Walking in Upper Provence

Walking in Upper Provence takes you on a wander through some France’s most beautiful – and sunbathed – countryside. The sun beats down on average 300 days of the year here, and that unique Provençal light – which so-inspired Van Gogh and Cezanne – illuminates the Luberon’s unending rows of lavender and perched hilltop villages. This is bewitching walking country; a slow, timeless Provence that’s a world away from the tourist-laden streets of Avignon or the rush of the chic Mediterranean coast. Moderate hiking trails pass through fragrant herbs, into medieval towns, skirt olive-covered mountains and take you far, far away from the hustle and bustle of Provence’s cities.

Upper Provence walking highlights

Forcalquier

A pretty market town perched atop a conical hill and sat squarely between the Montagne de Lure and the lavender-filled Luberon Massif, Forcalquier is a convenient walking base. You can expect typical French charm here; narrow winding streets, a famously chock-a-block market and that ubiquitous slow Provençal pace of life. Do as the locals do and sip a pastis in the shade outside one of Forcalquier’s local bars, but don’t miss the hike to the Priory of Salagon – one of Upper Provence’s most significant medieval monuments.

Hilltop towns

A ubiquitous sight across Haute-Provence; a tiny town – stone softened and crumbling with age – clinging to the top of one of the region’s many hills. Cobbled streets circle upwards to a church, chapel or chateau, while tiny bars tucked away in the walls offer cafés, pastis and pressions. Don’t miss a wander around Mane and its medieval citadel, short walk from Forcalquier, or the pretty, dry stone walls of St Martin les Eaux.

Les Gorges du Verdon

Move over the Grand Canyon, Upper Provence’s Gorges du Verdon may not quite match in scale, the sheer lush beauty of the scenery here makes this one of Europe’s most gorgeous gorges. Juniper trees cling to sheer limestone cliffs which tower up to 700m above the implausibly turquoise Verdon River. The best panoramic viewpoints are only accessible on foot –on a network of trails from pretty villages like Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. Hike to the craggy ridge of L’Ourbes for spectacular views of the equally azure Lac Sainte Croix.

The Luberon

The Luberon is Upper Provence at its most bucolic; swathes of lavender fields abut rows of sun-drenched vineyards, olive-groves and peach and apricot orchards, dotted with perched villages – some dating back over a thousand years - clinging to steeply-rising hillsides. The Luberon’s mountains, ever-looming alongside its wide valleys, offer a wealth of hiking trails. Walks on the Mourres Plateau above Forcalquier take you through forests of bizarre, often life-like, limestone rock formations; ‘Mourres’ meaning ‘faces’ in the Provençal dialect.

Montagne de Lure

Affectionately known as the ‘petit Ventoux’, the dramatic limestone escarpment of the Montagne de Lure rises 1826m over the Luberon valley and offers a spectacular view across the lavender fields and hilltop villages from its craggy, wild peak. A highlight is the lovely Abbaye de Lure, set a few hundred metres from its summit – accessed through pretty garrigue – typical Provencal scrubland – and fragrant, herb-filled fields.

Valensole Plateau

It’s not difficult to see why the vast Valensole Plateau – just east of the Luberon – is one of Provence’s most important producers of lavender. In late June to early August the region fills with the aroma of lavender and thyme as a haze of deep purple spreads across the neatly-rowed fields in between ancient honey-coloured villages. In spring, which brings cooler walking temperatures, you’ll be rewarded with pretty almond trees in bloom.

What does an Upper Provence walking vacation entail?

Usually around a week of delightful wandering through scenic, rolling countryside, with the odd steep climb into ancient villages – or into the mountains around the Luberon or les Gorges du Verdon. You can either choose to join a small group tour, which will see you walking with a few like-minded fellow travelers in the company of an expert local guide. Walking routes and departure dates are set on these itineraries – although you will usually have some free time along the way to enjoy the pretty villages you pass. While you’re exploring don’t miss the chance to pick up some handmade local pottery – it’s a bit of a speciality here. Where you change accommodation each night, or every few nights, your luggage will be transferred for you and waiting for you when you arrive.

For something more flexible and independent choose a self-guided tour, which can be tailored to your fitness levels and interests. Your walking specialist will book all your accommodation for you, will provide you with detailed route maps and notes, will transfer your luggage between hotels and will be on hand should you have any problems during your trip, but your days will be your own. Fancy ducking into that tiny farm selling miel á lavande, (lavender honey) or cooling off with a demi-pêche (a lager shandy flavoured with peach syrup) in a fountain-filled square? Go wild.

Where will I stay?

Whether you pick a small group or tailor made tour you can expect your accommodation in Upper Provence to be in small, family-run, and oh-so-Provencal guesthouses and hotels in the heart of the small towns and villages you pass through. Some trips will see you move most days, while others will base you in one hotel and arrange beautiful day walks in different parts of the region with transfers by private bus. While basic, the guesthouses offer clean, comfortable en-suite rooms in a relaxed and friendly setting. Some even have a pool for a cooling post-walk dip in the evening sunshine. You might be making the most of the home-cooked French delicacies on offer – start with some tapenade and bread, before tucking into a thyme-covered Luberon lamb chop washed down with a glass of chilled Provençal rosé – or eating in local restaurants where local produce purchased in the region’s markets, and local cuisine is a way of life.

How fit do I need to be?

While self-guided walking vacations in Upper Provence can be tailored to your fitness levels you can still expect most of the trails to be of easy to moderate difficulty. You should be happy walking between four and seven hours a day, over uneven paths, and some uphill sections are inevitable in Upper Provence’s mountainous terrain. This means that while some of the walking might be a challenge, anything strenuous or steep isn’t sustained for a long time – and you’ll usually have plenty of time to stop to rest, relax and explore along the way.

Our top France walking Vacation

French Riviera vacation, walking, culture & cooking option

French Riviera vacation, walking, culture & cooking option

Experience real French culture while relaxing mindfully...

From 450 to1080 4 days ex flights
Tailor made:
This trip runs every week (April- Nov) with a set itinerary but the length of stay & arrival date can be adjusted to your needs
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about France walking or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Do I need to fly?

Happily, no – although you’ll want to think about adding a day or so either end of your trip to account for the significantly longer journey time by rail. The Eurostar will take you from London to Paris or Avignon, from where local services and the TGV (France’s high-speed network) serve Manosque and Forcalquier via Marseille and Aix-en-Provence and Nicee.

As you’ll be exploring on foot- with minimal time spent on the road – staying in small, family-owned accommodations and eating in local restaurants and bars well off the beaten tourist trail in Provence, this type of vacation is by its very nature a responsible tourism powerhouse. So, do you really need to add an international flight into the mix?

When to go

To catch the lavender in bloom you need to travel between the last week of June to the end of August – with the Luberon and the rest of the region’s high plateaux a purple haze in early July. This is Upper-Provence at its most vibrant - with sunflowers also in full colour in July to August – but also its hottest. June and September and October offer less oppressive walking temperatures – although still pleasantly warm in the early 20s° Celsius - making on-foot exploration more pleasant.
Written by Sarah Faith
Photo credits: [Page banner: Andrea Schaffer] [The Luberon: Francois Philipp] [How fit do I need to be?: Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble] [When to go: Arthur Aldyrkhanov]
Convert currencies