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon lake is one of the wildest, while Esparron-de-Verdon lake is lined with fjords and dizzy cliffs.
A feast for the eyes
Are your ready for the jaw-dropping Massif des Ocres in the Luberon? The Mines de Bruoux, ancient ochre quarries now awarded the Valeurs Parc Naturel Régional label, retrace the history of mining over the course of a fascinating, 650-metre itinerary. In Roussillon, the Sentier des Ocres (Ochre Trail) prolongs the pleasure with its fiery landscapes from another world… Last but not least, the Conservatoire des Ocres et de la Couleur Ôkhra, a Valeurs Parc Naturel Régional site, teaches you how to paint with natural pigments.
In the Ventoux, ochre, sand, gypsum and clay set the mood. This astonishing geological diversity, exploited in the 19th and 20th centuries, can be admired between Lac des Salettes – a Sensitive Natural Area – and Mormoiron basin. Set in the shade of pine trees, the beautiful “Between Colour & Terroir” walking trail unveils a palette of yellows, oranges, whites and reds…
Follow in the footsteps of miners and builders
The bauxite quarries of Mazaugues in the Sainte-Baume Regional Nature Reserve were mined for over a century and you can delve into their fascinating history at the Musée des Gueules Rouges. The guided tours retrace the life of the miners and offer an insight into the techniques used to transform the mineral (used to produce aluminium) and its uses today. It’s time for a change of scenery at the Alpilles Regional Nature Reserve and an immersion in the world of cathedral quarries, in particular Fontvieille quarry and its white limestone rock -a delightful reminder of the work of local author Alphonse Daudet… This rock was used to build Arles Amphitheatre and Montmajour Abbey, together with housing in the Sixties and Seventies.