Regional Natural Park of the Préalpes d’Azur, Alpes-Maritimes and Var, France

The Préalpes d’Azur regional natural park is a French regional natural park created on March 30, 2012, located in the Alpes-Maritimes department, in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region. It is precisely located in the Prealps of Grasse, between the valleys of Siagne, Loup, Cagne, Estéron and Var. It stretches between 300 and 1,800 m above sea level, over 47 municipalities, covering diverse landscapes, due to the dual influence of Mediterranean and mountain climate: rock gardens and arid moors, valleys, gorges and clues, forest areas and cultivated plains or grazed.

At the heart of the network of protected areas of the Alpine Arc, the Préalpes d’Azur are part of a continuous set of protected areas stretching from the Camargue to Italy. It is part of the global biodiversity hot spot at the crossroads of Mediterranean and Alpine influences. This preserved mountainous rural area overlooking the coast, is a coherent entity within the Middle Country of the Alpes-Maritimes, which is located to the south then to the west (right bank) of the Var river and to the east (left bank) of the Siagne river.

Numerous remains bear witness to the long conquest of these spaces since the Neolithic era. The terraces and dry stone huts bear witness to the passage of man through these territories. The villages of valleys backing onto the mountain and the promontory towns, as if balanced on their rocky peak, reinforce the landscapes. The houses were built around narrow streets, with tall houses to see dangers coming. They are also suitable for terraced farming, typical of our territories. Cha shovels, churches and oratories are numerous, scattered dan s landscape. The variety and strength of landscapes typed s of the Azure Alps offer “u do reading open book ” different one vilisations, religious or historical conflicts that have marked the development of the territory.

The park covers 47 municipalities: Aiglun, Amirat, Andon, Ascros, Le Bar-sur-Loup, Bézaudun-les-Alpes, Bonson, Bouyon, Briançonnet, Le Broc, Cabris, Caille, Carros, Caussols, Cipières, Collongues, Courmes, Coursegoules, Cuébris, Escragnolles, Les Ferres, Gars,Gattières, Gilette, Gourdon, Grasse, Gréolières, Les Mujouls, La Penne, Pierrefeu, Revest-les-Roches, Roquestéron, Roquestéron-Grasse, Saint-Antonin, Saint-Auban, Saint-Cézaire-sur-Siagne, Saint-Jeannet, Saint-Vallier-de-Thiey, Sallagriffon, Séranon, Sigale, Spéracèdes, Toudon, Tourette-du-Château, Tourrettes-sur-Loup, Valderoure, Vence.

The Préalpes d’Azur can be guessed from the Verdon, they echo the peaks of Mercantour and call out the coast and its islands. Climb to the balcony, pass the ledge to discover its recognized wonders and secret riches. The Préalpes d’Azur deserve. Valleys after valleys, terraces after terraces, step after step, they allow themselves to be tamed by those who take the time to browse and listen to them. They hide and reveal themselves, diverse and yet unique. From the depths of the earth to the infinity of the sky, from the Mediterranean to the Alps, from the wild to the tamed, from the forest to the plateaus, from the plains to the ridges, from the shepherd to the perfumer and from the artist to the peasant, their complementarity is a jewel and their diversity a philosophy.

Like the edge of a half-open book or a roller coaster, the successive folds of the valleys and lines of ridges parallel to the sea are a succession of surprises, a game of curiosity and perseverance. An invitation to continue on your way, gain height, be amazed, recharge your batteries. The great work of nature and these inventive men have forged over the millennia, a space of great sensitivity. The Préalpes d’Azur, a suspended territory to gain height, a place of confluence for enrichment and inspiration.

Secret forests, caves and clues, stone sculptures, nocturnal world, tales and legends… the gems of the Prealps of Azure are a source of wonder. While some are confidential, others may be fragile, or even inaccessible. They are a secret to be shared, a part of the unknown and mystery, that everyone can protect like a treasure.

Ascent, variations in relief and atmosphere, panoramas and belvederes, landscapes of terraces, hilltop villages… Take a side step, discover the heritage from a different angle, play on the near and far, on the differences of scale and of sounds. It is also an opportunity to wonder about its place in the environment that surrounds us, to lose track of time…

A significant altitudinal amplitude (from 100 meters at the mouth of the Esteron to 1778 meters at the Cime du Cheiron), a complex karstic geomorphology, two maritime and alpine climates, the work of man over the centuries… These are all riches that have shaped the magnificent and varied landscapes of the French Alps.
the arid and rocky landscape of the Calern, Caussols and Saint-Barnabé plateaus
the narrow valleys, connected by clues (clues of Saint-Auban, Aiglun, Sigale and Les Mujouls )
the steppes of mountain (the top of Cheiron )
the narrow and steep gorges where the water rushes (Gorges du Loup and Siagne)
the open plains cultivated or grazed (plain Caille )
the forest areas (Wood Sauma Longa and Wood Cheiron )
the piedmont, very landscaped and structured by dry stone walls, terraces covered with olive trees…

