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Situated in the south-east ofFrance, and with aMediterranean coastline,spring comes early to Provence, heraldedby a veritable carpet of colourful wildflowers. This is truly a region of contrasts,from the commercialised coastal fringeand the famous Camargue marshlands inthe delta of the Rhône, to the highmountains of the Alps. Between theseextremes, there is another Provence that isnot so well known, an area away from themain throng of tourists, where smallvillages cling to craggy hilltops, and whereone can be at peace with the magnificentscenery. This is the charming countrysideof the Vaucluse, where the hump-backedrange of the Montagne du Luberon risesup parallel to the coastal plain to thesouth. From here the views aremagnificent. To the north, across the highPlateau de Vaucluse, stands the mightyMont Ventoux, its dark wooded flanksrising to a barren white limestone summitat 1,909 metres; to the west lie the jaggedand spectacular rocky crags of theDentelles de Montmiral. During this 2-centre holiday we will bestaying at small, family-run hotels, set indelightful and picturesque village settings,and enjoying tasty local Provençal cuisine.From here we will make daily excursionsinto the surrounding countryside - asoften as possible on foot - in search offlowering plants, butterflies and birds. Ourcarefully chosen locations will give us theopportunity to sample many differenthabitats at varying altitudes, all within arelatively small area.This time of year is the peak floweringperiod for the extremely rich Mediterraneanflora of southern France, with fragrantherbs being particularly numerous in themaquis. Spurges, brooms, tree heathers,thymes, sages and colourful Cistusare allcharacteristic of this habitat, while manyorchids include Provence, Lady, Elder-flowered, Violet Limodore, the veryimpressive Giant Orchid, and abewildering variety of early floweringOphrysspecies. Amongst the birds of thearea, such summer visitors as Hoopoes,Golden Orioles, Bee-eaters, shrikes andwarblers should have arrived to join theresident species, and an impressive rangeof birds of prey is present. Amazingly, over70 different species of butterfly have alsobeen recorded on the wing in April here.These include such colourful species asCleopatra, Southern and ScarceSwallowtail and Spanish Festoon, plusothers such as Rosy Grizzled Skipper,Chapman's Green Hairstreak andProvence Chalk-hill Blue which arerestricted in France just to this area.On Mont Ventoux, in effect the mostwesterly extension of the Alps, we will finda good mountain flora, including alpinesedges (Carex sp.), the rock jasminesAndrosace vitalianaand A. chaixii, theexquisite little blue Mount Cenis Violet, anAlpine poppy (Papaver aurantiacum) andthe endemic little white candytuft (Iberiscandolleana). Birds on these high slopesinclude Snowfinch, Alpine Accentor, RockThrush, Rock Bunting and, on the tree-line,Citril Finch. Lower down, Crossbill, CrestedTit, Siskin and even Hazelhen may befound in the pine woods, whilst Goshawk,Redstart and Black Woodpecker favour thedeciduous woodland.Through the limestone Plateau deVaucluse, rivers have carved their waythrough the soft rock to form spectaculargorges over the millennia. These providenesting sites for many raptors, includingEagle Owl, Peregrine, and Golden, Short-toed, Booted and Bonelli's Eagle, togetherwith Egyptian, Griffon and, occasionally,Black Vulture. The latter two species arestarting to re-colonise this area fromelsewhere, and at one particular spot weshould be able to (unusually) observethem from above as they glide effortlesslyby below us. The flora of these calcareousrocks is also very rich, with typical speciesincluding Montpellier Milk Vetch, MartagonLily, Nodding Star-of-Bethlehem, pink,yellow and white flaxes and variousorchids, whilst nearby meadows holdsheets of white Poet's Eye Narcissus andthe little