On the surface, everything seems quiet. And yet, thousands upon thousands of years of geological evolution have carved the virgin landscapes of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. Our nature reserves, geoparks and museums offer a host of tours and activities retracing the fabulous history of our soil…
A geologist’s paradise
Geoparks: treasure troves of fascinating curiosities
Part of the prestigious worldwide Geopark network backed by the UNESCO since 2004, the Luberon Regional Nature Reserve is resolutely committed to protecting and promoting its geological heritage. Hop online to view the interactive geotouristic map and select your favourites from around 60 geosites, all promising exceptionally diverse landscapes and geology. You can tailor your tour thanks to the many geosite partners.
Next, head to the Haute-Provence UNESCO Geopark, awarded the title in 2000. The park is home to a myriad of world-famed geological curiosities spread out over 60 towns and villages, including the “Dalle aux ammonites” – a 320m2 stone slab featuring over 1,550 ammonites – and the half-fish-half-lizard fossil of an ichthyosaurus… The site has also inspired many artists and you’ll see numerous contemporary and land art creations dotted along the way, including installations by the illustrious Andy Goldsworthy.
Reserves of rock and rare minerals
At the heart of Mercantour National Park lies the Alpes Maritimes’ first official nature reserve, situated in Gorges de Daluis. Spanning 2,673 acres and crossed by the Route des Grandes Alpes, the “Little Colorado of Nice” has an air of the end of the world… Its remarkable landscapes and rich biodiversity comprise 70 different minerals, including 9 world-unique, together with 401 plant species and animals typically found in combined Alpine and Mediterranean habitats. In the Verdon Regional Nature Reserve, treat yourself to a geology walk with Verdon Nature, a holder of the Valeurs Parc Naturel Régional label. Laurent Pichard guides you 40 million years back to the time of the Valley of Mermaids… At this internationally-renowned geological site, you can observe fossils of ancestors of the manatee and dugong before visiting the exhibition at the Musée Sirènes & Fossiles in Castellane.
Museum tributes to archaeology
Back to fossils
The recently-opened Musée Urgonia d’Orgon, a Valeurs Parc Naturel Régional museum, harbours a fascinating collection of typical fossils from the Alpilles Regional Nature Reserve. In Orgon, you’ll come across abundant, very pale urgonian limestone dating back to the Lower Cretaceous period. On the programme: various exhibitions and events dedicated to palaeontology and archaeology, as well as introductory workshops and courses for children. From the museum, you can also access the Sentier de la pierre, a signposted geology walk awarded the Valeurs Parc Naturel Régional label. In L’Argentière-la-Bessée, don’t miss the Mine d’Argent du Fournel silver mine in Écrins National Park, home to the largest argentiferous lead deposit in the Southern Alps, mined in the Middle Ages and very active until the 19th century. You can opt for a guided tour of the mine guaranteed by the prestigious Esprit Parc National label or an underground escape game against the clock. Get set, go!
Into the bowels of the earth with a headlamp!
Let’s start with the underground tour led by the association Lou Païs in the Préalpes-d’Azur Regional Nature Reserve: an exciting caving experience guaranteed by the Valeurs Parc Naturel Régional label at Parc de la Moulière in Caille. Combining climbing and caving, the adventure takes you 45 metres underground across monkey bridges, walkways and ladders… The thrills and spills continue in Sainte-Anne d’Évenos, in the Sainte-Baume Regional Nature Reserve, where guides from the association Spéléo H2O unveil the secrets of the region’s typical underground environment. Last but not least, the association ASPA in the Ventoux Regional Nature Reserve leads budding cavers on bespoke half and full-day discovery tours of Plateau d’Albion – a genuine underground playground spanning 1,100 km² and home to 450 caves.
On the shores of the Med, in Port-Cros National Park, Escampobario offers a stunning array of shale cliffs washed with sea spray that appear to be floating over the water, gazing out over the Golden Islands and Mounts of Toulon. Sign up for an Esprit Parc National tour criss-crossing abundant Mediterranean vegetation, then head around the peninsula to the high maquis facing Pain de Sucre island, Pointe des Chevaliers and Calanque du Blé. A breathtaking panoramic view awaits you at Pointe des Salins, facing Pointe d’Escampo-Barriou. In the Calanques National Park, the Soubeyranes cliffs are among Europe’s highest maritime cliffs. They are easy to spot from afar thanks to their characteristic ochre colour, offering a stark contrast to the more usual white limestone rocks. You’ll also be able to admire the site’s famous pudding stone – an aggregate of white limestone and sandstone – over several hundreds of metres.
In the footsteps of our ancestors
Let’s enjoy a voyage back in time at the Saint-Véran copper mine in the Queyras Regional Nature Reserve, where you can enjoy a Valeurs Parc Naturel Régional guided tour led by Nicolas Crunchant. Mankind has sought out this precious metal used to conduct electricity and manufacture weapons and jewellery for over 2,000 years. The mine is home to a wealth of documents and photos, together with an extensive mineral collection. At the end of the tour, you can even test your knowledge with a series of questions and answers! Last but not least, in the Baronnies Provençales Regional Nature Reserve, Saint-André-de-Rosans stands guard over its precious “dinosaur eggs“. These sandstone rock balls measuring up to 2 metres in diameter are cast into a vast sandstone slab formed 110 million years ago, during the secondary era. From La Beaume, the tour winds its way around the lunar landscape of the plateau amid thyme and heather: a rare and beautifully-preserved environment redolent with the sweet scent of the South…