The Préalpes d’Azur are also characterized by the presence of a highly developed underground network. The water, by infiltrating the massifs, creates remarkable underground landscapes. Nearly 2,000 cavities are well identified, including two equipped for the public: the souterroscope Cave of Baume Obscure in Saint-Vallier-de-Thiey and the cave of Saint-Cézaire-sur-Siagne. There are many very evolved karst forms. The plateaus offer a typical landscape, sinkholes, sinkholes, embuts (water entry points), lapiaz (bare limestone), poljés (large basins of collapse), the most remarkable of which are the plain of Caille, the plain of Caussols or the Peyron plan in Gréolières.

A number of cavities in the Audibergue and Calern massifs are sports sites and the Glacière à Caille chasm allowed speleologist Michel Siffre to direct his experiences of life out of time from 1968 to 1969. Nature kar stic massif causes deficit on water front for some municipalities, m ais helps co nstitution reserves of strategic groundwater to supply drinking water to the southern cities of the Alps -M aritimes.

The main stream outlet s natural s are: the Wolf, the Siagne, the Cagne, Estéron, The Lane (who rej anointed the Artuby and through it, the Verdon).

The Préalpes d’Azur are home to species that are generally in sharp decline over their entire range due to the loss of their habitat. They find favorable living conditions here, as for the Orsini viper or the white-footed crayfish. Groups of Mediterranean species are thus in contact with more mountainous and even alpine species, such as the butterflies Diane and Apollo.

The territory is home to a great diversity of natural habitats (96 natural habitats identified, including 49 of community interest) and ecological niches which host many species, both flora and fauna, some of which are endemic. At low alkaline peatlands Valderoure and Caille, succession of calcareous grasslands, olive groves, petrifying springs, pine forests, scrubland… You can meet virtually any type of green oak forests existing in France, which is exceptional.

A third of the French metropolitan flora, that is to say more than 2000 plant species, are present in the Préalpes d’Azur with some unique species in the world:
The Erodium of Rodié
The Whitish Campanula
The Nivéole of Nice

This territory is also rich in caves and sinkholes, refuge habitats for many species: cave bats, Hydromante de Strinatii, many beetles so some are endemic.

Human activities
Over the centuries, population movements and their way of life have given rise to great cultural and linguistic wealth. The nomadic uses linked to the seasons in the cultures and the agricultural practices, the roads of connections between villages… The Préalpes d’Azur constitute a territory in movement, where the natural species have developed a capacity of adaptation and the man an ingenuity for to live.

The Préalpes d’Azur are a territory of stones, marked by many traces of human occupation since prehistoric times. This mountainous territory was inhabited by hunter-gatherers from the Paleolithic period. It was in the Neolithic period, around 4000 years before our era, that the imprint of man in the landscape became stronger with the development of animal husbandry and, to a lesser extent, of agriculture.

Numerous hilltop villages testify to the establishment of new populations (wrongly called “Celto-Ligurian tribes”) from 600 BC. These defensive habitats, often fortified, were located in strategic positions offering distant views. They were integrated into Mediterranean exchange networks.

In the Middle Ages, castles, fortified houses and hilltop villages continued to occupy the same positions. This defensive character of the building is omnipresent throughout the territory. Small peasant communities protect themselves from all possible dangers in times that are often politically turbulent. The fortification of the villages continued until the Renaissance. There are also several farms or fortified sheepfolds, built at this time, often using sites from Roman times.

The economic dynamism of the southern part is based on the towns of Grasse and Vence, but also on the activity zone of Carros / Le Broc in the East. This sector of the Park is located in the zone of influence of the employment centers of Sophia Antipolis, Cannes, Antibes or Nice. It also experiences significant tourist traffic from the coast. In the northern part, the catchment areas of commercial and service companies are reduced. Their number is small (relative in view of the population) and concerns more broadly the agricultural, construction and tertiary sectors.The Parc des Préalpes d’Azur has a predominantly face-to-face economy: 60% of the territory’s economic activities are carried out locally for the production of goods and services aimed at meeting the needs of people in the area, whether they are residents or tourists.

