Take to the heights in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur’s vast nature reserves to make some astonishing discoveries… These high plateaux and slopes are home to a myriad of plants and animals whose beauty and character have been forged by the cold climate… Welcome to the top of the world and some of the most enchanting landscapes you’ll ever see!
Look at the birdie
While you’re visiting the Baronnies Provençales Regional Nature Reserve, sign up for a Birds & Heritage tour in Laborel and enjoy a fascinating foray into the region’s most beautiful bird species in the capable hands of an ornithology guide. The tour also explores human impact on the natural ecosystem, with examples including pre-Alpine garrigue, which has now given way to crops. You’ll also want to bring along your binoculars to get a close-up view of the local grey herons and Pipit rousselines. The adventure continues at the Grand Site de la Sainte-Victoire, a privileged habitat for 145 bird species and part of the protected Natura 2000 network, home to fertile meadows rich in insects, woodland where robins and blackcaps come to rest, and Mediterranean garrigue, the favourite haunt of the warbler. The cherry on the cake? The acrobatics show above the cliffs courtesy of peregrine falcons…
Exploring mountain flora and fauna
A high-altitude escape
Home to no less than 8,744 animal species, Mercantour National Park boasts extremely varied scenery combining Alpine and Mediterranean influences. Here, golden eagles nest on medium to high rocky cliff faces – or sometimes lower to be nearer their prey, grey wolves roam in packs in the forests and mountain pastures, and marmots gamble on the sunny slopes. In Écrins National Park, purple saxifrage has claimed the title of France’s highest plant! It blooms up to altitudes of 3,870 metres on Meije and Ailefroide mountains – a record identified during a research project on vertical ecology. Many other plants such as moss campion and Alpine forget-me-not have taken up the challenge of defying the usual flowering rules too, finding refuge in immersed ice zones known as nunataks.
Expanding the realms of possibility
Geology at its highest
The Verdon Regional Nature Reserve unveils the beautiful limestone mountains of Arc de Castellane. To the south-west, the Massif du Montdenier spans the southern plains at 1,750 metres, while the peak of Cordeil mountain reaches 2,114 metres skywards in the background. This is a paradise of rolling, verdant pastures born during the pastoralism era: at the time, fescues, oats and sesleria were the region’s typical grasses. Located in the Southern Alps, the Verdon reserve is at the crossroads of a major Mediterranean and Alpine ecosystem, home to truly unique plants and animals. Its highly-contrasted northern and southern slopes have given rise to remarkably varied flora and fauna, together with extraordinary woodland such as Aiguines beech forest, now a biological reserve.
Tours for every taste
The association Les Géophiles – a Valeurs Parc Naturel Régional service provider – offers a range of accessible tours on the Biodiversity & Geocaching theme. The wet meadows, desert-like plateaux, deep forests and inaccessible gorges of the Préalpes d’Azur Regional Nature Reserve all harbour exceptional plant and animal life. Benefiting from combined Mediterranean and Alpine influences, the reserve’s varied climate and relief are truly one of a kind. Humans have created clearings, meadows and pastures here, giving birth to new, biologically very-rich environments. And not surprisingly, the list of endemic species – species you’ll only find here – is long, testifying to the area’s wealth. Led by passionate guides, the accessible discovery tours ensure everyone can enjoy the area’s natural beauties to the full.
Cultivating your instincts
An ode to the senses
Salamanders, marmots, ibex goats, chamois, bearded vultures and rock partridges… The Queyras Regional Nature Reserve is a genuine treasure trove of fauna. If you want to understand more about their behaviour and evolution, visit the heartwarming Arche des Cîmes nature interpretation centre in Ristolas: a Valeurs Parc Naturel Régional establishment named after Noah’s Ark. What’s more, the centre welcomes visitors inside a boat hull – your kids will love it! Last but not least, don’t miss the 2 km Belvedere forest animal trail in Aure, in the Ventoux Regional Nature Reserve: if you head along it at dusk you might just hear the squall of a deer. Climb to the top of Mont-Ventoux to lap up the 360° views; when the weather is fine, this stunning balcony offers vistas all the way to the Mediterranean Sea in the South and the great Alpine peaks in the North.