Provence-Alps-Côte-d'Azur: Active Mountain Holidays To Relaxing Beach BreaksAlicia Gough, Executive Editor, Europe
Head south from the Alpine peaks, past hillside towns, lakes and vineyards, to the Mediterranean with its pretty harbour towns and golden beaches.
The Provence-Alps-Côte-d'Azur is one of the most diverse regions in France, encompassing everything from the snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps to the golden sandy beaches of the Côte-d'Azur. The mountains and lakes of the Provence Alps are a playground for outdoor enthusiasts seeking walking, biking, fishing, and horse riding holidays, as well as more extreme activities such as white water rafting, climbing, and challenging mountain treks.
The area boasts numerous torrents, waterfalls, gorges, and canyons, ideal for canyoning, rafting, canoeing, and kayaking. Long-distance hikers have several walks to choose from forming part of the ‘Grande Randonnee' network, which will take them through the Ubaya and the Ecrins. One of the best ways to explore the Provence Alps is by bicycle. Follow the trails over the Dentelles de Montmirail Mountains, the Côtes du Rhône vineyards, or the Enclave des Papes.
The number of national parks in the Provence-Alps-Côte-d'Azur is testament to its natural beauty. The Queyras Regional National Park stretches across rocky mountain slopes, pine forests, and colorful flora. Walking paths crisscross the park, making it popular for nature enthusiasts. The Mercantour National Park extends from the North of the Upper Provence Alps to the Menton countryside, not far from the Mediterranean. The Verdon Regional Natural Park stretches across 1800 square kilometres of countryside. It offers a protected area with a microclimate and contains a rich diversity of flora and fauna.
Popular mountain excursions include Allos Lake and Le Meije massif. Allos Lake, located at 2220 metres, is Europe's largest natural lake at an altitude. The bright blue lake is fed by glaciers and can be reached by a path in 45 minutes. La Meije is an imposing massif of rocks and snow overlooking the Romanche valley, which can be reached by taking the glacier cable car from Meije to Grave 1450-3200 metres altitude.
The panoramic drive along La Bonett pass is a must-see. The narrow and winding Bonette road is the highest in Europe and offers views over mountains, vineyards, and the old military barracks at Restefond. Another reason to visit the Provence-Alps-Côte-d'Azur is for its wine tasting tours. The vineyards produce mainly reds and roses, and are found towards the Alpilles and around the Etang de Berre.
Briançon, the second highest town in Europe, sits at 1326 metres and is located at the meeting point of five valleys. The hillside town has managed to preserve its ancient fortifications, monuments, frescoes and sculptured wooden doors. Visitors can take the Prorel cabel car up to the Grand Serre-Chevalier mountain resort from the town center, offering spectacular views. Head to Avignon to see historic and culture on a grander scale. The city offers a wealth of historic and artistic attractions, including the Palace of the Popes, the Saint Benezet Bridge, and the Halles Market.
The Provence-Alps-Côte-d'Azur region stretches down along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Must-see coastal sights include the red rocks of Esterel; the vibrant, colorful harbor town of Saint Tropez; and the cliffs at Cassis and Marseilles. Founded in 600 B.C., Marseille has grown into a lively cosmopolitan city. Visitors can stroll through the narrow streets of the historic center, take boat trips to the islands, explore the old port, or hike in the Callanques massifs. Farther up the coast are the golden sandy beaches of Cannes and the bustling city of Nice with its picturesque promenade.
The Provence-Alps-Côte-d'Azur is easily reached by its two international airports: Marseille-Provence and Nice Côte d'Azur. Alternatively, the Mediterranean TGV (high-speed train) connects Paris/Lyon with Marseille/Saint-Charles in just three hours and operates 17 times a day.