Agriculture plays an essential role in the balance of the Préalpes d’Azur: it is one of its most important economic activities. From time immemorial, man has adapted to the geography of the territory, shaped the slopes into terraces to better cultivate them, opened up environments for grazing and cultivated fertile land at the bottom of the valleys. The main agricultural activity of the Préalpes d’Azur is pastoralism, that is to say extensive breeding on natural ranges. Sheep, goats, cows, and even horses roam these spaces to feed themselves and produce meat and milk. The productions resulting from this practice are varied. We mainly find lamb meat but also sheep, goat or cow cheeses, whether fresh, dry or in tommes.

A thousand-year-old activity, pastoralism provides many services to the environment. By grazing their animals in open spaces or in the undergrowth, breeders help maintain a mosaic of environments (meadows, moors, forests, etc.) with which specific biodiversity is associated. For example, the biodiversity of flower meadows is exceptional. There is a procession of plants whose services go much further than animal nutrition. To publicize these spaces and encourage the farmers who maintain them, the Park has organized the General Agricultural Competition of Prairies Fleuries for four years in a row.

To promote these practices and encourage farmers to make them last, the Park started in 2016 in the animation of Agri-environment and climate measures (MAEC). Farmers voluntarily undertake to put in place specific measures on the management of pastures, meadows, market gardening and orchards.

Agriculture heritage
The Préalpes d’Azur are at the crossroads of various influences whether geomorphological, climatic or historical. To adapt and be able to cultivate the land, man has shaped spaces. This is how we find a diversity of agricultural landscapes linked to the diversity of cultivated crops:
Mountain areas such as the large plateaus (Caussols, Calern, Saint Barnabé) where pastoral farming predominates, but also narrow valleys where there are pastoral areas and plains where cereals and meadows are cultivated.
The slopes located to the East and the South where the milder climate allows Mediterranean agriculture: olive trees in terraces, market gardening and perfume, aromatic and medicinal plants.
The Estéron valley benefits from a particular climate and where one finds atypical cultures for a mountain area such as the cultivation of the olive tree.
In order to preserve these spaces, the Park has been leading since 2017 an action on the preservation of agricultural and natural land by carrying out a land diagnosis to better understand these spaces and better value them and by carrying out actions to raise the awareness of elected officials and private owners about the issues. of these areas and the importance of preserving or relaunching agricultural activity.

Related Post

The perched villages, completely integrated into the steep relief and the landscape, offer breathtaking views. They strongly participate in the historical identity of the Préalpes d’Azur. This establishment is typical of the adaptation of human occupation to the specificities of the territory. These are all testimonies that allow us to understand the habits and customs of the societies that have occupied this territory. The territory is also home to traditional grouped villages. Their base is made up of adjoining or closely spaced dwellings forming a very dense built complex.

Among these grouped villages, one notes the particularity of Thorenc (commune of Andon), a climatic station nicknamed “the small Provençal Switzerland”. The architecture of the village is very typical: houses with turrets, walls and balconies painted wood, reflecting a Franco-Russian influence of the most amazing early 20 th century. The Préalpes d’Azur are also rich in a small so-called “vernacular” heritage, testimonies of rural uses and nuggets of today’s daily life.

Cultural heritage
The artistic and cultural life of the Park develops thanks to a diversity of actors, installed in the Park or in the vicinity, and whose creations, projects, initiatives
Performance halls  : Espace du Thiey  in Saint-Vallier de Thiey; Théâtre de Grasse, Forum Jacques Prévert in Carros; Les arts d’azur at Broc… and regular programs in village halls
Museums  : Museums of Grasse, Center International d’Art Contemporain de Carros, Ecomusée de la Roudoule  ; Vence Museum – Emile Hugues Foundation  ; Museum space in Tourrettes sur Loup; Célestin Freinet Ecomuseum in Gars…
Cinema  : Le Studio in Grasse; Ciné-Cabris  ; Espace du Thiey  in Saint-Vallier de Thiey  ; Cinema Casino in Vence … and the traveling cinema offered by the Alpes Maritimes department
Festivals  : Festival du Peu à Bonson, Thorenc d’Art, Re- Ciprock in Cipières; Festi -Jazz in Saint-Cézaire-sur-Siagne…

Restanques and dry stone know-how
The terraces, or terraces of “dry stone” cultures are representative of the local identity and mark the landscapes of the Azure Prealps. The fruit of considerable work carried out from generation to generation, these mortarless walls have made it possible to conserve and cultivate fertile land. The dry stone walls constitute a specific ecosystem which enriches the overall biodiversity of the plots. They serve as shelters and nests for so-called auxiliary species, extremely beneficial to agriculture.

