The Val de Durance is located to the west of Haute Provence, in this place where the mountains take on the appearance of beautiful wooded hills with their plump slopes. At the foot of the Lure mountain, the valley is the furrow of an important hydraulic resource; crossed by the Durance and the Bléone, its tributary. Furthermore, the influence of the Mediterranean climate allows for a fabulous diversity of fauna and flora. Between 350 and 1400 m altitude, the landscapes are full of picturesque villages with multiple heritage riches. The Val de Durance definitely connects with a change of scenery. Motorway and rail links connect the Marseille metropolis to the first ski resorts in the Southern Alps.
By the villages
A number of villages have taken their place around the lake (Chateau-Arnoux-Saint-Auban, The stopover et volonne) or on the bank of the Bléone (Malia). Others settled on the mountainside (Mallefougasse) or on the threshold of the Luberon (Peyruis et Ganagobia). The village des Mées, for its part, is nestled at the foot of the Valensole plateau. In fact, all these villages are typical of Haute-Provence with their cobbled streets, their fountains and old wash houses on every street corner or their elongated steps which go up to the bell towers and perched chapels.
From one village to another, all architectural styles are also present, witnesses of so many cultures at different periods: from Romanesque art (St-Martin Church in Volonne) to contemporary art (St-Jean Chapel in Château-Arnoux), from the classical style (Château de Malijai from the 18th century) to the Gothic style (Château from the 17th century in Volonne) passing through the Renaissance style (Château from the 16th century in Château-Arnoux) to the ruins of the feudal castle from the 12th century to Peyruis.
This calm and majestic valley, in the hollow of which the Durance flows down from the mountains, undoubtedly brings together the most generous communes of Haute-Provence: agricultural land, farms, orchards and olive groves. In particular, the olive culture, truly present here, has more than 100 olive trees in the commune of Mées alone! (In reality, the number of olive trees is certainly greater, but the exact figure remains a closely guarded secret). The discovery of fields, mills, producers, reveals striking landscapes of wisdom where time calms down. Here, the olive is an art of living that can be seen even on our plates.
A nourishing valley par excellence, the Val de Durance is no less a plain which offers some of the most beautiful natural and heritage sites in the region.
The ornithological reserve
The Ornithological Reserve, made up of three artificial wetlands, protects an abundant diversity of birds and concentrates more than 56% of the department's species here! Throughout the year, no less than 140 species can be observed. This wealth of avifauna is hidden in the tangle of reeds, the wild riverine forest or even the gravel banks of the Durance. However, certain species can be admired on the expanses of the Escale reservoir. In this area, biodiversity is now concentrated, soon to be equivalent to that recorded in the Camargue.
The Tour du Lac, Eco-walk of the Stopover
A 10 km route, developed in 2022, now allows you to do the tour of the Escale reservoir (Lake Tour) which houses, among other things, the ornithological reserve. It offers two paths to explore in gentle mode, discovery areas with interpretation supports and equipment dedicated to naturalist observation. Via these new developed routes, visitors can reach the municipalities of Volonne and Château-Arnoux-Saint-Auban by taking the new Himalayan footbridge, wide and pleasant, almost 140 meters long.
The Penitents of Les Mées
What a dizzying and fascinating face to face! Golden pyramids sculpted by erosion, the series of gigantic cliffs stretches for almost 2 km. The hooded “monks” do penance, stoic, petrified for three million years. 100 meters of emptiness on both sides, the dizzying path draws us to the crest of this natural monument. The panoramic view over the entire valley dominates the Durance and the Lure mountain. From spring to summer, the scents of thyme, rosemary, lavender and wild sage immerse us in Provence. From wherever you are in the Val de Durance, you will see the “Pénitents des Mées”, a rock formation which takes its name from a legend.
Thanks to this setting and the resulting quality of life, the valley is open to all outdoor activities: gliding, fishing, hiking or mountain biking.
Full of nature
The Val de Durance has nearly 350 km of hiking trails accessible to all levels. Some are designed for people with reduced mobility. For example, the very pleasant Tour du Lac, which connects l’Escale, Château-Arnoux and Volonne. On the mountain bike side, no less than 600 km of mountain bike trails, including 4 night trails, constitute a magical terrain for enthusiasts of this sport. Please note: the Val de Durance is the anchor point for many mountain bike trips in the region. It is also a privileged space for equestrian activities, orienteering courses and even fishing.
Dare to fly over Haute Provence with an instructor from National Gliding Center. It is a feeling of intense freedom that the experience of flying a glider provides.
This rural valley with a mild and sunny climate is the route naturally taken by many historic itineraries such as the famous Napoleon road (RN85 and GR406), the path to Santiago de Compostela and Rome (GR653), but also the Lavender Route, which leads to the Valensole plateau and the Verdon.
Surrounded by fields of lavender, sage and many other crops, the solar panels literally blend into the landscape by following the curves of the mountain. At nightfall, the moon begins a waving ballet of light. During the day, the optical illusion will make you imagine a body of water. Do not think that the presence of this park prevents the flourishing of fauna and flora. On the contrary, certain rodents, nesters and small mammals find a suitable habitat here, as it is protected from crowds. The plateau will help you discover the department with a 360° view.
Finally, the Val de Durance does not only offer nature outings. On the cultural side in fact, the Durance Theater offers a cultural season made up of concerts, live shows and resolutely multidisciplinary workshops for all ages.