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France - The Cevennes

Tour Code: FRA12

An 8-day holiday - in search of plants, birds and butterflies - in the south-eastern corner of the Massif Central.

8 days from £1495(inc flights) Land Only Price: £1375 SRS: £180


The Cévennes is a spectacular area on the edge of the Massif Central containing a wide variety of habitats, amongst them the granitic peak of Mont Lozère, vast beech and chestnut forests, and the limestone plateau of the Causses bisected by dramatic gorges (including the Gorges du Tarn). Based for the week in a delightful hotel in the pretty village of Cocurès, we will explore these habitats, many of them protected within the Cévennes National Park, in search of an extremely rich flora, including many orchids, a wealth of butterflies, and many birds, particularly raptors. This is one of the finest regions of France for the naturalist, the delicious meals served at our hotel and our renowned picnic lunches ensuring that no one lacks for energy!

  • A perfect destination for the all-round naturalist!
  • Birds, flowers & butterflies galore!
  • Birds of prey in abundance
  • 25-30 orchid species, amongst a profusion of wild flowers  
  • A rugged land of medieval villages & spectacular gorges
  • Classic French cuisine in an award-winning village hotel
  • Learn from our expert Naturetrek ornithologist & botanist leaders

Food

All included in the price.

Accommodation

A pleasant and traditional village hotel, with private facilities, serving fine local food.

Aymonin's Orchid (Peter Dunn)

Aymonin's Orchid (Peter Dunn)

Outline Itinerary Download

Day 1 Fly Montpellier and drive to Cocurès

Day 2/7 Walking natural history excursions in the Cévennes

Day 8 Fly London

The Cévennes is a spectacular mountainous area on the southeastern edge of the Massif Central. Delightfully unspoilt, its wonderful variety of scenery and habitats provide a special combination for the naturalist and walker. From our base for this holiday — a small and friendly hotel in the attractive little village of Cocurès, close to the administrative centre of the Cévennes National Park — we will make full use of the region’s excellent trails as we search for the wealth of plants, birds and butterflies to be found here; the delicious meals served at our hotel and our famous French picnic lunches will ensure that no one lacks for energy!

The Cévennes’ variety of habitats within such a relatively small area is truly exceptional. The granite and schist peaks of Mont Lozère (1,699 metres), Mont Aigoual (1,567 metres) and Mont Bougés (1,362 metres) have a quite different flora from the surrounding limestone areas, and pine and deciduous forests, hedgerows, limestone plateaux, flower-filled meadows, deep gorges and fast-flowing rivers provide further contrasts. To the west lies the vast limestone plateau of the Causses, with typical karst scenery of dramatic canyons, weathered peaks and caves. We will visit all these habitats, many of them protected within the Cévennes National Park that covers the central part of the range. Further diversity, created by the variety of climate, aspect, rainfall, soil and altitude, provides an extremely rich flora, especially orchids. Insects are abundant, and a good variety of butterflies are to be found, together with many birds, particularly raptors. All in all, there is no doubt that this is one of the finest regions of France for the naturalist, whatever one’s interests, and we will explore it as best we can on walks throughout the area.

In the heart of the region lies the Corniche des Cévennes, a 50-kilometre ridge with a road along it that gives wide views over the national park and the Causses. Along the ridge the vegetation changes as the limestone gives way to schist, but the oldest traces of life, about 180 million years old, are the dinosaur footprints near St. Laurent. Walking here we should find many orchids — including Green-winged, Elder-flowered, Monkey, Military and Lady Orchids, plus their various hybrids — and such birds as Golden, Booted and Short-toed Eagles, Black Kite, Buzzard, Alpine Swift and Rock Bunting.

We will also explore the Gorges du Tarn, to the west. Here the river has carved this deep gorge through the limestone, revealing many fossils and providing nesting ledges for Peregrine, Chough, Crag Martin and Blue Rock Thrush. Along the river Dippers and Grey Wagtails feed; above fly butterflies — Swallowtails, Scarce Swallowtails, Cleopatras, Green Hairstreaks, Adonis Blues and fritillaries. Typical mountain plants may be found here such as Rock Soapwort and rockroses, whilst a little to the north in the pinewoods we will find several wintergreens, together with such orchids as Bird’s Nest Orchid, and both Sword-leaved and White Helleborines. Birds in these woods include Crested Tit, Firecrest and woodpeckers, and Red Squirrel and Pine Marten are occasionally sighted.
Mont Lozère is the highest point of the region and a road takes us over its flanks via the Col de Finiels. The underlying rocks here change to provide us with both an alkaline and an acid flora, including many orchids, narcissi, bilberry, violas, potentillas, pulsatillas, rampions and avens. The area is favoured by birds of prey, and these may include Merlin, and Montagu’s and Hen Harriers. Rock Sparrow, Rock Bunting, Water Pipit, Alpine Accentor and Ring Ouzel may also be seen here, plus Goshawk, Sparrowhawk, tits, finches and warblers in the woods below.