yellow Narcissus requienii.Across the River Durance, les Alpilles,another lower range of limestone hills,rises up precipitously from the plain, withthe picturesque village of les Baux-de-Provence clinging precariously to itsflanks. These are also good for birds ofprey, Alpine Swift, Crag Martin and RockThrush, as well as being a well-known sitefor the elusive Wallcreeper. From oursecond base we will visit the Camargue,with its herds of white horses and blackbulls, to enjoy its rich selection of wetlandbird species and interesting coastal flora,including Sea Daffodil, Great Sea Stockand numerous colourful pea and orchidspecies. This holiday offers the chance for the all-round naturalist to enjoy a greatdiversity of species at a leisurely pace,whilst at the same time appreciating themagnificent architecture and scenery of one of the most beautiful and tranquil regions of France. SPAINITALYSWITZERLANDGERMANYBELGIUMPARISSAULTTOULOUSEMARSEILLEST. GILLESMONTPELLIERBORDEAUXFRENCHALPSMONT VENTOUXSTRASBOURGENGLISH CHANNELATLANTIC OCEANMEDITERRANEANSEAFRANCE54Call now or visit your free Trip ItineraryOutline itineraryDay 1Fly Marseille and driveto the Luberon region ofProvence.Day 2/5Daily programme ofnatural history walksand excursions in theLuberon region ofProvence.Day 6/7Daily excursions in theCamargue.Day 8Fly London.Accommodation Two charming village hotels, withprivate facilities and servingexcellent local food.Food All included in the price.Grading Grade A/B. Easy to moderate walksonly.Focus Plants, birds and butterflies.LeadersPhilip Thompson (botanist) andKeith Buchanan (ornithologist).Single room supplement£160.ExtensionsAvailable on request.Web quick search: FRA10France - Provence in SpringAn 8-day holiday focusing on the wonderfully rich spring flora, butterfliesand birds found in Provence and the Camargue. Thursday 25th April - Thursday 2nd May Cost: £1,295 HoopoeScarce Swallowtail

This holiday focuses on the history andnatural history of Languedoc, aspectacular landscape blessed withpicturesque and colourful villages, theheartland of the Cathar movement duringthe Middle Ages. Here we will not only visitthe magnificent city of Carcassonne andsome of the many Cathar villages andhistorical sites, but we will also explore thewealth of habitats within this charmingregion. Coastal Languedoc offers salt flats,marshlands and lagoons, punctuated withrocky outcrops, whilst inland lie ancientvineyards, Mediterranean garrigueand thefoothills of the Pyrenees, each habitatattracting numerous migratory birds at thisseason, and awash with colourful springflowers, amongst them many orchids. Catharism was a Gnostic movement thatbegan in the 10th century and wasconsidered heretical by the RomanCatholic church. Although it existedthroughout much of Western Europe, itshome was in Languedoc and thepersecution of the Cathars here wassevere, especially during the 20-yearmilitary crusade against them between1209 and 1229. During our tour we willexplore the cobbled streets of the medievalfortified city of Carcassonne, which wasbesieged during the early phase of thatcrusade. We will also visit the castle ofQuéribus, perched high upon a rockyoutcrop in the Pyrenean foothills. Thisstronghold served as a sanctuary toCathars, finally falling during the lastcrusade in 1255. Also included within ouritinerary are the picturesque medievalvillages of Minerve and Lagrasse. Theformer, overlooking the Cesse Gorge, wasthe scene of a massacre inflicted duringthe early crusades. The latter, reputedly themost beautiful village in France, lies in theCorbières massif and holds a 7th centuryBenedictine abbey which was of greatinfluence during the crusades. To concludeour lesson in Cathar history, a visit to theCistercian abbey of Fontfroide is essential.Founded in 1093, the abbey played apredominant role during the crusades andis a monastic estate miraculouslypreserved in its entirety.Between