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57Outline itineraryDay 1Fly Toulouse and driveto Lot Valley.Day 2/7A daily programme ofnatural history walksand excursions in theLot Valley and Caussecountry.Day 8Fly London.Accommodation A charming rural hotel withswimming pool and privatefacilities, serving excellent localfood.Food All included in the price.Grading Grade B. Moderate day walks.Focus Plants, birds and butterflies.LeaderMark Galliott or Jason Mitchell.Single room supplement£150.ExtensionsAvailable on request.Web quick search: FRA15Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationFrance - The Lot Valley An 8-day holiday in search of the plants, birds and butterflies of a region of rural France especiallyblessed with scenic, cultural and wildlife riches.Saturday 11th May - Saturday 18th May Cost: £1,295The Lot Valley is a charming region ofrural France that holds abundantattractions for its visitors. There aresome lovely old towns such as Figeac,and Cahors where the meandering RiverLot is spanned by the famous medievalbridge, 'le Pont Valentre'. Quaint riversidesettlements include the spectacular'hanging villages' of St. Cirq-Lapopie andCalvignac, both seeming to defy gravity asthey cling to cliffs above the river. The areaalso boasts some impressive prehistoricsites, amongst them the numerousdolmens scattered about the landscapeand the superb Neolithic paintings ofmammoths and horses to be found in thecaves of Pech Merle. What is often notappreciated, though, is the amazingly richwildlife of this enchanting valley and itssurrounding area. Here, myriads ofbutterflies and other insects may still befound, plus a long list of birds -especially raptors - and a reallyspectacular variety of flowering plants,including many orchid species. There are many reasons for this wonderfuldiversity; they include the preponderanceof limestone bedrock, the practice of old-fashioned subsistence farming withoutthe use of fertilisers and sprays, and thearea's geographical position within France.The latter explains the presence of a finerepresentative selection of Mediterranean,Atlantic and Central European elements toboth the flora and fauna. Additionally, thetime of our visit coincides with the peakseason for wildlife-viewing, with thevegetation still lush and green before thegenerally hot and dry summer takesits toll. We will be based for the week, close to theriver, in a charming rural hotel servinghearty local food and fine wines. Each daywe will explore the surroundingcountryside on gentle natural historywalks, making use of the many paths,tracks and quiet country lanes - adelicious picnic lunch ensuring we makeample time for a midday break! Amongstthe week's highlights will be excursionsonto both the Cajarc and LimogneCausse, north and south of the riverrespectively. These are plateaux ofJurassic limestone that rise to around 400metres and offer extensive areas of dry,stony grassland - known as karst -interspersed with scrub of juniper, oak andpine. In times past these arid areassupported a huge population of sheep,supplying the local people with meat, wooland cheeses. Today, with the reliance onsuch livestock farming reduced, we shouldfind instead a wide variety of orchids,including Lady, Monkey, Military, Lizard,Bug, Burnt-tip, Pyramidal, Man, Tongue,Bee, Woodcock and Late Spider Orchid,plus both Red and Sword-leavedHelleborines. Many different species ofrockroses, flaxes and clovers also abound,together with numerous British raritiessuch as Narrow Hare's Ear (Bupleurumbaldense), Rough Mallow (Althaea hirsute)and Wild Candytuft (Iberis amara). Thenumber and diversity of butterflies to beseen is quite staggering, and it is notunknown to see nearly 40 species in asingle afternoon. Scarce Swallowtail,Black-veined White, Clouded Apollo,Turquoise Blue, Southern White Admiraland Queen of Spain Fritillary are just a fewof the many that we hope to record, alongwith other interesting insects such aspraying mantis, hawk moths and thestrange, but beautiful, dragonfly-likeAscalaphids. Birds which may be seen orheard include Short-toed Eagle, LittleBustard, Stone Curlew, Crested Lark,Hoopoe, Nightingale and abundant andvarious warbler species.Amongst other habitats we will visit duringthe week are the spectacular cliffsalongside the River Lot, home of suchplants as Round-headed Leek (Alliumsphaerocephalon) and Small YellowFoxglove (Digitalis lutea). Here, the liquidcalls of Golden Orioles fill riverside poplarsand Black Kites and many other birds ofprey choose to breed. Less precipitousparts of the gorge are clothed in extensivewoodlands of oak and Box; HoneyBuzzards and Red Kites breed here, andmany more orchids may be found,together with Dianthusspecies, BastardBalm (Melittis melissophyllum) and CrestedCow-wheat (Melampyrum cristatum)amongst other notable plants. Finally, we will spend a day in the hillsbehind Figeac, in a region called theChâtaigneraie. The area is so named onaccount of its extensive Sweet Chestnutforests, though it also holds many smallcultivated fields which provide a refuge forrare cornfield weeds such as Corn Cockle(Agrostemma githago) and Cornflower(Centaurea cyanus). The underlying rockhere is made up of granites and schists,which erode to form soils of an acidnature, creating a stark contrast invegetation to that we will haveencountered up until now. Heathers arenumerous, while birds like Goshawk, CirlBunting and Firecrest are commoner here.Such further variety complements a weekfilled with rural charms, and a diversity andabundance of natural history long sincelost from the English countryside.SPAINITALYSWITZERLANDGERMANYBELGIUMCALAISPARISLOT VALLEYTOULOUSEBORDEAUXFRENCHALPSMASSIFCENTRALPYRENEESSTRASBOURGENGLISH CHANNELATLANTIC OCEANMEDITERRANEANSEAFRANCE DORDOGNEVALLEYTongue OrchidSt. Cirq-LapopieRed Kite