On more than one occasion we will traverse the Causse Méjean with its wide open landscape and the extraordinary karst formations at Nîmes-le-Vieux. Wayside flowers include Pyrenean Broom, many vetches, Yellow Flax, the local subspecies of Alpine Aster, Grass-leaved Ox-eye Daisy, Maiden Pink, the saucer-sized seed heads of Acanthus-leaved Carline Thistle, which are traditionally pinned to the doors of houses, and Burnt-tip, Military and Spider Orchids, plus the endemic Aymonin's Fly Orchid. Here we will also search for Stone Curlew, harriers, Short-toed Eagle, shrikes, Quail, Rock Sparrow, Tawny Pipit, Ortolan Bunting and such warblers as Orphean and Melodious.

In the Gorges de la Jonte we will be able to enjoy more birds of prey, including Griffon and Black Vultures — both the result of successful reintroduction programmes. Our route back to Cocurès takes us through the Causse Noir. The roadsides are awash with drifts of Sword-leaved Helleborine, small groups of Burnt-tip Orchids and bright blue patches of Pyramidal Bugle. Under the Black (or Austrian) Pines, from which this Causse gets its name, we will search for various wintergreens. We will always be on the look-out for forest birds such as Goshawk and woodpeckers, and in the more open areas Stone Curlew, Red-backed Shrike, Orphean Warbler and Corn Bunting. The granite and schist outcrop of Mont Aigoual is reached by road, through beech, chestnut, and then pine woodland. In spring, Poet’s Narcissi form white sheets, tulips provide yellow patches, and the verges support a range of orchids. Just below the summit is a ‘Sentier des Botanistes’ which we will walk, enjoying dramatic views across the Aigoual Massif. The summit area is being actively managed to encourage Apollo butterflies to thrive; it is also a great place for Egyptian Vulture, amongst other raptors. Our return takes us into the upper Tarnon Valley with its flower-rich roadsides and meadows, and hillsides yellow with fragrant broom. This is not an area where any naturalist may become bored!

