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Call now or visit www.naturetrek.co.ukfor your free Trip ItineraryThe Dordogne, one of themajor rivers of France, risesfrom just below Puy Sancy, inthe mountains of the Auvergne,and enters the Bay of Biscay bymeans of the Garonne estuarynear Bordeaux. However, it is atthe middle of its course, amongst theheartlands of rural southern France, that itis at its most beautiful, meandering sopeacefully through wide limestone gorgesand rolling hills bedecked with dense oakwoodlands. Here, stunning ochre-colouredstone hamlets nestle in the valleysamongst walnut trees and fields of maizeand sunflowers, whilst large villages clingprecariously to the riverside cliffs or perch fortress-like atop hills and ridges,often huddling around an 18th centurychateau or the ruins of a castle datingback to the Hundred Years War withEngland.During our week-long holiday we will bebased near Rocamadour, a spectacularmedieval village, abbey and castle builtinto the side of a cliff. Choosing a verypleasant village hotel, we will enjoy goodlocal food and wines, and explore - asmuch as possible on foot - the variedhabitats of the surrounding countryside. Inlate May this unspoilt and lovely part ofFrance is a veritable paradise for the keennaturalist. Birds are everywhere, butterfliesand other insects abound, whilst abewildering array of flowering plantsprovide a sea of colour in meadows,hedgerows and woodland glades. This issouthern England in the days beforeintensive farming and suburban sprawl .only with twice the number of species! One of the reasons for this great diversityis the varying density of the underlyinglimestone, a characteristic of thislandscape being the spectacular cliffs,formed where the river's course has beenimpeded by harder rock. Such brokencountry suits many birds of prey, includingboth Red and Black Kite, Honey Buzzard,Hobby, Peregrine, harriers, and even theoccasional Booted Eagle, as well as CragMartin and Alpine Swift. These limestonegorges also support a very rich flora, withorchids being particularly well represented.Most noticeable perhaps, with abundantlarge spikes, are the strange but beautiful Lizard Orchids, but Man, Military, Lady,Monkey, Burnt-tip, Bee and Fly Orchids areplentiful, together with Red, Sword-leavedand White Helleborines. Many other rareand beautiful plants can also be found,which helps explain the abundance of themany butterflies on the wing at this time ofthe year. Comma, Southern White Admiral,Cleopatra, Swallowtail, Scarce Swallowtail,Large Tortoiseshell, and numerousdifferent fritillaries and blues are just a fewof the species we should see. Away from the river, the alkaline rocks haveeroded to form a stony, mineral-rich redsoil that encourages woodland, sparsegrazing and just a few small cultivatedfields. This is a rolling landscape of smallvillages and subsistence farming,absolutely brimming with wildlife. Flowerybanks are everywhere, with more orchidsand other plants, including Field Eryngo(Eryngium campestre), Meadow Clary(Salvia pratensis), Hoary Mullein(Verbascum pulverulentum) and White Flax(Linum suffruticosum), present. The rarecornfield weeds, Cornflower (Centaureacyanus), Corn Buttercup (Ranunculusarvensis) and Corn Cockle (Agrostemmagithago), can also sometimes be found inthe small fields. This pastoral landcape isthe ideal country for Hoopoe, GoldenOriole, Wryneck, Melodious Warbler andmore birds of prey, while the beautifulsong of the Nightingale seems to emanate from practically every piece ofscrub. Butterflies and other insects areagain very abundant, whilst Sand, Green,Viviparous and Wall Lizards scamper awayfrom our footsteps. A little to the north-east of our base we willalso explore the area where the riveremerges from the hard volcanic rocks ofthe Massif Central plateau, to flow throughthe charming small market towns ofArgentat and Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne. Thepredominant schist and sandstone rockshere give rise to acid soils, with a