Heading south from Lyon in south-eastern France, an awe-inspiringmassif of jagged limestone loomsinto view. Framed perfectly by theresplendent snow-capped Alps in thedistance, and the deep Isère Valley in theforeground, the Vercors Regional NaturePark is an area of exceptional beauty.Incorporating France's largest naturereserve - the splendid Hauts Plateaux -this is one of the oldest 'Nature Parks' inFrance and a most interesting region forthe visiting naturalist. We will explore itsthousands of hectares of unspoiledcountryside on this holiday, focusing onthe rich and varied fauna and flora of themassif's deep limestone gorges, highsummits (dominated by the GrandVeymont at 2,341 metres) and vastexpanses of forest. From our base in LaChapelle, a delightful village in the heart ofthe massif, we are within easy strikingdistance of the many rich habitats which,after centuries of glacial and then fluvialerosion, form a harmonious limestonelandscape of damp, flower-filled meadowsalternating with majestic vertical cliffs andhigh wooded plateaux.One of the highlights of our week will be aday spent in the Hauts Plateaux naturereserve in the company of a local guide. This wild area, in many respects unique inEurope, consists of a patchwork ofmeadows, moorlands, forests and highmountain ridges, shaped by savagewinters and centuries of forestry andgrazing. A small, pioneering population ofWolves, presumed to have recently re-colonised this part of France from theItalian Alps, hides in the vast Silver Fir(Abies alba) and Mountain Pine (Pinusuncinata) forest, their presence betrayedonly by tracks left in the extensive wintersnows. Griffon Vulture, Golden Eagle,Peregrine, Black Grouse, Ring Ouzel,Firecrest, Crossbill, Citril Finch andperhaps even a Tengmalm's Owl or BlackWoodpecker are amongst the avianpossibilities here, whilst the alpine flora isat its dazzling best at this time of year. The pretty winter ski station of Font d'Urleprovides an unusual backdrop to beautifulalpine meadows carpeted with wildpansies, gentians, wild tulips andsnowbells. The path to Pont d'Urle leadsus through an unspoiled alpine habitatwith stunning views south across the Forêtde Quint. We must keep our eyes openhere for Chough, Alpine Chough, GoldenEagle, Rock Thrush, Water Pipit and AlpineMarmot. The numerous limestone cliffs inthe Vercors attract resident Wallcreepers,and one or two of our picnic spots makeideal points from which to scan for thissought-after species. On the drier, sunniersouthern slopes, Rock Sparrows breed,while Short-toed Eagles glide and hoveroverhead hunting for snakes. Orphean andSubalpine Warblers and the attractiveOrtolan Bunting, too, will also be amongstour targets during this part of our holiday.The Vercors is one of the very few regionsin western Europe harbouring six speciesof wild ungulates - Ibex, Chamois, RedDeer, Roe Deer, Mouflon and Wild Boar all occuring here. Whilst these animalsinvariably remain elusive in the woodedareas, they may sometimes be seen on thehigher, rocky slopes. Smaller carnivoressuch as Fox, Badger and Pine Marten arewell represented, while Mountain Hare, arelict from the Ice Age, is confined to thehigh mountain ridges. We will look forsome of these smaller mammals in thefreshly cut hay meadows at dusk.It is perhaps the stunning flora, however,with several rare orchids present in anoverall list of 64 species, for which theVercors massif is best known. Thespectacular Lady's Slipper Orchid isrelatively common in the fir and beechforests, and we will look for the endemicOphrys bertoloniissp. drumanain the drier Mediterranean climate of theGervannes. Orchis spitzelii, Toothed Orchid(Orchis tridentata) and, on ourlater tour,Ghost Orchid (Epipogium aphyllum) will allprovide excitement during our walks andpicnic lunches, throughout what promisesto be a varied and enjoyable week in this,one of the most beautiful regions ofFrance.France - The VercorsAn 8-day holiday in search of birds, plants, mammals and butterflies in the Vercors massif,a spectacular area in the heart of France's Dauphiné region on the doorstep of the Alps.Sunday 12th May - Sunday 19th May Cost: £1,295 (by train)Sunday 19th May - Sunday 26th May Cost: £1,295 (by air)Wednesday 17th July - Wednesday 24th July Cost: £1,295 (by air)Outline itineraryDay 1Train, or fly, Lyon.Day 2/7Natural historyexcursions in theVercors.Day 8Train, or fly, London.Accommodation A pleasant and traditional villagehotel, with pool and privatefacilities, serving good local food.Food All included in the price.Grading Grade A. Easy walks only.Focus Birds, plants, mammals andbutterflies.LeadersAlan Miller (ornithologist) and PaulHarmes (botanist).Single room supplement£150 (£160 in July).ExtensionsAvailable on request.Web quick search: FRA16, FRA23 and FRA2458Call now or visit your free Trip ItinerarySPAINITALYSWITZERLANDGERMANYBELGIUMLA BRENNECALAISLYONGRENOBLEVERCORSPARISTOURSPOITIERSTOULOUSEBORDEAUXFRENCHALPSSTRASBOURGENGLISH CHANNELATLANTIC OCEANMEDITERRANEANSEAFRANCECirque d'ArchianeTengmalm's OwlLady's Slipper Orchids