Glanville Fritillary butterflies (John and Jenny Willsher)Dactylorhiza sambucina (John and Jenny Willsher)Florac (John and Jenny Willsher)Cliffs at Belvedere des Vautours, Gordge de la Jonte  (John and Jenny Willsher)Castlebouc (John and Jenny Willsher)Orchis coriophora (John and Jenny Willsher)Le Tarnon near Florac (John and Jenny Willsher)View of Causse Mejean from Col de Perjeret (John and Jenny Willsher)View from Mont Aigoual (John and Jenny Willsher)Lychnis viscaria (John and Jenny Willsher)Linum campanulatum (John and Jenny Willsher)Gorge de la Jonte (John and Jenny Willsher)Scarce Swallowtail butterflies (John and Jenny Willsher)N.-poeticus (John and Jenny Willsher)Campanula Speciosa (John and Jenny Willsher)Cytisus purgans (John and Jenny Willsher)Poet's Narcissi at L'Hospitalet (John and Jenny Willsher)Picnic at Col de Faisses (John and Jenny Willsher)Ophrys passionis (John and Jenny Willsher)Green-underside Blue butterfly (John and Jenny Willsher)Adonis Blue butterfly (John and Jenny Willsher)Orchis militaris (John and Jenny Willsher)Dianthus carthusianorum (John and Jenny Willsher)Gorges du Tarn (Lozere)
R.B.
Australia
We took two Naturetrek one-week trips, both in France: the Vercors, and the Cevennes. Coming independently from Australia, as we have in the past, we met each group at their point of entry to France. We had been with each leader on previous Naturetrek trips so fell easily in with the very pleasant small group company. Everything ran smoothly in both cases, with each day filled with interesting excursions to sites of botanical and scenic beauty and the possibility of bird observing. Naturetrek chooses small, friendly hotels out of large towns where the service, accommodation and food is very good, the small groups work very well under experienced leadership both for the nature and for people management. Daily picnic lunches are a highlight and overall, we can't think of any better way to experience nature in places we couldn't imagine finding for ourselves.
M.K.
USA
The whole tour group, leaders and participants together, was a delight; from the quietest to the most voluble, everyone contributed with humour and good knowledge.
P.T.
Milton Keynes
In the past, I have always rated the quality of Naturetrek's guides extremely highly and I would add John and Neil to that list. John's knowledge of the area and his ability to spot while driving added greatly to the trip and Neil's plant knowledge, in particular, and general wildlife knowledge was first-class.
J.C.
Bristol
This is my 4th Naturetrek tour with Jenny and John Willsher, who are excellent in all aspects of leadership - itinerary, group management, driving, catering, knowledge of subject, understanding of locales and especially warm enthusiasm, encouragement and support of the individual clients.
I.D.
Cumbria
The knowledge, expertise and skills of the leaders made the holiday very worthwhile for wildlife. The scenery spoke for itself. The hotel was great - pleasant staff, comfortable and good food (keep this one)!
A.R.
Worcestershire
This was an absolutely brilliant holiday. I learnt so much and that was primarily down to the knowledge and expertise of the leaders but also their energy and willingness to go the extra mile.
D.P.
Hertfordshire
Excellent holiday with wonderful tour leaders in John and Jenny Willsher - massive knowledge of their subjects and the area, and brilliant drivers - hairpin bends are nothing to them.
R.M.
Buckinghamshire
This was an extremely well organised and enjoyable trip and, despite the weather, we saw a wealth of plants and, of course, a variety of birds, butterflies etc. Please thank our leaders for doing such a good job.
B.K.
Dorset
Leadership and organisation were excellent. My first Naturetrek holiday and the leaders were supportive and helpful.
V.A.
London
The hotel, tour leaders, accommodation and food were all excellent and I had a wonderful time.
J.L.
London
We would like to mention the quite exceptional guides - Jenny and John Willsher. They were quite unstinting with the care and generosity they gave the group. They were so knowledgeable about the country. Never got us lost - knew every bird, flower and butterfly. Really marvellous, good company and charming. This is the second Naturetrek expedition we’ve enjoyed. This was exceptionally good.
H.L.
Lincolnshire
The leaders were especially good, caring and excellent at making sure that even the least knowledgeable (me!) saw and understood all the wildlife and plants we saw. I unfortunately suffered a headache and was cared for in the most careful way - better than at home! I cannot praise the leaders highly enough!
B. & D.P.
Lincolnshire
A very enjoyable trip! Jenny and John were excellent, caring and knowledgeable leaders.
J.D. & H. S.
London
Our trip leaders were good, knowledgeable, personable and pleasant!
A.B.
Ireland
The local leaders were very good company.
Mr & Mrs R.
Surrey
We had an excellent holiday and the trip achieved our expectations which were in no small part due to the expert bird knowledge and identification of Peter.
Mr & Mrs W.
Surrey
We both enjoyed the week very much.
R. & E. E.
Derbyshire
The holiday itself was excellent, in content and accommodation ... and we would like to experience further Naturetrek holidays.
D.C.
Cheshire
The hotel was excellent.
C.L.
Roxburghshire
Peter was excellent, and I would be very keen to be on another trip with him.
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DeparturesAvailableCost

Wed 16th May 2018 - Wed 23rd May 2018

YES

£1495

more details

Flights: Flights are included in the tour costMore info

Regional Departures: Regional Departures are limited. Call 01962 733051 for detailsMore info

Land only cost: £1375 More info

Room sharing options: More info

Visiting: France

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Andy Tucker
Operations Manager

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01962 733051

Tour Focus

Wild flowers

Tour Reviews

We took two Naturetrek one-week trips, both in France: the Vercors, and the Cevennes. Coming independently from Australia, as we have in the past, we met each group at their point of entry to France. We had been with each leader on previous Naturetrek trips so fell easily in with the very pleasant small group company. Everything ran smoothly in both cases, with each day filled with interesting excursions to sites of botanical and scenic beauty and the possibility of bird observing. Naturetrek chooses small, friendly hotels out of large towns where the service, accommodation and food is very good, the small groups work very well under experienced leadership both for the nature and for people management. Daily picnic lunches are a highlight and overall, we can't think of any better way to experience nature in places we couldn't imagine finding for ourselves.
R.B., Australia