mixtureof oak and Sweet Chestnut woodland,sandy heathland and damp boggy areasso markedly different in character from thehabitats of our previous forays. Goshawkand Cirl Bunting are particularly frequenthere, and we have a chance of an elusiveHawfinch or Firecrest. The flora is not sorich, but specialities like Summer Lady'sTresses (Spiranthes aestivalis) and SpikedRampion (Phyteuma spicatum) are likely tobe seen. There is also a rare outcrop ofSerpentine rock which has its owninteresting flora. This holiday offers the chance to enjoy agreat diversity of species amongst idyllicrural scenery of a character which is fastdisappearing from the rest of Europe. Italso provides the opportunity to view andappreciate the superb architecture of thisregion, while also, of course, sampling thegastronomic delights of the food and drinkfor which it is justifiably famous. Dordogne River ValleySouthern White AdmiralBooted EagleOutline itineraryDay 1Fly Toulouse and driveto the Dordogne.Day 2/7Daily programme ofnatural history walksand excursions in theDordogne region.Day 8Fly London.Accommodation A charming rural hotel with privatefacilities, serving excellent localfood.Food All included in the price.Grading Grade B. Day walks only.Focus Plants, birds and butterflies.LeaderMark Galliott.Single room supplement£160.ExtensionsAvailable on request.Web quick search: FRA13France - The DordogneAn 8-day holiday in search of the plants, birds and butterflies of an unspoilt and idyllic region of rural France.Sunday 19th May - Sunday 26th May Cost: £1,295SPAIN ITALY SWITZERLAND GERMANY BELGIUM CALAIS PARIS ROCAMADOUR DORDOGNEVALLEYTOULOUSE BORDEAUX FRENCH ALPS MASSIF CENTRAL STRASBOURG ENGLISH CHANNEL ATLANTIC OCEAN MEDITERRANEAN SEA FRANCE PYRENEES LOT VALLEY60

The Cévennes is a spectacularmountainous area on the south-eastern edge of the Massif Central. Delightfully unspoilt, its wonderful variety ofscenery and habitats provide a specialcombination for the naturalist and walker.From our base for this holiday - a smalland friendly hotel in the attractive littlevillage of Cocurès, close to theadministrative centre of the CévennesNational Park - we will make full use ofthe region's excellent trails as we searchfor the wealth of plants, birds andbutterflies to be found here; the deliciousmeals served at our hotel and our famousFrench picnic lunches will ensure that noone lacks for energy! The Cévennes' variety of habitats withinsuch a relatively small area is trulyexceptional. The granite and schist peaksof Mont Lozère (1,699 metres), MontAigoual (1,567 metres) and Mont Bougés(1,362 metres) have a quite different florafrom the surrounding limestone areas, andpine and deciduous forests, hedgerows,limestone plateaux, flower-filled meadows,deep gorges and fast-flowing rivers providefurther contrasts. To the west lies the vastlimestone plateau of the Causses, withtypical karst scenery of dramatic canyons,weathered peaks and caves. We will visit allthese habitats, many of them protectedwithin the Cévennes National Park thatcovers the central part of the range. Furtherdiversity, created by the variety of climate,aspect, rainfall, soil and altitude, providesan extremely rich flora, especially orchids.Insects are abundant, and a good varietyof butterflies are to be found, together withmany birds, particularly raptors. All in all,there is no doubt that this is one of thefinest regions of France for the naturalist,whatever one's interests, and we willexplore it as best we can on walksthroughout the area.In the heart of the region lies the Cornichedes Cévennes, a 50-kilometre ridge with aroad along it that gives wide views over thenational park and the Causses. Along theridge the vegetation changes as thelimestone gives way to schist, but theoldest traces of life, about 180 million yearsold, are the dinosaur footprints near St.Laurent. Walking here we should find manyorchids - including Green-winged, Elder-flowered, Monkey, Military and LadyOrchids, plus their various hybrids - andsuch birds as