Provence overflows with exceptional natural areas, so it’s vital to strike a balance between conservation and environmental discovery. Provence’s Grands Sites, National Parks and Regional Nature Reserves comprise major tourist attractions that call for eco-responsible behaviour.
Haute Provence Geological Reserve
The Réserve Naturelle Géologique de Haute-Provence stretches from the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence to the Var and features geological sites, many fossils, and extraordinary landscapes of folded and fractured rock. The site allows visitors to learn more about the history of the Earth and hence understand and respect our planet better. The Réserve Naturelle Géologique de Haute-Provence is now a UNESCO site and member of the Global Geoparks Network. Its museum-walk offers a fascinating insight into local biodiversity, unveiling fossils dating back 300 million years and tropical and Mediterranean aquariums illustrating the history of the sea. The museum’s delightful, shaded grounds feature waterfalls, works of art and a Zen garden.
Mont Ventoux Biosphere Reserve
A land of contrasts born out of climatic extremes, Mont Ventoux is the highest point of Provence, rising to an altitude of 1,909 metres. Spanning the Alps and Mediterranean, this mythical and prestigious mountain is now a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The fruit of an encounter between nature and local culture, its landscapes offer a vast palette of atmospheres, colours and local history, expressing the close ties woven between man and his environment through centuries of traditional and agricultural activities. Sports, local food and family holiday lovers will love this mountain of many facets! Did you know that you can ski in Provence? Check out the Mont-Serein ski resort!
Stretching from the illustrious Sainte-Victoire mountain – Cézanne’s muse – to the secret inland villages of Concors, the Grand Site Sainte-Victoire is a vast natural area at the gateway to Aix-en-Provence and Marseille. Its oak and pine forests, garrigue and mountain pastures where flocks still graze are home to 20% of French flora and over 130 bird species, including Bonelli’s eagle. This Grand Site offers a plethora of activities, including vineyard, rural heritage and nature tours. It is also a favourite haunt for hikers, paragliders, climbers and mountain bikers!
Camargue Regional Nature Reserve
Spanning 32,000 acres in the heart of Camargue, the Réserve Naturelle Nationale de Camargue is one of Europe’s largest wetland reserves. Its vast expanse, stretching from Arles to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, is entirely protected. The originality and international interest of the site resides in its huge diversity of habitats and species (in particular 276 bird species including 258 heritage species) and its ecological functioning. Managed by the Société Nationale de Protection de la Nature, the reserve offers a host of activities and walks with top sights including La Capelière, Salin de Badon, La Digue à la Mer and Phare de la Gacholle.
Domaine de la Palissade
Domaine de la Palissade is a natural site located in Camargue, near the village of Salin de Giraud, owned by the French Coastal Protection Agency. Access is regulated and visitors are allowed on foot or horseback (self-guided or guided tours). Born out of the mixing of the Grand-Rhône river and Mediterranean Sea, Domaine de la Palissade is a unique site, standing witness to the origins of Camargue. Its incredible diversity (riparian vegetation, sea lavender meadows, wetlands and reed beds) and rich fauna make it a fabulous location for observing Camargue’s natural environment. Three discovery footpaths (1.5 to 8 km) complete with bird hides offer visitors a chance to appreciate this preserved treasure trove of Camargue at their own pace. From April to October, guided horseback tours offering a fascinating insight into the local flora and fauna are also available subject to prior booking.