Nowadays, these terraces are very often abandoned and overgrown with vegetation, yet they are a considerable asset for adaptation to climate change and risk management. They prevent soil erosion and landslides, limiting the effects of runoff phenomena during intense rain episodes and reduce the spread of fires. These characteristic landscape elements of the Préalpes d’Azur constitute a vast heritage to be reinvested for: consolidation of local agricultural production; Sustainable forestry; the implementation of an integrated urbanization respectful of the village silhouettes; the development of renewable energy production.

Renewable energies
Forests, rivers, agricultural areas and sunny plains are resources present in the Préalpes d’Azur. They represent a real energy reservoir. This potential can, and must be used to produce energy, while respecting the environment, landscapes and heritage and giving priority to local economic benefits.

In order to limit the impact on landscapes, it is advisable to favor the development of renewable energies in already anthropomorphic spaces. As such, roofs constitute an important deposit to be exploited. In 2020, the 90 cooperative members have already financed a collective installation of 190m² of solar panels on the roof in Saint-Auban, which produces 31,500 kWh each year, i.e. the equivalent of the annual consumption of 13 households.

By crossing the challenges of energy autonomy and landscape preservation, a reflection began in 2017 on the landscapes in transition in the French Alps. A study made it possible to define, in a concerted manner, the optimal conditions for integrating solar energy systems into the landscape: ground-based power plants, solar agricultural greenhouses, sun screens, etc. In 2018, the Park proposed a methodology that crosses the needs related to the development of photovoltaic power plants with the heritage to be protected: biodiversity, protected areas, landscapes, agriculture, forests, built heritage. This approach is shared with the inter-municipal authorities to integrate it into the planning and development of the territory.

In addition to solar energy, other sources of production can be mobilized in the Préalpes d’Azur: anaerobic digestion, micro-hydraulics on pipelines, wood energy, etc. The study of the potential for the production and development of these energies in the Préalpes d’Azur is committed in 2020.

A Regional Nature Park is a natural space and a place of life with a fragile balance. In the French Alps, nature sports enthusiasts, breeders, shepherds and their protection dogs rub shoulders on a daily basis. It is also a wonderful space for leisure and relaxation. It is full of possibilities to practice climbing, free flight, canyoning or even caving. Take the right steps to enjoy your summer or winter getaways in peace and with respect for the environment and its inhabitants.

Take the time to travel on foot, by bike or by mountain bike in the French Alps to fully appreciat La Maralpine means 5 days of roaming departing from Saint-Auban and heading for Vence or Grasse. 75 kilometers to discover the landscapes and the people who make the alchemy of the Préalpes d’Azur… Accommodation, local products, outdoor activities: everything is done to immerse you in the riches of an authentic and preserved land. From the foothills of the Alps and the Verdon to the Mediterranean, the Maralpine will take you on a journey from the emblematic highlands to the imposing baous of the coast, in a unique and varied space with countless stories.

Mountain Bike
You will progress on marked paths bordering one of the wildest rivers in Europe, the Estéron, to the listed site of the Vegay waterfall. Then you will contemplate cliffs sheared by the work of the water, as well as a remarkable historical heritage from ancient Rome to pastoral constructions. Finally, you will pass from a universe of mountains with green and humid ubacs to lunar plateaus inhabited by men close to their lands and their herds.

This 6-day tour from Grasse will take the cyclist to meet the different atmospheres of the Parc des Préalpes d’Azur: clues, high limestone plateaus, hilltop villages, balconies overlooking the Mediterranean… The great crossing of the Pre-Alps by mountain bike is 1,000 kilometers dedicated to mountain biking from the Rhône valley to the Southern Alps and from Vercors to Provence. On marked paths, you can discover the natural and cultural riches of the Alpine massif. A route offers the crossing of the Estéron valley, from Saint-Auban to Gilette in several days.

For a sporty excursion on two wheels in the Pre-Alps, discover our bicycle and mountain bike routes. Many circuits designed by the Department of the Alpes-Maritimes offer families and more sporty people the opportunity to discover exceptional routes and landscapes in the Préalpes d’Azur.

Lavender Routes
These famous tourist routes which offer to follow in the footsteps of enthusiasts who cultivate and transform lavender in Provence, stop over for their last stop in the Préalpes d’Azur. From Castellane, the route follows the famous Route Napoléon to Séranon, then direction Caussols, Gourdon and Grasse. 7 marked trails classified by level of difficulty will allow you to shine for several days on the paths of the Préalpes d’Azur.

