With Provence and Marseille behind you, follow the Durance river towards the Alps to discover sublime stone treasures: the Citadelle de Sisteron, l’Abbaye Notre-Dame-de-Boscodon and the Cathédrale Notre-Dame-du-Réal in Embrun. Along the way, you will also encounter natural wonders, like the majestic Pénitents des Mées and the lavender plateaus of the Pays du Buëch in the summer. Don’t miss the Demoiselles Coiffées, the great rocky columns which seem to pierce the sky near the Lac de Serre-Ponçon Known for its dam, which is the largest in Europe, this turquoise lake is also prized by swimmers and lovers of paddle boarding.
Making your way along the banks of the Durance, a desire for the great outdoors will take hold of you. Stop at the Gap-Tallardair base, recognised worldwide by pilots and champions. In search of a breathtaking view? Take off in a hot-air balloon. Thrill-seekers can opt to go skydiving. From the sky, you can admire Serre-Ponçon, the southernmost lake nestled in the heart of the Alps, with 80 kilometres of banks and wild coves.
On the route to Briançon, discover the Fontaine Pétrifiante de Réotier, near the fortified town of Mont-Dauphin. Go along the mysterious Pays des Écrins, the land at the end of the world that has been nicknamed « TheAlpine Himalaya » by climbers. It has a total of 30 summits that exceed over 3,000 metres plus the wall of the Écrins which soars to a height of 4,100 metres. For budding climbers, the via ferrata of the Rocher d’Arthouze is sure to thrill you! In Briançon , do not miss the 17th-century Vauban forts, which demonstrate the strategic role of this valley at the gates of Italy and in the heart of the Alps. Then, if you fork to the left towards Serre-Chevalier or to the right to Montgenèvre, a lively atmosphere awaits you in summer as well as winter.
Stop in Serre-Chevalier which, in winter, houses the largest ski area in the southern Alps at the heart of a larch forest. Or, continue your adventure on the hairpin turns that lead to the Lautaret Pass. Don your skis at La Grave to take on the eternal snow of the Meije Glacier. Here you are in the only one of the 68 winter sites which also has summer skiing! After reaching the Alpine summits, head back down towards the lake. On the way, treat yourself to a well-being break at the Monêtier-les-Bains springs. Its waters – boiling, trickling or steaming – echoes the Durance, the link between the Alps and Provence.
It is 6.30 a.m., the hour when the first sun rays shine on the Aiguille de Chambeyron and Lac des Neuf Couleurs (Nine-Colour Lake). Chamois and mountain goats have already returned to the snowy summits. After a good hot chocolate at the shelter, resume your route towards Barcelonnette . Curiously, the town has Mexican villas, a sign of its strong bond with Mexico. You are now in the Vallée de l’Ubaye, to which you branched off after the Barrage de Serre-Ponçon dam. As you leave the valley, you will again be going alongside a river: this time the Ubaye. This invigorating travel companion, which gives rafters a wild ride, brings you back to the lake. Just before you reach it, take the direction of Digne-les-Bains to take a last glimpse of the Alps from the Andy Goldsworthy art trail. Art makes nature sublime, nature makes art sublime. Want to continue your escape? Jump on the Train des Pignes. Direction: Côte d’Azur!
Direction la Côte d’Azur !