Hot-air ballooning is big in France (no surprise—it was invented here). It’s also one of the best ways to see Haute Provence. Lavender fields and olive groves spread out below you as you drift over the Durance valley, with the high country of the Verdon and Valensole stretching off into the distance. France Montgolfières Balloon Flights (www.france-balloons.com; tel. 03-80-97-38-61) operates regular flights between June and August, lifting off from Forcalquier. You get to watch the balloon being inflated, then scramble into the basket and float effortlessly into the air. The trip lasts around 3 hours, with just over an hour in the air. If it’s your first-ever flight, there’s a traditional ceremony on landing involving fizzy drinks and having a lock of your hair scorched off to prove you’re a real aéronaut. Minimum age is 6 years old. Note that flights take off either at sunrise or just before sunset between April and October, and last around an hour. Fees range from 189€ to 249€ for adults, with flights for children aged 6–12 priced at 155€.
You can explore the Gorges du Verdon and its surrounding landscape with guided hikes from the Maison des Guides du Verdon, La-Palud-sur-Verdon (www.escalade-verdon.fr; tel. 04-92-77-30-50). Canoeing and kayaking are available through the Aqua Viva Est in Castellane (www.aquavivaest.com; tel. 04-92-83-75-74), and the Club Nautique, Esparron de Verdon (www.cnev.online.fr; tel. 04-92-77-15-25). Rafting trips, canyoning, and aqua-rando (water rambling) are conducted by Aboard Rafting (www.aboard-rafting.com; tel. 04-92-83-76-11) in Castellane. All three of these outfits are in full swing between April and September, with peak season (and the widest range of activities) in July and August. Infrequent activities are also organized in March, October, and November. If you haven’t booked in advance, you can head to Lac de Sainte-Croix, where you’ll find plenty of pedalos for rent.
Note that there are plenty of local bicycling firms throughout the Parc Naturel Régional du Verdon, but unless you’re seriously in top shape, the steep ascents and descents are likely to be a real challenge. Local tourist offices can give you specific details of outfits leading cycling tours throughout the region.
Especially for Kids
Rafting down the Verdon River is the not-to-be-missed Haute-Provence experience for those with older children. Lots of companies in and around Castellane run a huge variety of trips, some of which are frankly terrifying and only for adrenaline-crazed teens and grown-ups. Our favorite trip, run by Aboard Rafting) for ages 8 and up, lasts 2 hours and ends up at the company’s private riverside beach at La Pinede, an excellent picnic spot. Basic training, fully qualified guides and safety equipment are provided including lifejacket, helmet, and wetsuit. This trip is run between April and September, and costs 35€ per person.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.