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Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur nature reserves: a rich cultural heritage

Packed with history and memories, the cultural heritage of our nature reserves is a major pillar of local sustainable development. Architecture, spiritual immersion and archaeological remains… A myriad of treasures and exceptional natural scenery awaits you on your adventure.

 

Follow the spiritual path

Pilgrimages and sacred sites

The Sainte-Baume Regional Nature Reserve has been a hub of Christianity and spirituality for centuries and you’ll love learning about Greek myths in the sacred forest of Plan d’Aups, the pilgrims who travel to the Troglodyte church of Saint Mary Madeleine every year and the Gothic architecture of Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume Basilica… Our local legends are set against a backdrop of spectacular scenery and wondrous ways: the Chemin des Roys leading to Nans les Pins unveils an ancient cult of goddesses of fertility, together with a section of the Camino de Santiago pilgrims’ route.

Next, let’s head to the Ventoux and Carpentras, the ancient capital of the Comtat Venaissin area marked by 5 centuries of papal presence. Today, the culture and history of its former Jewish communities are carefully safeguarded. Take a moment to visit France’s oldest working synagogue on the main square where you can admire a Mikveh ritual purifying bath in the Jerusalem room, before heading down the monumental staircase to the sumptuous prayer hall.

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Go back in time

Authentic old buildings

The sundial route in the Baronnies Provençales Regional Nature Reserve leads you on a voyage back in time, with no less than 400 sundials testifying to the ancient know-how of renowned sundial maker and fresco painter Rémi Potey. Armed with your treasure map, see if you can spot Jean Giono’s famous words in the village of Rosans: “Life: a dance, one foot in front of the other as long as the music plays. Time conducts the orchestra from its seat on the hourglass”.

Up in the mountains, Écrins National Park unveils many little architectural treasures built traditionally and paying homage to mountain life. The locals are deeply attached to their legacy, as witnessed by the Chapelle des Michauds project in Buissard – the chapel was saved thanks to volunteers and a local artist. Last but not least, in the Queyras Regional Nature Reserve, Musée du Soum in Saint-Véran retraces local farming history. The museum is set inside a traditional old house referred to as a “fuste”. An authentic and moving voyage…

Temples of memory

Chemins du Patrimoine in the southern Luberon is a series of heritage walks unveiling local historical sites such as the village of Cabrières-d’Aigues, spanning the medieval and Renaissance eras. Climb its picturesque, winding lanes up to the old castle, then continue to the 17th-century Église Saint-Laurent, or explore the geology walk with Olivier Leonard, an official Valeurs Parc Naturel Régional guide. The Verdon Regional Nature Reserve guides offer a choice of tailored tours from canyon to plateau, also stamped with the Valeurs Parc Naturel Régional quality label. Follow in the footsteps of Cathy Versini to discover the ancient farming village of Puimoisson, home to a former commandery of the Order of Malta, or opt for the 2000 steps, 2000 years of history tour with Geneviève Vallart, exploring the reserve’s Roman remains. The walk winds up at Chapelle Sainte-Maxime, boasting breathtaking views over the Verdon mountains.

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Time travel to Gallo-Roman times

Digs and ancient ruins

The ancient site of Glanum in the Alpilles is reminiscent of the Gallo-Roman settlement that later evolved into the town of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Extensive archaeological digs and research at the site have earned it the Valeurs Parc Naturel Régional label and a reputation as one of the finest testimonies to the talented use of natural local resources by ancient civilisations. Set amid remarkable biodiversity, the main street lined with ancient temples, basilicas, baths and a square offers a moving sight…

The Préalpes d’Azur Regional Nature Reserve is home to the ancient Roman town of Briançonnet, formerly named Brigomagus – a major former trading hub set on the Maralpine hiking trail at the foot of the Prealps. On-site digs have unearthed amphoras, Roman inscriptions dating from 2 and 4 AD, tombs, statuettes and gold coins…

Military ruins

The countryside, a natural ally of military strategy

The natural strategic location of the Calanques fjords inspired the armed forces for many years. Château d’If, the emblem of the City of Marseille, was built under King Francis I to protect the thriving port before being converted into the prison that inspired Alexandre Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo… From Pointe Rouge to Les Goudes, batteries and bunkers were used to survey the coast until the end of WWII. In Saint-Chamas, the Royal Gunpowder Factory was abandoned in 1974 in favour of a protected area; this remarkable site has now been reconquered by marshes, reeds, damp forests and arid meadows of garrigue… Last but not least, the hiking trails of Mercantour National Park are dotted with ancient lookout posts, forts, barracks and bunkers. The permeable frontiers of the Southern Alps were fortified over the course of various conquests and now offer stunning examples of high-altitude architectural prowess.

Drawing strength from nature

A character-filled cultural heritage forged by the environment

Plage des Salins beach in Port-Cros National Park, near the town of Hyères, offers a typical example of how the Mediterranean Sea has forged the local landscape. Here, interactions between the saltwater, lagoons and sunshine allowed our ancient salt marshes to thrive for many years. Since then, a fascinating and typical mosaic of ecosystems (now a Natura 2000 reserve) has sprung up, providing food and shelter for many bird species. In Camargue, the Musée de la Camargue is a proud holder of the Valeurs Parc Naturel Régional label. Opened in 1979, the museum is dedicated to Camargue’s unique ties between man and nature. Its recent extension designed by Marseille-based architect Philippe Donjerkovic offers new rooms together with a temporary exhibition area. The museum hosts year-round shows, screenings and artistic projects such as Horizons by Tadashi Kawamata, created to raise awareness of the importance of water in the Rhône Delta. You can also prolong the pleasure outdoors thanks to an interpretive trail running alongside the canal and rice fields to the marshes. Heavenly!