Golden, Booted and Short-toed Eagles, Black Kite, Buzzard, AlpineSwift and Rock Bunting. We will also explore the Gorges du Tarn, tothe west. Here the river has carved thisdeep gorge through the limestone,revealing many fossils and providingnesting ledges for Peregrine, Chough, CragMartin and Blue Rock Thrush. Along theriver Dippers and Grey Wagtails feed;above fly butterflies - Swallowtails, ScarceSwallowtails, Cleopatras, GreenHairstreaks, Adonis Blues and fritillaries.Typical mountain plants may be found heresuch as Rock Soapwort and rockroses,whilst a little to the north in the pinewoodswe will find several wintergreens, togetherwith such orchids as Bird's Nest Orchid,and both Sword-leaved and WhiteHelleborines. Birds in these woods includeCrested Tit, Firecrest and woodpeckers,and Red Squirrel and Pine Marten areoccasionally sighted.Mont Lozère is the highest point of theregion and a road takes us over its flanksvia the Col de Finiels. The underlying rocks here change to provide us with bothan alkaline and an acid flora, includingmany orchids, narcissi, bilberry, violas,potentillas, pulsatillas, rampions and avens.The area is favoured by birds of prey, andthese may include Merlin, and Montagu'sand Hen Harriers. Rock Sparrow, RockBunting, Water Pipit, Alpine Accentor andRing Ouzel may also be seen here, plusGoshawk, Sparrowhawk, tits, finches andwarblers in the woods below.On more than one occasion we willtraverse the Causse Méjean with its wideopen landscape and the extraordinary karstformations at Nîmes-le-Vieux. Waysideflowers include Pyrenean Broom, manyvetches, Yellow Flax, the local subspeciesof Alpine Aster, Grass-leaved Ox-eye Daisy,Maiden Pink, the saucer-sized seed headsof Acanthus-leaved Carline Thistle, whichare traditionally pinned to the doors ofhouses, and Burnt-tip, Fly and SpiderOrchids. Here we will also search for StoneCurlew, harriers, Short-toed Eagle, shrikes,Quail, Rock Sparrow, Tawny Pipit and suchwarblers as Orphean and Melodious. In the Gorges de la Jonte we will be able toenjoy more birds of prey, including Griffonand Black Vultures - both the result ofsuccessful reintroduction programmes. Thegranite and schist outcrop of Mont Aigoualis reached by road, through beech,chestnut, and then pine woodland. Inspring, Poet's Narcissi form white sheets,tulips provide yellow patches, and theverges support a range of orchids. Justbelow the summit is a 'Sentier desBotanistes' which we will walk, enjoyingdramatic views across the Aigoual Massif.The summit area is being actively managedto encourage Apollo butterflies to thrive; itis also a great place for Egyptian Vulture,amongst other raptors. Further to thesouth, we will visit the Gorges de laDourbie on the edge of the Causse Noir.Above the gorge the Causse supportsbreeding Little Bustards and Stone Curlew;to the south the open terrain also holdsHoopoe, Ortolan Bunting, Orphean Warbler,and Red-backed and Great Grey Shrikes.Plants include Fly Honeysuckle,Amelanchier and Ophrysorchids, and thecultivated fields sport such attractive'weeds' as Pheasant's-eye Poppies andCornflowers. This is not an area where anynaturalist may become bored!France - The CévennesAn 8-day holiday - in search of plants, birds and butterflies - in the south-eastern corner of the Massif Central.Thursday 23rd May - Thursday 30th May Cost: £1,295Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationSPAINITALYSWITZERLANDGERMANYBELGIUMPARISTOULOUSEBORDEAUXFRENCHALPSSTRASBOURGENGLISH CHANNELATLANTIC OCEANMEDITERRANEANSEAFRANCECÉVENNESCOCURÈSMONTPELLIEROutline itineraryDay 1Fly Montpellier anddrive to Cocurès. Day 2/7Walking natural historyexcursions in theCévennes. Day 8Fly London.AccommodationA pleasant and traditional villagehotel, with private facilities, servingfine local food.FoodAll included in the price.GradingDay walks only. Grade A. FocusPlants, birds and butterflies.LeadersJohn Willsher (ornithologist) andJenny Willsher (botanist).Single room supplement£165.Web quick search: FRA1261Gorges du TarnCocurès Monkey Orchid