Val de Durance, gently sloping

The Durance Valley is located in the west of Haute Provence, at this place where the mountains take on the appearance of beautiful wooded hills with their rounded slopes. At the foot of the mountain of Lure, the valley is the furrow of an important hydraulic resource; crossed by the Durance and Bleone, its tributary. Moreover, the influence of Mediterranean climate allows a fabulous diversity of fauna and flora. Between 350 and 1400 m altitude, the landscapes abound picturesque villages with multiple heritage riches. The Val de Durance definitely connects with the change of scenery. The highways and railways link the Marseille metropolis to the first ski resorts in the Southern Alps.

By the villages

Many villages have taken their place around the lake (Château-Arnoux-Saint-Auban, L'Escale et Volonne) or on the bank of the Bléone (Malijai). Others settled on the mountainside (Mallefougasse) or on the threshold of the Luberon (Peyruis et Ganagobie). The village of Meses, meanwhile, is nestled at the foot of the Valensole plateau. All these villages are in fact typical of Haute Provence with their narrow cobbled streets, their fountains and old washhouses at every street corner or their elongated steps that go up to the bell towers and perched chapels.

View of the lake and villages of the Val de Durance

From one village to another, all the architectural styles are also present, witnesses of as many cultures at different times: from Romanesque (St-Martin Church in Volonne) to contemporary art (St-Jean Chapel in Château-Arnoux), classic style (XNUMXth Century Malijai Castle) in gothic style (XNUMXth century castle in Volonne) going through the renaissance style (XNUMXth century castle in Château-Arnoux) to the ruins of XNUMXth century feudal castle in Peyruis.

mother earth

This majestic valley, in the hollow of which flows the Durance descending from the mountains, certainly brings together the most generous municipalities of Haute Provence: agricultural land, farmsorchards and olive groves. In particular, the olive cultivation, truly present here, counts nearly 80 olive trees in the commune of Les Mées alone ! (In reality, the number of olive trees is certainly greater, but the exact figure remains a well-kept secret). Cross the fields of producing mills shows strikingly wise landscapes where time calms down. Here, the olive is a way of life that can be seen even on our plates. When it comes to gastronomy, you will therefore take pleasure in finding this local generosity in all the restaurant tables, from the brasserie to the starred chef, such as The Right Step.

Fabulous riches

The main entrance to the Priory of Ganagobie church

Feeding valley par excellence, the Val de Durance is no less a plain which offers some of the most beautiful natural and heritage sites of the territory. Here are some must-haves.

Haven of peace and retreat, the priory of Ganagobie dominates the valley of the Durance. A hiking trail dotted with historical treasures connects the village to the plateau: alley to the monks, ramparts, millstone quarries. A short walk at the end of the plateau also allows you to discover the ruins of the village of Villevieille, probably dating from the XNUMXth century. It is assumed that the Plateau has been inhabited since prehistoric times. The XNUMXth century church gives a glimpse the cloister and houses unique medieval mosaics dating from the twelfth century. In addition, the contemporary stained glass windows were made by Father Kim En Joong and the porch is surmounted by a sumptuous eardrum.

La Ornithological Reserve, made up of three artificial wetlands, protects an abundant diversity of birds and concentrates here more than 56% of cash in the department ! Throughout the year, no less than 140 species can be observed. This wealth of birdlife is hidden in the tangle of reeds, the wild riparian forest or even the gravel banks of the Durance. However, some species can be seen on the expanses of the Escale reservoir. In this area there is now a concentration of biodiversity almost equivalent to that recorded in the Camargue.

What a dizzying and fascinating face to face! Golden pyramids carved by erosion, the row of gigantic cliffs is linked over 1 km. The hooded "monks" do penance, stoic, petrified for three million years. 100 meters of emptiness on both sides, the vertiginous path draws us to the crest of this natural monument. The panoramic view over the entire valley dominates the Durance and the Lure mountain. The scents of thyme, rosemary, lavender and wild sage immerse us in Provence. Wherever you are in the Val de Durance, you will see the Penitents of the Mées 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

Panoramic view of landscape with mountain bike and cyclist in the foreground

The Val de Durance totals nearly 350 km of pedestrian routes accessible to all levels. Some are equipped for people with reduced mobility. For example, the very pleasant Lake Tower, which connects l'Escale, Château-Arnoux and Volonne. On the mountain bike side, no less than 600 km of mountain bike route, including 4 nocturnal courses, constitute a magical terrain for enthusiasts of this sport. The Val de Durance is also the anchor point for many mountain biking stays of the territory. It is also a privileged space for equestrian practices, orientation course or fishing.

This rural valley with a mild and sunny climate is the route naturally taken by many historic routes such as the famous Napoleon road (RN85 and GR406), the road to Santiago de Compostela and from Rome (GR653), but still the Lavender Route, which leads to the Valensole plateau and the Verdon.

Solar change of scenery

Two cyclists on a walk on the Cole plateau to discover the photovoltaic farm

Sheltered from view and concealed by the barrier of the Pénitents de Mées, is the Glue plateau, which is accessed by a small hilly road behind the village. Up there, since the 2010s, one of the largest photovoltaic farms of France. In fact, the site was chosen for these natural qualities: good level of sunshine and constant ventilation. These conditions allow an overall permanent yield much higher than the national average. Thus, the site produces more than 100 megawatts and can meet the needs of a population of 250 inhabitants! The electricity is transported and then distributed to the large towns further south. This performance makes this territory a champion in terms of sustainable development.

Finally, the Val de Durance does not only offer 'nature' outings. On the cultural side, indeed, Durance Theater offers a cultural season made up of concerts, live shows and resolutely multidisciplinary workshops for all ages.