From the seclusion of the Cévennes mountains to the splendour of Mont Ventoux, from the rolling hills of the Luberon to the rocky outcrops of Les Alpilles, from the beauty of the Ardèche river valley to the drama of the Gorge du Verdon, Provence is widely regarded as the most beautiful area of all France. Bettered by the Alps in terms of height, but for quantity and quality of scenery Provence has no equal, and that make it a magical destination for mountain walking.
The Cévennes National Park
Description: The Cévennes National Park is a delightful and unspoilt area of France with several lovely mountains up to heights of over 1500m.
Location: Covering a huge area to the east of Alès.
General Info: Mont Lozère is the highest peak reaching to 1699m. All the roads are very winding and mostly narrow – allow plenty of time!
Our recommendations: We enjoyed a one day tour on the eastern side of the Cévennes – travel from St Ambroix north on the D904 for 15km, turn left along the D901 towards Les Vans. There are some fantastic views to the right looking over the Chassezac river valley. After Les Vans the D901 climbs to La Rousse (914m). Here there is space for parking and a track off to the right where you will find some delightful grassy hillsides with views over the distant hills. This is a great place for a picnic and a game of hide and seek! The road then descends all the way to Villefort. There are some interesting places to explore around the Lac de Villefort. Head back to St Ambroix via the tiny D51 which follows the Cèze river valley for about 40 – 50km passing through some lovely villages. Note: there is a 2m height restriction on this road.
The Gorge du Verdon
Description: The world’s 2nd largest gorge, ~20km long and plunging more than 300m in places, this is one of the best places we’ve ever been in France. It was quiet when we were there (at Easter) but it could get very busy, especially on the roads that follow the top of the gorge which are quite narrow, winding and steep in places. Not for the faint hearted!
Location: Running from Moustiers-Ste-Marie (a Plus Beaux Village de France) east to Castellane.
Our recommendations: It’s a long way from the main Côte D’Azur resorts, so plan for a day out……2 hours there, 2 hours back, 2 hours pedalo, 2 hours lunch and 2 hours driving along the top of the gorge on the D71 which follows the southern bank for most of its length. The gorge is more accessible if you are staying in the Luberon. Moustiers is worth a detour (renowned for ceramics).
For the children: Start the day by hiring a pedalo from the north bank of Lac de Ste Croix. Allow several hours so you can get well into the gorge….you can see so much more and take your time over it. It can be tough going on the return leg, so leave plenty of time. Afterwards there’s a nice picnic area on the south side of the lake just below Aiguines.
Villages of the Luberon
Description: The Luberon is a unique regional park offering visitors an infinite variety of colourful and fragrant landscapes. Part of Provence and yet separately identifiable due to the rolling hills and beautiful villages perchés, it makes an excellent base for a holiday although prices are generally on the high side.
Whether you are staying locally or not, it is worthwhile making a tour around the quaint villages – Bonnieux, Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, Gordes, Ménerbes, Oppède-le-Vieux, Roussillon….. Take your time and stop for a drink in a local café to soak up the atmosphere.
Roussillon is especially lovely with everything built on red ochre rock. Here you will also find the interesting museum Chaussée des Géants. If you are lucky enough to actually stay in the Luberon then take the bikes as the area is great for cycle rides, also take some good walking shoes as there are some great walks.
The Luberon is full of romantic villages, dramatic ruins, deep gorges and pretty valleys – you will probably not want to venture beyond its boundaries!
Description: Considered to be the gateway to Provence, Mont Ventoux towers in the distance as you travel south along the A6 autoroute. Although the mountain reaches to nearly 2000m (actually 1909m) it is possible to drive to the summit, although the roads may be closed in winter. At the top there is a viewing table as well as restaurants and shops, plus some short walks. On a good day it is possible to see as far as the Alps to the north and the Mediterranean to the south.
Location: 20km north east of Carpentras, on the D974.
Our recommendations: Make sure you set out with a full tank of petrol – it’s a long drive to the summit! And you are recommended to take some warm clothes and coats as it can be considerably colder at the summit than when you set out.
Description: This is an incredible natural feature where the rushing waters of the river Ardèche have eaten away at a wall of rock resulting in a kind of tunnel or rock arch over the river. There are great views from the several small car parks alongside the main road.
Location: Take the D290 south east from Vallon Pont D’Arc and you will find the Pont D’Arc about 4km from the village, on the right hand side.
General Info: Try to get there reasonably early as the road gets very busy later in the day. Patience is needed!
Our recommendations: Plan to take a walk alongside the river from near Chames. You will find some interesting caves there (river view pictured opposite). It is also worth going past the Arc for a few km as you get a lovely viewpoint looking back over one of the great sweeps in the river.
For the children: They would probably prefer to be in a canoe!
Walking in Provence
The options for walking in the Provence region are endless and could fill a web-site in their own right! Below are a few ideas, which simply skim the surface.
If you fancy doing some walking with your family while on holiday then invest in some good maps (IGN Series Bleue at a scale of 1:25000), sturdy footwear and perhaps a book with a choice of circular walks. We used ‘Holiday Walks in Provence’ by Judy Smith and ‘Western Provence and Languedoc- Rousillon’ part of the Sunflower Landscapes series by John and Pat Underwood.
Tourist Offices will also have booklets of walks for purchase (eg. walks in the Dentelles de Montmirail costs €5* from the Tourist Office in Beaumes de Venise).
* please note that all prices are subject to change. Check the official website or contact the venue directly for actual prices
Here’s more information to make the most of your visit to the Provence:
- Attractions in Provence:
- Other Activities: