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France - The Vercors (by train)

Tour Code: FRA24

An 8-day holiday in search of birds, plants, mammals and butterflies in the Vercors massif, a spectacular area in the heart of France's Dauphine region on the doorstep of the Alps.

8 days from £1495(flights not included) Land Only Price: £1375 SRS: £160


Heading south from Lyon in south-eastern France, an awe-inspiring massif of jagged limestone looms into view. Framed perfectly by the resplendant snow-capped Alps in the distance, and the deep IsFONT size=2 face=Arial>ère Valley in the foreground, the Vercors Regional Nature Park is an area of exceptional beauty. It cries out for exploration, and that's exactly what we do on this varied 8-day wildlife holiday, making full use of the region's trails and back-roads as we search for the birds, plants, mammals and butterflies which inhabit the limestone gorges, high summits, and extensive forests and flower-filled meadows of the Vercors.

  • Travel by train to Lyon on a flight-free holiday
  • Wonderful wildlife amidst truly magnificent scenery
  • Friendly, family-run hotel serving good home cooking based on local produce 
  • One of the three principal orchid hotspots in mainland Europe
  • Stunning alpine plants with abundant gentians, saxifrages & many more specialities
  • Wallcreeper, lekking Black Grouse, & numerous birds of prey
  • July highlights include the mysterious Ghost Orchid & the elusive European Beaver


All included in the price (except on train journeys).


A delightful family-run hotel; all rooms have private facilities.

Grizzled Skipper

Grizzled Skipper

Outline Itinerary Download

Day 1 Train to Lyon

Day 2/7 Natural history excursions in the Vercors.

