Alpes-de-Haute-Provence: tourism and sightseeing
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The Alpes-de-Haute-Provence is one of the most scenic departments in Provence, with the dramatic Gorges du Verdon (France's own Grand Canyon) and the Verdon Regional Natural park to the south, the more eastern of the Luberon hill villages to the south-west and the ruggedly beautiful Mercantour National Parc to the north-east.
The Alpes-de-Haute-Provence department of France is situated in the central-northern part of Provence, with Digne-les-Bains as department 'capital'. The scenery is of course the highlight of this part of Provence.
As well as the towns and villages mentioned below there are numerous smaller villages, often medieval villages in very scenic hilltop settings or surrounded by mountains or fields of lavender, to discover as you travel around the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence.
Outdoor sports such as hiking or cycling are the best way to enjoy the department if possible, while other sports practiced here include rockclimbing, rafting, horse-riding and paragliding.
The department can best be seen as three distinct areas: the Gorges du Verdon and the south-east; the south-west including part of the Luberon region, and the northern area of the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. We explore each of these areas separately below:
Gorges du Verdon and the south-east
Visits to this area usually centre around the Verdon Regional Natural Park. This Park is in the region around Moustiers and Castellane and of course includes the Gorges du Verdon.
The Gorges du Verdon themselves are dramatic deep gorges usually accessed via the pleasant town of Castellane. The gorges are an area of exceptional natural beauty, one of the most outstanding in France: see Gorges du Verdon for details.
Many visitors to the gorges also spend some time at the very large Lac de Sainte-Croix, a popular leisure lake nearby. Some good views across the lake are to be seen from Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon.
North of the lake you can visit Moustiers, an attractive village situated below a great cliff, that is classified as one of the 'most beautiful villages in France'.
Further to the east the village of Annot is built around enormous boulders and very interesting to see, and the medieval village of Entrevaux is nearby and beautifully situated above a bend in the Var river. We also suggest that you spend a morning exploring the cluster of villages to the north of Annot that includes Braux, Méailles and Le Fugeret.
The Luberon Regional Natural Park is situated to the south-west of the department. Although many of the most 'famous' Luberon villages fall within the Vaucluse department (see Luberon) the park also extends into the south-western of the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence.
Among the many picturesque small villages that you will discover in this area are Dauphin, Montfuron, Oppedette (visited for the Gorges d'Oppedette next to the village) Pierrevert, Reillanne, Saint-Maime, Saint-Michel-de-l'Observatoire, Saint Tulle and Volx.
Most of these are individually small and don't take long to explore, but have a charming historic centre, often set around a church or ruins of a medieval castle, and are surrounded by lovely scenery.
The village of Simiane-la-Rotonde, a short distance north of Oppedette, is well known for the lavender fields across the plateau that surrounds the village and its unusual rotunda.
Elsewhere in the south-west of the department there is also a lot to enjoy. There are less visitors here than further west or south in Provence and the towns are typically pleasant, traditional Provencal towns with ancient houses, narrow streets to explore and small cafes in shady squares where you can find shelter from the heat but without the excessive number of tourists.
Start perhaps with a visit to the historic centre of Manosque, one of the most important towns in the region and with several interesting monuments to see.
The nearby village at Valensole is also surrounded by lavender fields and in a lovely position on a raised rocky ledge, and we also recommend you visit Greoux-les-Bains; a small spa town with the remains of a templar castle. Slightly further to the east are the village and Roman temple remains at Riez
If you travel towards the north from Manosque, particular highlights include the hilltop village at Forcalquier, the views from the nearby village of Lurs, the citadel at Mane and the village of Dauphin that also has lovely views.
Part of the National Park of Mercantour is in the north-east of the department (and in the adjacent Alpes-Maritimes department).
Among the many scenic highlights we suggest you visit Barcelonnette, and also the cols of Cayolle and d'Allos for a sample of the spectacular scenery. A tour along the spectacular Ubaye Valley is also highly recommended. See Mercantour National Park for details.
To the north-west of the department we suggest a visit to the citadel town of Sisteron, and we also recommend a visit to the nearby village of Entrepierres.
In the centre of the department the thermal spa town at Digne-les-Bains is popular, and while here you can explore the nearby village at Thoard.
Villages in bloom and towns and villages of character
There are a total of twelve villages that are listed as 'villages of character' in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence department. These villages are considered to be of particular interest both for their natural setting and for their local architecture, and because of their focus on providing facilities for tourism.
Those listed are: Annot, Castellane, Colmars-les-Alpes, Cruis, Dauphin, Entrevaux, Lurs, Mane, Riez, Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, Seyne-les-Alpes and Simiane-la-Rotonde.
Four villages and towns have qualified for 3* in the 'ville fleuri' listings: Digne-les-Bains, Larche, Moustiers and Sisteron.
Map of places to visit near Alpes-de-Haute-Provence
See more places, tourist attractions and local markets at visiting Alpes-de-Haute-Provence
See an index of all Alpes-de-Haute-Provence communes
French version: Alpes-de-Haute-Provence (Francais)