Haute Provence Landschaft

Short vacation in the south of France: 5 ideas for a quick visit to Haute-Provence

When planning our five-day Provence short holiday, we had thought long and hard about where we wanted to focus on what. After our stopover in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, should we head for the historic “capital” of the region, Aix-en-Provence, or should we take a detour to the lesser-known Haute-Provence? We chose Haute-Provence. And this quite unconsciously of the fact that we almost dabbed the coveted season of the lavender blossom with our travel time.

The fragrant violet-blue flowers were only encountered sporadically under the scorching July sun. On the other hand, the Haute-Provence enchanted us with its vast forests, rugged rocks and defiant castles. And I’ll admit it, my heart got stuck somewhere on the track between Thoard and Authon. If that doesn’t mean anything to you and you don’t really know where to locate Haute-Provence and what there is to see there, then it’s worth reading on. I have come to the conclusion that Haute-Provence is an excellent short holiday destination.

Route inspiration UNESCO Geopark Haute-Provence

Haute-Provence or the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence region is located in the southeast of France north of the cities of Nice, Cannes and Marseille and borders on the Luberon in the west, which I presented to you in my first Provence travelogue. One of the most famous sights in Haute-Provence is the Gorges du Verdon. Over a distance of 20 kilometres, the turquoise Verdon has dug itself into the rock up to 700 metres deep and created a unique gorge landscape. In addition to this highlight, Haute-Provence is also home to the first of more than 170 UNESCO Geoparks worldwide; geological sites or landscapes of international geoscientific importance.

Here in Haute-Provence, the Geopark covers an area of over 60 municipalities in an area that, due to its geological features (deposits and folds), allows you to experience over 300 million years of geological history. Or to put it the other way around: An area where I wish my compulsory geology lessons at university hadn’t been so long ago.

Haute-Provence is therefore an ideal holiday destination for those who like to move in nature, are interested in flora and fauna and also like to spend a few days relaxing. We have geoparchauteprovence.com ourselves on site when planning our excursions, especially on the regional website. Inspired. From this, I would now like to introduce you to five activities that we have tried.

Our tips for short breaks in Haute-Provence

1. In Château-Arnoux-Saint-Auban entspannen

Château-Arnoux-Saint-Auban is, at first glance, a very average village. We came here for two reasons. On the one hand, the village is conveniently located on the A51, which connects Aix-en-Provence with Sisteron, and at the same time the Verdon Regional Nature Park is quite easy to reach from here via the N85. On the other hand, during our research for a passable accommodation east of the Luberon, we came across the “La Bonne Etape” (partner link). Located within walking distance of the banks of the Durance, this 4-star hotel with swimming pool and a gourmet restaurant (1 star) is a member of Relais & Châteaux and seemed to us to be a suitable base for a two-day stopover in Haute-Provence.

Chateau Arnoux Haute-Provence
La Bonne Etape

The hotel is getting a bit old and could do with a gentle renovation. And the menu at La Bonne Etape is in the “old school” style. Price/performance is okay (room rates from 180 euros), you can relax at the pool and the location is great to explore the Geopark Haute Provence. We therefore draw a positive conclusion. By the way: There are two public electric charging stations in the car park opposite La Bonne Etape.

2. Look for lavender fields on the “Route du Sud”

The “Geoparc Haute Provence” website presents five “Routes de Découvertes that run from Digne-les-Bains and Sisteron through different corners of the Geopark. On the first day, we followed the orange route – the “La route des galets, des saveurs et des lavandes” over winding, narrow pass roads in a southerly direction to the village of Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon. In terms of landscape, it’s an absolute dream route – even in the height of summer. If we had been on the road two or three weeks earlier, we would have encountered countless photogenic lavender fields along this route.

Route Sud Geoparc Haute-Provence
Lavendelfelder Haute-Provence
Aussichtspunkt Route Sud Haute-Provence

3. Visit the most beautiful villages of Haute Provence

Tipp 1 Moustiers-Sainte-Marie

If you follow the Route du Sud to Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon, you will not only enjoy the magnificent view over the turquoise shimmering Lac de Sainte-Croix, but you will also have the opportunity to stroll through the cobbled streets of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. In fact, the route also passes by this gem, one of the most beautiful villages in France.