Day 8 Train to London

Day 5/7 La Brenne

DIV>FONT size=2 face=Arial>Heading south from Lyon in south-eastern France having travelled south by Eurostar and TGV, an awe-inspiring massif of jagged limestone looms into view. Framed perfectly by the resplendent snow-capped Alps in the distance, and the deep Isère Valley in the foreground, the Vercors Regional Nature Park is an area of exceptional beauty. Incorporating France’s largest nature reserve — the splendid Hauts Plateaux — this is one of the oldest ‘Nature Parks’ in France and a most interesting region for the visiting naturalist. We will explore its thousands of hectares of unspoiled countryside on this holiday, focusing on the rich and varied fauna and flora of the massif’s deep limestone gorges, high summits (dominated by the Grand Veymont at 2,341 metres) and vast expanses of forest. From our base in La Chapelle, a delightful village in the heart of the massif, we are within easy striking distance of the many rich habitats which, after centuries of glacial and then fluvial erosion, form a harmonious limestone landscape of damp, flower-filled meadows alternating with majestic vertical cliffs and high wooded plateaux.
One of the highlights of our week will be a day spent in the Hauts Plateaux nature reserve in the company of a local guide. This wild area, in many respects unique in Europe, consists of a patchwork of meadows, moorlands, forests and high mountain ridges, shaped by savage winters and centuries of forestry and grazing. A small, pioneering population of Wolves, presumed to have recently recolonised this part of France from the Italian Alps, hides in the vast Silver Fir (EM>Abies alba/EM>) and Mountain Pine (EM>Pinus uncinata/EM>) forest, their presence betrayed only by tracks left in the extensive winter snows. Griffon Vulture, Golden Eagle, Peregrine, Black Grouse, Ring Ouzel, Firecrest, Crossbill, Citril Finch and perhaps even a Tengmalm’s Owl or Black Woodpecker are amongst the avian possibilities here, whilst the alpine flora is at its dazzling best at this time of year.
The pretty winter ski station of Font d’Urle provides an unusual backdrop to beautiful alpine meadows carpeted with wild pansies, gentians, wild tulips and snowbells. The path to Pont d’Urle leads us through an unspoiled alpine habitat with stunning views south across the Forêt de Quint. We must keep our eyes open here for Chough, Alpine Chough, Golden Eagle, Rock Thrush, Water Pipit and Alpine Marmot. The numerous limestone cliffs in the Vercors attract resident Wallcreepers, and one or two of our picnic spots make ideal points from which to scan for this sought-after species. On the drier, sunnier southern slopes, Rock Sparrows breed, while Short-toed Eagles glide and hover overhead hunting for snakes. Orphean and Subalpine Warblers and the attractive Ortolan Bunting, too, will also be amongst our targets during this part of our holiday.
The Vercors is one of the very few regions in western Europe harbouring six species of wild ungulates — Ibex, Chamois, Red Deer, Roe Deer, Mouflon and Wild Boar all occuring here. Whilst these animals invariably remain elusive in the wooded areas, they may sometimes be seen on the higher, rocky slopes. Smaller carnivores such as Fox, Badger and Pine Marten are well represented, while Mountain Hare, a relict from the Ice Age, is confined to the high mountain ridges. We will look for some of these smaller mammals in the freshly cut hay meadows at dusk.
It is perhaps the stunning flora, however, with several rare orchids present in an overall list of 64 species, for which the Vercors massif is best known. The spectacular Lady’s Slipper Orchid is relatively common in the fir and beech forests, and we will look for the endemic EM>Ophrys bertolonii ssp. drumana/EM> in the drier Mediterranean climate of the Gervannes. Orchis spitzelii, Toothed Orchid EM>(Orchis tridentata/EM>) and, on our later tour, Ghost Orchid (EM>Epipogium aphyllum/EM>) will all provide excitement during our walks and picnic lunches, throughout what promises to be a varied and enjoyable week in this, one of the most beautiful regions of France.
Marsh Fritillary (Andy McGeeney)Hotel Bellier (Paul Harmes)Group on the Hauts Plateaux (Paul Harmes)Short-toed Eagle (Paul Harmes)The Grand Veymont (Paul Harmes)Scarce Swallowtail (Paul Harmes)Orchid hybrid (Paul Harmes)Grizzled Skipper (Paul Harmes)Green Lizard (Paul Harmes)Cream Spot Tiger Moth (Alan Miller)Ophrys fuciflora - Late Spider-orchid (Andy McGeeney)La Chapelle en Vercors (Alan Miller)Dipper (Paul Harmes)Daphne cneorum - Garland Flower (Paul Harmes)Crocus albiflorus (Paul Harmes)Convolvulus cantabrica (Paul Harmes)Broad-bodied Chaser (Paul Harmes)Anacamptis pyramidata - Pyramidal Orchid (Paul Harmes)The Vercors (Alan Miller)Pont en Royans (Alan Miller)Apollo<i>Campanula cochlearifolia</i>Col de Rosset, VercorsConvolvulus HawkmothLady's Slipper Orchid<i>Crocus albiflorus</i>Dog's Tooth Violet <i>Erythronium dens canis</i>Escher's BlueCluse's Gentian </i>Gentiana clusii</i>Lady's Slipper OrchidMarbled FritillaryOur hotel in the VercorsMt. Aiguille from the Pas de l'EssaureMonkey Orchid <i>Orchis simia</i><i>Orobanche caryophyllacea</i>Naturetrek picnic lunchPreslesScanning for Wallcreepers<i>Sempervivum tectorum</i>Time out to take some photos!<i>Teucreum montanum</i><i>Trifolium rubens</i>Vercors - Hauts Plateaux<i>Zygaena carniolica</i>
R.M. & K.F
Spring 2017
Well organised, great hotel, wonderful location. Leaders were knowledgable, friendly, considerate and very hard-working.
East Sussex
Hotel Bellier was excellent - comfortable, immaculate with kindly service, and excellent food. The daily itinerary gave an excellent idea of the environment and, despite poor weather for the second half of the week, we did well on plant and birds species. My particular interest has always been in orchids and they were stunningly good.
Our two guides were excellent - extremely knowledgeable, pleasant and patient throughout.
In this amazing area, roads wind round towering rock faces, squeezing through natural arches, past dizzying chasms, to reach some awe-inspiring views. Waterfalls tumble to turbulent streams, calming themselves to babble conveniently past picnic sites; and everywhere - roadside verges, rocky cliff faces, open meadows and high plateaux are filled with flowers. So, the setting in itself was a veritable Shangri-La, where botanical enthusiasts discovered 32 varieties of orchid, whilst 'birders' scanned the skies for vultures and crag martins, or quietly watched for wallcreepers and dippers, bird songs and sightings permeating the day from dawn to dusk.
I thoroughly enjoyed this holiday - Paul Harmes and Alan Miller were terrific leaders - hugely knowledgeable and endlessly patient. Apart from the first two days, we didn't have particularly good weather but they were not put out and simply adjusted their itinerary. As in the UK the season was particularly late. Paul and Alan were undaunted and with great enthusiasm found us some spectacular views, plants and birds. I don't think I'll ever forget the sight of so many orchids in meadows and verging on 60 plus griffin vultures soaring above the cliffs.
Mrs C.
Paul and Alan are superb leaders. Knowledge, enthusiasm, encouragement, people skills - they tick all the boxes. They work hard and long and effectively. The highest complement I can pay is to say that I enjoyed this Vercors trip as much as I had relished my 4 previous Naturetreks with John and Jenny Willsher. Vercors scenery: big surprise at how magnificent the Kanst landscape is, the mixed natural forests are especially beautiful in May with the dark conifers interspersed with bright new green deciduous tree leaves.
Dr W.
It was the perfect holiday for me. Stunning scenery. Why do more people not know about this area? The hotel gave us coffee and fresh croissant at 3am! Family run as you said. The leaders were absolutely excellent. They complemented one another ideally. One quiet and one less so. Their driving was perfect despite many hairpin bends. Their knowledge of the area, the terrain, the botanical sites and the ice creams was amazing. Paul is a very good botanist. The train was good - as you said - a chance to get to know fellow travellers.
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Sun 12th May 2019 - Sun 19th May 2019



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Flights: Flights are not included with this tourMore 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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Tour Reviews

Well organised, great hotel, wonderful location. Leaders were knowledgable, friendly, considerate and very hard-working.
R.M. & K.F, Spring 2017