Whether you are on foot, by bike or by mountain bike, find our ideas for natural getaways. Discover the Préalpes d’Azur through fun and family activities. Use our interactive map. Go to Chemins des Parcs to prepare your tours and detours in the Préalpes d’Azur Regional Natural Park. The Randoxygene guides from the Alpes-Maritimes department will accompany you on your excursions into the countryside. Discover the Park with the modern- day treasure hunt, Geocaching. Several family routes are available to you to understand differently the naturalistic, geological and cultural secrets of the Préalpes d’Azur. Find the different routes here.

Nature resorts and centers
In all seasons, enjoy the freshness of the northern slopes of Cheiron at Gréolières les Neiges. This resort, located on the highest peak of the Préalpes d’Azur Natural Park, is spread out between 1400m and 1800m altitude. Apart from the many possibilities for outdoor sports, it offers one of the most beautiful panoramas of the French Alps with an opening onto the Mediterranean and the Mercantour. On a clear day, you might even see Corsica there.

The station of the Audibergue- The Moulière, located a little west of the park between 1270m and 1642m above sea level is characterized by the multitude of possible activities for children of all ages. In snowy weather: Discover the pleasure of skiing with a sea view on the 60 km of slopes spread between the two resorts. Escape in the middle of the many forests and sinkholes that make up the Préalpes d’Azur with approximately 45 km distributed between the two resorts, in Gréolières les neiges and on the Caille plain. In fine weather: Hiking, mountain biking, electric mountain biking, tree climbing, etc. The resorts are full of outdoor sports potential to spend the day there or immerse yourself for several days in the French Alps.

Gréolières adventure park
Gréo’Branche adventure park (course in the trees) for young and old adventurers. Mountain biking and electric mountain biking hiking: several routes on the Monts-d’Azur mountain biking site are signposted starting from the Maison du Fondeur in Gréolières les neiges. Discover the peaks of Cheiron with different hiking ideas: for the ascent of the highest peak of the Préalpes d’Azur from the village of Gréolières, opt for the Cime du Cheiron, for a walk in hunting mode. treasure of modern times, opt for a Geocaching route. 14 downhill trails served by chairlift dedicated to mountain biking enthusiasts.

Saint-Auban nature center:
Hiking, mountain biking, cycling, canyoning, climbing, fishing, relaxation… The nature center of Saint-Auban is full of activities to cool off for a day or spend a few days, nature immersion guaranteed. 

The Terres des Lacs ecotourism park
Trout fishing open to all, trekking in the trees, horse riding and many other activities are practiced in the tranquility of the lakes of Saint-Auban. Discover the secrets of water and rock with one of the Marque Valeurs Parc nature sports providers.

Food & accommodation
You will find on the territory of the Park many accommodation and catering options. Cheeses, meat, olives and many others… The Préalpes d’Azur, it is nearly 200 farmers who enhance the agricultural land and offer products with the good taste of the soil. The Park has published a guide for producers in order to promote local productions and the know-how of the Préalpes d’Azur. It supports the development of these activities and encourages the establishment of short circuits, essential for rural areas. Get their quality local products: points of sale, markets, farm sales, etc.

To have a pleasant stay in the villages of the Préalpes d’Azur, you will find all the information on the website of the Riviera Côte d’Azur Regional Tourist Board. Cottages, cottages, camping s, hotels…
Accueil Paysan: Enjoy a farmer’s cottage with all the comforts and discover the local agricultural products. For more information on these establishments: It’s here . Discover our 100% Park Farmer’s Home gîte: “Les apiaries de Sallagriffon”
Lodgings of France: Lodgings of France has a variety of accommodation packages for stays in family, friends, relaxing s or sports on the Park.

Sustainable tourism
The Préalpes d’Azur, thanks to their extremely rich cultural and natural heritage, make it possible to combine outdoor sports (as diverse as climbing, skiing, mountain biking or canyoning) and walks through authentic villages. These activities are all possibilities offered to the visitor to discover the Prealps, and are a source of significant economic benefits for the territory. The organization and promotion of these activities are a major issue for the development of sustainable tourism and must be integrated into a logic of heritage preservation. This fragile balance between promotion, preservation and local development is the very essence of the Park’s tourism mission.

The Park is leading a reinforced action on the attractiveness of the Préalpes d’Azur for the stay, more creator of links, local economic dynamism and more conducive to the gentle discovery of the territory than excursionism. This is illustrated by the deployment of roaming in all its forms (on foot, by bike) and in particular by the launch of a major hiking route in summer 2019: the Maralpine. It is a roaming offer that brings together around thirty tourism professionals (accommodation, catering, grocery stores). The latter are committed to providing a quality offer which in return gives them visibility and additional attendance. La Maralpine is also positioned as an offer of gentle discovery of the heritages of the Pre-Alps by crossing its valleys, its villages and its most characteristic landscapes.

Tags: France