Due to its proximity to the Verdon Gorges, Moustiers-Sainte-Marie is usually very busy during the summer season. In my opinion, a short walk through the village center is worthwhile despite the high number of visitors. What we did not do, however, is the ascent to the Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Beauvoir, which is enthroned high above the village wedged between rocks. Instead, we went to the ice cream parlour L’Etoile Givrée to get a delicious, homemade ice cream and watch the hustle and bustle from a bench in the shade.

Dörfer der Haute-Provence

Tipp 2 Simiane-la-Rotonde

We passed the mountain village of Simiane-la-Rotonde on the way from Saint-Rémy-de-Provence via Luberon to Château-Arnoux-Saint-Auban. A special feature is the round defensive tower as a “remnant” of a fortification from the 12th century. The former market hall from the 16th century, which now houses a restaurant and offers a great view of the surrounding landscape, is also pretty. During our stop here, the village center seemed to us to be deserted. A total contrast to Roussillon or Moustiers-Sainte-Marie.


During the lavender blossom there is also the opportunity to shoot typical postcard motifs. Directly in front of the picturesque village, lavender fields in bloom can usually be found from the end of June to mid-August. Due to the altitude, the lavender bloom here usually lasts longer than in the Luberon. But here, too, climate change is making itself felt and lavender harvesting is taking place earlier and earlier. By the time we visited at the end of July 2022, all the fields around Simiane-la-Rotonde had already been harvested.

Tip 3: Banon

Banon is located less than 12 kilometres from Simiane-la-Rotonde, also on the route to Château-Arnoux-Saint-Auban. And here, too, depending on the season, blooming lavender fields await you. And if you like goat cheese, you should make a stop at the Fromagerie de Banon on the way through. The local goat’s cheese is considered a speciality and can also be found in the assortment of well-known Swiss cheese affineurs such as Rolf Beeler.

Banon Haute-Provence

4. Immerse yourself in the impressive mountain world on the “Route du Temps”

The multifaceted nature of Haute-Provence is revealed to us on the “Route du Temps”. This is also one of the five Geopark themed routes. Like the Route du Sud, this one first follows the N85 towards Digne-les-Bains. Of course, we also had a quick look at the capital of the prefecture of the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence department on the way back on the Route du Sud.

But somehow I didn’t warm up to the small town known as the “historic capital of lavender”. Many buildings looked dilapidated, most of the shops were closed and apart from us hardly any tourists seemed to “get lost” here. We couldn’t even find a nice place to stop for a bite to eat. Or maybe it was just the hot temperatures and the late afternoon – who knows… On the Route du Temps, however, you branch off towards the mountains before Digne-les-Bains anyway and follow a narrowing road via Champtercier to Thoard in the Vallée des Duyes.

Geoparc Haute-Provence
Thoard Haute-Provence

On the route description of the Geoparc website you will find numerous sights located as well as various hiking tips. To see everything, you would have to make at least one stop along the route. The best thing to do is to click through the tips and mark the exciting spots on Google Maps (or your favorite planning tool). My highlight was the small viewing platform on the Col d’Hysope, which offers a gigantic panoramic view over the Vallée des Duyes.

Col de l'Hysope

5. Visit the Citadel of Sisteron

If you, like us, take the Route du Temps from Digne-les-Bains more or less directly towards Sisteron with selected sightseeing stops, you will need about two to three hours for the route. The citadel, impressively placed on a rocky outcrop high above Sisteron, will be spotted from afar. No wonder, a fortress was built at this strategically favourable location in the early Middle Ages. The citadel was given its current appearance in the 16th century under the auspices of the fortress builder Jean Errard de Bar-le-Duc.

Vue Panoramique auf die Zitadelle Sisteron

The fortress can be visited daily from the end of March to the beginning of November. Opening hours vary by month. Adults pay 7.10 euros admission. For more information, visit the official website of the Citadelle de Sisteron.

It is recommended to plan two hours to visit the fortress. And be prepared for many steps. If you make it to the top, you will be rewarded with an impressive view of the Durance!

Zitadelle Sisteron

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