these cultural highlights, thisholiday will also be packed with naturalhistory excursions. At coastal wetlands wewill look for Flamingoes, Purple Gallinulesand Bitterns, plus a wide variety of egrets,ducks, waders, gulls and terns. On theLeucate plateau nearby, a hotspot formigrating birds, thousands of springmigrants may be seen during favourableconditions. Many vagrant birds of preyhave been observed here, but it is suchcommon species as harriers, Red andBlack Kites, Short-toed Eagles and HoneyBuzzards that we are likely to see, plusstorks, hirundines, flycatchers andwarblers. One of southern France's bestkept secrets is the Vendres Lake, a vastwetland area where Cattle Egret, Purpleand Squacco Heron, Glossy Ibis, Red-crested Pochard, Osprey, Little Gull,Whiskered and Black Tern and Fan-tailedWarbler may all be seen. To the north ofthe lake, wet meadows and steppesharbour Little Bustards, Great SpottedCuckoos, Woodchat Shrikes and, on arocky outcrop, nesting Eagle Owls in mostyears. On the banks of the River Aude, andin the surrounding meadows andvineyards, we will search for Rollers,Hoopoes, Bee-eaters, Ortolan Buntingsand the rare Lesser Grey Shrike. Moving inland, we will enjoy that typicallyMediterranean habitat, the garrigue,covered with fragrant thymes and sagesand, at this season, awash with floweringplants. Asphodels, rock roses and broomsare dominant, but a wealth of otherspecies will also be in full bloom, attractingan abundance of butterflies on sunnydays, amongst them Green-undersideBlue, Mazarine Blue, Chapman's GreenHairstreak, Western Marbled White andBath White. This habitat is also favouredby a wide variety of birds, includingMontagu's Harrier, Crag Martin, Woodlark,Tawny Pipit, Black-eared Wheatear, Red-rumped Swallow, Red-backed and Woodchat Shrikes, plus suchMediterranean warblers as Orphean,Spectacled, Subalpine, Sardinian, Bonelli'sand Dartford. In the Clape Hills we will lookfor one of the last remaining nesting pairsof Bonelli's Eagle, and also three rareorchids, Ophrys bombyliflora, O. ciliataand O. fusca. We will find more rich flora in the Pyreneanfoothills; the wild tulip, Tulipa australis,Pyrenean Fritillary (Fritillaria pyrenaica) andsome spectacular and rare orchids -including Ophrys corbariensis, O.lupercalis, O. tenthredinifera, O. scolopaxand Orchis olbiensis- being amongst thehighlights. As for birds, we will look forAlpine Swifts, Crag Martins and Blue RockThrushes in the Calamus Gorge,woodpeckers and Crested Tits amongstthe hillside forests and, on the FeuillaPass, a well-known observation point forraptor migration, we may see Rock Thrush,Rock Bunting or perhaps a Golden Eagleor Griffon Vultures overhead.The warm Mediterranean weather in earlyspring, a rich natural heritage, magnificentscenery and a touch of history makes thisregion a rich cocktail indeed!55Outline itineraryDay 1Fly Montpellier andtransfer to Vinassan.Day 2/7Natural historyexcursions fromVinassan.Day 8Fly London.AccommodationA pleasant and traditional villagehotel serving good local Frenchcuisine. All rooms have privatefacilities.FoodAll included in the price.GradingA. Day walks only.FocusBirds, plants and butterflies, plusCathar historical sites.LeaderIain Bray (ornithologist) and MarkGalliott (botanist).Single room supplement£160.Web quick search: FRA07SPAINITALYSWITZERLANDGERMANYBELGIUMCALAISPARISTOULOUSEVINASSANBORDEAUXFRENCHALPSMASSIFCENTRALPYRENEESSTRASBOURGENGLISH CHANNELATLANTIC OCEANMEDITERRANEANSEAFRANCEMONTPELLIERRIVER LOTRIVER DORDOGNEBook direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationFrance - Carcassonne & Cathar CountryAn 8-day spring holiday focusing on Cathar history and the birds, butterflies and wild flowers (especially orchids) of the coastal wetlands, limestone garrigue and Pyrenean foothills of south-western France. Sunday 28th April - Sunday 5th May Cost: £1,295MinerveGlanville FritillaryOphrys tenthredinifera