Vercors - natural history of the pre-Alps (by train)
A week in the French Pre-Alps, an attractive landscape of limestone hills and plateaux.
Our trip will be based around the French regional natural park of Vercors. This lies in the south-eastern part of the country, near the border with Italy. It incorporates the largest nature reserve in mainland France of around 17,000 ha. The area is part of the Pre-Alps limestone hills, which form a peripheral ring around the Alps, and our daily excursions will take us to explore the warm southern slopes. It is a superb area for sub-alpine flowers, which are easily accessible. The insects are impressive, with a fine array of butterflies and many of the specialities of southern Europe.
Wildlife Travel has had many enjoyable holidays in this area in the past, and we are delighted to be able to return once again. The holiday will appeal to anyone who wishes to enjoy wild flowers on pleasant walks through stunning scenery – plus there is the bonus of travelling by train rather than having to fly.
Our visit is timed to make the most of the natural history, and especially the wild flowers. June is the period when the best of the flowers bloom, butterflies are flying and many birds are still breeding. Although our main focus is wild flowers, we may see mammals such as ibex, and our itinerary offers the opportunity to gain a flavour of the history and some of the artisan activities of the area.
There are many beautiful, spectacular and species-rich places in France: with its combination of landscape, marvellous diversity of plants and animals, easy accessibility and remarkably unspoilt character, Vercors must rank amongst the best.
Please note that holidays change, although sometimes only slightly, from year to year and previous trip reports may not reflect the planned itinerary, or other holiday details, for the current trip. Please ask us if you would like to know of any significant differences.
Day 1 After travelling to Valence by train, our coach takes us to the village of Les Nonieres (around 90 mins), where we arrive in time for a late dinner.
Day 2 We enjoy a leisurely familiarisation with the hamlet of Les Nonieres and its wildflowers, and wind our way up to a local waterfall, enjoying the butterflies and other wildlife en-route.
Day 3 We take a short journey to Le Col de Pennes to explore the upland meadows and woods, with excellent butterflies such as Scarce Swallowtail, Duke of Burgundy, and Almond-eyed Ringlet, and many unusual flowers. We walk down a quiet road with magnificent views of the valley below and the distant, southern slopes of the Vercors.
Day 4 We explore the lower Vallon de Combeau; enjoying a walk through meadows and pastures rich with typical sub-alpine plants, such as Globeflower, Sainfoin, Yellow Bellflower and many colourful composites.
Day 5 We take a longer walk through the upper Vallon de Combeau, which leads us up to the alpine meadows at around 1,800m. The meadows here can be a riot of colour, with species including Alpine Bartsia, Antennaria, Elder-flowered Orchid and Wild Tulip, and we will enjoy spectacular views of the Alps.
Day 6 We head under the Col du Menée and wind our way down to Col du Prayer looking for orchids and butterflies as we walk through alpine meadows before travelling on to Le Cirque d’Archiane a massive natural amphitheatre of cliffs that rise to 1,800m, and are a nesting place for Golden Eagles and Griffon Vultures.
Day 7 We follow the River Bes as it cuts its way through the Gorges des Gats before continuing via the village of Boulc to the reserve of Marais de Rochebriane, a semi-wetland good for dragonflies and butterflies with an orchid-rich limestone outcrop.
Day 8 Following breakfast, we start our journey back through the Drome valley, passing vineyards, walnut groves and lavender fields until we reach Valence and our train home.
Please note that the itinerary may be changed to suit the weather or other practicalities at the discretion of the leaders.
We stay at the excellent Le Mont Barral, situated in the small hamlet of Les Nonières, at 850m altitude, near the Parc du Vercors. The hotel is very comfortable, and all rooms have en-suite facilities with bath and/or shower.
We will be having breakfast and evening meals at the hotel restaurant. Picnic lunches will be provided by the hotel.
The hotel has an indoor pool that should be open at this time.
We will ensure that our travelling is as comfortable as possible, using a small coach that will enable us to travel on the smaller country roads for our excursions.
We will travel by train from London St Pancras to Valence. We will aim to book a train that connects at Lille, which is easier than Paris. If possible, we will book a combination with a longer transfer time on the way out.
If you prefer to make your own travel arrangements, you can book the holiday without travel. You would need to meet the group at Valence station or at the hotel in Les Nonières.
France is one hour ahead of UK time.
If you hold a British passport you can travel to countries in the Schengen area (including France) for up to 90 days in any 180-day period without a visa. You must have at least six months left on your passport to travel to most countries in Europe.
The weather in the Pre-Alps should be pleasantly hot at this time of year, although rain is always a possibility, as is cooler weather, particularly in the mountains and in the evenings.
Most people will have no fitness problems for the planned activities of this holiday but please see the notes in the General Information in relation to health and fitness. You should be able to lift your own luggage on and off of the trains. On some days, we will not be walking very far, but on others we will be walking for most of the day, although at a slow pace, taking plenty of stops to enjoy the wildlife. If you are a slow walker, please ring us to discuss whether any of the walks will be a problem for you. To see the best of the flowers, it is necessary to walk on rougher ground and up slopes. We do not do any strenuous hikes but some of the walking is uphill (relatively gentle slopes) and on uneven ground. All excursions are optional.