Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur harbours a treasure trove of natural gifts and surprises… But if you’re short of time, here’s our ready-made pick of the most beautiful nature reserves, secret gorges, magical discoveries, sea views and mountain roads.
A mine of natural gems
A foray into pastoral traditions
First stop: the Alpilles. Gaze from afar at the Coussouls de Crau, a vast steppe stretching as far as the eye can see. Set out on the trails of this hub of biodiversity at your own pace and discover how man, nature and sheep have worked hand in hand to forge this magnificent landscape. Inside the Camargue Regional Nature Reserve, the awe-inspiring wetlands of Marais de Vigueirat – holder of the Valeur Parc Naturel Régional label – await you for a relaxing moment in a fairytale setting you can explore on foot, by bike or even in a horse and cart…
Families enjoy a choice of specialist-interest itineraries and fun activities. You’ll come face to face with majestic flamingos here and if you keep your ears open, you might just hear wild boars grunting in the distance. This extraordinary site is also home to Camargue’s largest reed bed. Simply jaw-dropping.
It’s time to head to the Ristolas Mont Viso national reserve in Parc du Queyras. Perched between 1,700 and 3,287 metres, this high-altitude reserve, swathed in colourful flowers, is a paradise for photographers. Ever heard of the dazzling yellow Pastel des Alpes or the Grassette d’Arvet Touvet with its little purple flowers? This novel escapade is perfect if you’re travelling alone, with a Queyras Nature nature guide or on an electrically-assisted mountain bike courtesy of Guil-e-bike – both service providers are holders of the Valeurs Parc Naturel Régional quality label.
Gazing down from the heights of Mont Ventoux, at an altitude of 1,911 metres, the Biosphère Reserve is home to a plethora of fascinating flora and fauna, including 120 bird species and 1,000 plants dotted around its coombs, valleys, crests and plateaux. So what’s it to be, a hike, Nordic walk or trek? And remember, Les Chemins de Pierre are here to guide you!
Voyage to the centre of the Earth
The deepest valleys
Opt for authenticity in the Baronnies Provençales nature reserve, a temple of beauty home to Méouge gorge. A little road runs along the Méouge river from the Drôme Provençale area to the Hautes-Alpes. If the sunshine is getting a bit too intense, a refreshing dip and rest in the shade await you: natural limestone pools carved out over thousands of years offer an ideal haven for a dive into turquoise waters and welcome siesta on the rocks… Further South, the lower gorge of the Verdon is the perfect choice for a nature weekend. Discover Sainte-Croix and Esparron lakes in the company of William Michel, a river guide and holder of the Valeurs Parc Naturel Régional label – a unique experience in total harmony with the water. Don’t forget your wetsuit and thermal socks!
A daydreamer’s paradise
Mythical and quasi-mystical!
If you’re seeking a breath of fresh air, tranquillity and greenery, head to the Sainte-Baume forest. A bewitching blend of natural and historic heritage, and international place of pilgrimage, this sacred forest shelters many unique, endemic species. Lined with veteran beech trees, the iconic and aptly-named Chemin des Roys (Kings Road) leads to Chapelle du Saint-Pilon and on to the Côte Bleue coast adjacent to Marseille, where a snorkelling trail overflowing with underwater treasures awaits you at the Carry-le-Rouet marine reserve. All you need is a mask and snorkel and you’re set to discover a magical world of Mediterranean fish and sea anemones…
A bouquet of colours and fragrances
Who says you need to get on a long-haul flight for a change of scenery? The Luberon Regional Nature Reserve abounds with awe-inspiring landscapes. Head to the Provencal Colorado in Rustrel, reminiscent of the Wild West and a genuine paradise for photography fans. Protected by the Société des Ocres, this stunning site with its flamboyant colours, jagged relief and beautiful orange-red hiking trails is the perfect pick for a weekend break. After your feast for the eyes, it’s time for a feast for the nose in the meadows of the Préalpes d’Azur nature reserve. Head to the sweet-scented heights gazing over Alpine summits and blue waters as far as the eye can see… This enchanting location is also a hub of plants used for perfumery – you can find out all about them by visiting Bastide de la Violette and the perfume museum.
A breathtaking view
The best spots for the best pics
How about a weekend by the sea? The Mediterranean overflows with magnificent natural sites and one of our absolute faves is the Calanques National Park. Leave your car at Luminy, then venture out on the trail to the Calanque de Sugiton viewpoint with its dizzy, 360° vistas over the fjord and Bec de l’Aigle mountain. The walk starts out in a refreshing pine wood and ends at the startling turquoise waters of Calanque de Sugiton… Keep an eye out for the local butterflies: the Two-Tailed Pacha and Painted Lady both have a soft spot for this corner of paradise.
A breath of fresh air!
Head for the mountains
Enough to make your head spin… Step out from Pré de Madame Carle to enjoy nature’s finest. This ancient glacial plain set at the bottom of Vallée de la Vallouise, in Écrins National Park, harbours a trail leading to a refuge, where you can set down your backpack and gaze out over the glaciers. This tranquil mountain shelter, set in stunning surroundings, is the perfect place to get back in touch with nature and find inner peace… Further South, Mercantour National Park , lying between the Alpes-Maritimes and Alpes de Haute Provence areas, boasts breathtaking views all the way to Monte Viso and the Med: truly a sight to behold. The adventure continues as you hike onwards and upwards to Vallon du Bachelard and the Route des Grandes Alpes. Simply mesmerizing.