4 rejuvenating outdoor activities in the Southern French Alps

The Southern Alps have some wonderful natural spots in the hinterland, with unspoiled mountains reaching up to 4,000 metres. The vast, open-air landscapes look as though they've been painted. The region is authentic, nature is celebrated and the local lifestyle prioritises health and wellbeing.

Explore the natural parks

Open, untouched spaces, clear skies and breathtaking scenery. The Southern French Alps enjoy 300 days of sunshine a year. The highest peak, the Barre des Ecrins, reaches 4,102 metres. A dynamic place, ideal in spring/summer for all outdoor activities, hiking or cycling, watersports and mountaineering. Adventure awaits you in the high-altitude Alpine parks: the Ecrins, the Mercantour and the Queyras are all sheltered from mass tourism, with traditional villages where time seems to stand still.

The parks between the sea and the mountains are enchanting with their ever-changing scenery, such as the Baronnies Provençales, the Préalpes d'Azur, and the Verdon with its famous gorges. A perfect combination that regenerates body and mind. A visit to the Vauban fortress in Mont-Dauphin is a must, a former military barracks, national monument and UNESCO World Heritage Site, which has converted to organic mushroom growing and cheese maturing. The Monbardon cheese factory and the Coopérative des Alpes du Sud have created cellars for maturing cheeses, including the Bleus du Queyras.

River and lake watersports

The Ubaye valley is a natural park for freshwater sports: canoeing, kayaking, hydrospeed, rafting and waterside walks. Several places provide sports facilities for all ages, from Barcelonette to Les Thuiles to St-Vincent-Les-Forts on the shores of Lac de Serre-Ponçon, one of Europe's largest artificial lakes which is celebrating its 60th birthday this year. Here, the season usually starts in mid-April. While paddling through the rapids of the torrents gets the adrenaline pumping, you can also paddle leisurely across Serre-Ponçon and end the day with a lakeside barbecue. The excellent weather conditions allow for a multitude of outdoor activities, from hiking and cycling on land to windsurfing and paddleboarding on the water, and paragliding and giant ziplines if you want to get airborne!

Slow tourism, on foot or by bike

Cycling fans will find legendary hills here, many made famous by the Tour de France. On certain days, the main passes (Izoard, Galibier, Allos, the Risoul and Orcières climbs) are closed to car traffic. For foodies, we recommend the 'vélofromage' itineraries which incorporate some delicious stop-offs. On the other hand, the Grande Traversée des Alpes is made for walking enthusiasts. From Lake Geneva to the beaches of the Mediterranean, the wide open spaces follow one another with different landscapes and wildlife. Trips can be prepared well in advance by booking overnight stays in the refuges - either independently or with the help of an agency. Immerse yourself in the beautiful Alpine environment.

A night of a thousand stars

A unique experience: sleep at the Saint-Véran Astronomical Observatory, at 2,936 metres, and enjoy a night among the stars. There are 12 places spread across three rooms, each with a 500mm telescope pointed at the starry sky. Then, early in the morning, you can experience the magic of the 'green ray' that illuminates the Alps. The observatory is perched 1,000m up from Saint-Véran, Europe's highest inhabited village. You begin the ascent from here on foot (4-5 hours in summer, six in winter with snowshoes).