The Great Outdoors
Information on hiking, walking, mountain biking and other outdoor activities in the mountains and coastline of Provence...
Did you know:
- The deep cliff of the Gorges du Verdon is unique in Europe and is one of the greatest tourist attractions in Provence
- After Paris, the Var is the most visited tourist region in France
- Allos Lake, in the Alpes de Haute Provence, is the largest high altitude lake in Europe (2,230m)
- Of the 4,700 species of flowering plants recorded in France, over 1,000 are found in the Camargue
There is an endless supply of activities for the adventurous and much useful information available.
Most tourist offices have information brochures in English and several of the Tourist Offices have websites with details on activities in each area.
There are companies that hire out any specific equipment needed for your excursion.
Note: Many forested areas of the Var region are closed in summer to prevent fire hazard. In high summer the CDIG Var (Centre Départemental d'Information Géogrphique) website usually carries up-to-date information on road and park closures. You can also call for a recorded message (in French): Tel: 04 98 10 55 41.
Verdon Regional National Park
This nature reserve was established in 1997 to protect and promote a stretch 1,800 kilometres long along the banks of the river Verdon, from André les Alpes to Vinon-sur-Verdon, an area which includes 43 towns. The immense canyon straddles the départements of the Var and Alpes de Haute Provence.
An abundance of natural resources make a number of activities possible:
- White water sports: rafting, canyoning, and kayaking
- Water sports: sailing, water skiing and fishing
- Aerial sports: paragliding, free flight and gliding
- Climbing, hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking.
- The Comite départemental du tourisme et des loisirs. Tel: 04 92 31 57 29
The Camargue National Park
The regional national park, created in 1970 to maintain a balance between nature and human activities, covers the whole of the Ile de la Camargue. The Camargue is a triangular delta extending over an area of 145,300 hectares between the two gulfs of Aigues-Mortes and Fos. The delta has 80 kilometres of sandy seacoast. Many sporting activities are possible in the Camargue region which is also well known for horse riding, bird watching and walking.
- The Parc National Regional de Camargue Information Centre: Tel: 04 90 97 86 32
- Pont de Gau Ornithological Park Information Centre: Tel: 04 90 97 82 62
The Mont Ventoux and Luberon National Parks
The Mont Ventoux is a small mountain range, 1,912 metres above sea level. It is the last significant upsurge of the Alps in the landscape before the Mediterranean to the south. The Luberon hills stretch from Cavaillon to Manosque. Since the 1990s these regional National parks have fallen under the protection of Unesco's Biosphere Reserve. The entire region is crisscrossed with walking trails and a circular cycling route 230 kilometres long .
- From the Parc du Luberon. Tel: 04 90 04 42 00
Hiking in Provence
The Fédération Française de la Randonnée Pedestre (FFRP) is the overseeing body for all marked and maintained walking routes in France. It provides information and guide-books (most in French) for walkers in the area.
The region has many sentiers balisés (marked walking paths) and sentiers de grande randonnée (long-distance paths). No permits are needed but there are restrictions on where you can camp. Group walks can be arranged or guides hired. The Institut Géographique National (IGN) Top 25 maps, which have the routes marked and numbered. The maps are available at bookshops (presse) throughout the region.
All nationally recognised trails are categorised as follows:
- GR (Grand Randonnée): Registered hiking trails that often run across the entire country.
- GRP (Sentiers de Grande Randonnée de Pays): Registered regional trails that will take you around a particular region for several days.
- PR (Sentiers de Promenade): Walking and hiking trails for short circuits, lasting several hours.
The French route marking system shows paths by means of signs and blazes.
- For clear explanations of the waymarks, or blazes (balises): Click here
During the summer months, marked paths may be closed for fire hazard. For up-to-date information for the access in the greater Var region see the website of the Department of Agriculture.
The Comité Régional de la Randonnée Pédestre en Midi-Pyrénées manages the walking and hiking routes and groups in the region. The committee is responsible for managing the 26,000 Km of official routes in the region, and maintains the paths and make sure that the routes are marked and guides and maps are up to date. There are 230 walking and hiking clubs affiliated to the committee.
- Comité Départemental de Randonnée Pédestre
Var: 04 94 42 15 01
Vaucluse: 04 90 85 65 04
Bouches du Rhone: 04 91 81 12 08
Alpes-de-Haute-Provence: 04 92 31 07 07
Mountaineering and Rock-climbing
There are many climbs in the region. Some of the best facilities for mountaineering are in the Mercantour.
