In addition to its National Parks and Regional Nature Reserves, the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region boasts many natural jewels, such as the Garlaban hills, Sainte-Victoire mountain, Cap Ferrat, Cap d’Ail and the Côte Bleue.
The beloved childhood playground of Marcel Pagnol and decor for his world-famed books and films, the Massif du Garlaban embodies the very essence of Provence. Located to the North of the town of Aubagne, where the author was born, these hills laden with olive groves and garrigue exhale sweet scents of wild thyme and rosemary. Further East, in the hinterland of Saint-Tropez, the Massif des Maures stretches from Hyères to Saint-Raphaël. Literally meaning “black mountain” in Provencal dialect, due to its dark rocks and vegetation, this hill range has a surprisingly wild aspect. Last but not least, the Massif de l’Esterel, to the North of Fréjus, is an impressive volcanic formation standing over islands and coves dotted with pine trees. Its fiery porphyry rock and orange-red soil create a striking contrast with the blue Mediterranean waters below, offering an awe-inspiring sight for nature lovers.
Mountains and reserves in Provence
Situated just a few kilometres from Aix-en-Provence, the southern face of the impressive Sainte-Victoire mountain resembles a blade of white stone… Ranked a “Grand site de France” due to its exceptional natural assets, it was the favourite subject of artist Paul Cézanne. The highest point of Provence, perched at an altitude of 1,912 metres, Mont Ventoux forms the epicentre of a natural reserve harbouring a vast diversity of plant and animal species. Marking the frontier between the French Alps and Mediterranean, the mountain is listed as a UNESCO biosphere reserve. To the North of the Verdon Canyon, the Réserve Géologique de Haute-Provence is Europe’s largest geological reserve. Its combined Alpine and Mediterranean identity has fostered many treasures of biodiversity, together with remarkable geological and fossil formations.
Located between Menton and Monaco, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, a jewel of the Riviera and official Natura 2000 site, features typical Mediterranean vegetation you can admire by taking the beautiful coastal footpath set above turquoise waters. Cap Ferrat – also a Natura 2000 site – and Cap d’Ail are situated just a stone’s throw away. These little paradises on Earth, overflowing with luxuriant vegetation, offer stunning vistas all the way from the Esterel hills to the Italian coast. Don’t miss a stroll along the magnificently-preserved Cap d’Antibes coastal footpath, lined with Aleppo pines. Just offshore, the islands of Lérins, Sainte-Marguerite and Saint-Honorat offer a gorgeous tribute to the region’s flora, together with a fascinating delve into its religious history.
…And other coastal treasures
Stretching 30 kilometres between Martigues and Marseille, the Côte Bleue (blue coast) is a treasure trove of marine life, protected by the Parc Marin de la Côte Bleue. The coastal footpath features a succession of cliffs and rocky inlets. Stop off at the picturesque little fishing ports of Carry-le-Rouet, Sausset-les-Pins, L’Estaque and Carro. To the East of Marseille, Calanque de Figuerolles fjord, encircled by high ochre cliffs, resembles a tropical paradise. Its neighbour, Calanque du Mugel, offers panoramic views over the town of La Ciotat and its vicinity. Last but not least, Ile des Embiez, a Natura 2000 island set in the bay of Six-Fours-les-Plages, harbours secret little beaches lined with ragged rocks and lapped by turquoise waters.