Rock-climbing faces vary in surface and grade and there is a climb to suit all abilities, particularly in the foothills of the Alpes and the Roya Valley, and the coastal hills for beginners or training.The Gorges du Verdon, the Calanques de Marseille, the Dentelles de Montmirail (Vaucluse), and Buoux in the Luberon are just a handful of the regions climbing sites (sites d'escalade).
Professional guides are available and recommended in most areas. They should hold a diploma from the Ministry of Youth and Sports, and a qualification from the Mountaineering and Rock-climbing Federation, the Fédération Française de la Montagne et de l'Escalade (FFME)
Information is available (in French) on the grade, training options and availability of guides from the Comité Départemental de la Montagne et de l'Escalade
- Comité Départemental de la Montagne et de l'Escalade
Bouches du Rhone: 04 91 71 61 58
Vaucluse: 04 90 14 06 10
Var: 04 94 46 27 61
- Fédération Française de la Montagne et de l'Escalade (FFME)
Tel: 04 42 66 35 05
- Comité Départemental de la Montagne et de l'Escalade
Tel: 04 93 96 17 43
- Bureau des Guides de la Cote d'Azur
Tel:04 93 39 64 77 or 04 93 03 26 60
- Bureau des Guides de la Bévéra
Tel & Fax: 04 93 04 07 19
- Les Guides du Mercantour
Tel & Fax: 04 93 57 52 71
In Via Ferrata climbing, a rock face is permanently rigged with rungs and cables. This enhances safety in the climb and makes the sport accessible to the less experienced climber. There are a number of Via Ferrata courses in Haute Provence. Courses range in length from three to five hours; first timers can tackle short sections.
Climbers need a helmet, a harness attached to two cables with shock absorbers and karabiners, walking shoes and gloves. Equipment hire is generally handled by the tourist office.
- Comité départemental du Tourisme des Alpes de Haute Provence
Tel: 04 92 31 57 29
There are many routes specifically for mountain biking. Apart from the Mont Ventoux cycling circuits, classed amongst the top 20 most difficult climbs in France, there are a number of easy circuits in the Luberon and the Massif des Maures.
Some GR (Grande Randonée) trails are open to mountains bikes and between Toulon and Hyerès there is a two-lane cycling path that runs for 18.5km along the coast.
Many tourist offices sell cycling itineraries compiled by local cycling clubs.
- Fédération Française de Cyclotourisme
Tel: 04 90 29 62 10
- Comité departemental de cyclisme
Var: 04 94 46 27 19
Bouches du Rhone: 04 90 65 46 06
Vaucluse: 04 90 65 46 06
Canoeing is well represented in the local rivers. Navigable rivers are classified into six grades, Classes I to VI. There are many organisations providing training, transport and equipment for trips, one day or several. The sport is monitored by the Fédération Française de Canoë-Kayak. It has information on appropriate rivers and expert guides, where necessary.
- Fédération Française de Canoë-Kayak
Tel: 02 48 89 39 89
Alpes de Haute Provence: 04 92 74 00 10
Bouches du Rhone: 04 91 76 51 41
Vaucluse: 04 90 27 90 63
- Comité Régional de Canoë-Kayak
Tel: 04 92 00 44 50
This sport is allowed in the summer only, generally April 1st to October 31st.
There are strict rules concerning the responsible use of all canyoning sites, as regards protection of the ecology, and treatment of the site. The majority of the canyoning sites in Provence are in Alpes de Haute Provence. Leading centres where you can sign up for expeditions include Castellane.
Caving and Potholing
There are many caves worth exploring, but it is advisable to join an organised club or hire a guide. One of the most well known areas for potholing in Provence is the Plateau d'Albion in the Vaucluse. The Musée de la Préhistoire des Gorges de Verdon in Quinson organises visits on foot to the Grotte de la Baume Bonne, a prehistoric cave.
More information on these activities from:
- Comité départemental de Spéléologie,
Vaucluse: 6 rue Julien de la Rovere, Avignon
Bouches du Rhone: 04 91 78 08 95
Alpes de Haute Provence: 04 92 75 13 91
Var: 04 94 31 29 43 / 04 94 87 42 72
There are many horse riding options in Provence but the obvious place to go is the Camargue, famous for its cowboys and cream-coloured horses. For more information about equestrian activities, contact the Association Camarguaise de Tourisme Equestre in the Centre de Ginès at Pont de Gau, Tel: 04 90 97 86 32.