Vercors Regional Park & Nature Reserve

The magical setting for our self guided walking holiday, Panoramic Vercors

The Vercors is often referred to as a plateau and this is how it seems when you compare the enormous difference in altitude between the valleys surrounding the mountains and the interior of the Massif where villages are located at about 1000m. The land then rises on the eastern side to reach about 2000m along much of its edge. However, if you look more closely it is more complex, with large valleys and gorges both cutting across the plateau-like areas. Due to this extreme relief with huge cliffs barring access, many parts of the Vercors were isolated from the rest of the massif up until the building of new link roads. Even today, Gresse en Vercors is not directly linked with the rest of the Vercors, with no roads passing from the Gresse Valley onto the plateau.

The transition between the plateaux are via gorges, cliffs or gentler slopes. The highest mountains and highest cliffs are found in the South East, with the highest summit being the Grand Veymont at 2341m. In places, the cliff lines are continuous for tens of kilometres.

The Vercors regional park covers the whole of the mountainous area as well as some surrounding regions. It covers a total of 48 parishes, amounting to 209,000 hectares of which nearly three quarters is forested. The park, which was created in 1970, has a total population of about 46,000 inhabitants. Its aims include the protection of the environment, enhancing sites and monuments, promoting rural development and tourist and cultural activities, as well as welcoming and informing the public about the regions qualities. Among the major projects undertaken by the park, include the re-introduction of the Alpine Ibex and the Griffon Vulture, the designation of parts of the Park as a site Natura 2000, the way-markings of footpaths and the improvement to local museums.

The Nature Reserve of the Vercors Hauts Plateaux includes an area of 16,000 hectares and is the largest reserve in France, 30km long from north to south and 6km wide. Its limits correspond roughly with the huge rock faces which surround the high plateau. Mont Aiguille forms part of the reserve. The Reserve varies in height from 1026m to its summit on the Grand Veymont at 2341m. Its aims are the protection of the natural environment. The plateau has a sub-alpine climate with an average yearly temperature of 5°C (-2.3°C in winter and 12°C in summer), with about 1500mm of rain a year. The climate shows signs of warming and becoming drier.

More than 20% of the surface of the high plateau is covered by limestone pavements, which has a high priority of conservation according to Natura 2000. (Natura 2000 is the centrepiece of EU nature & biodiversity policy. It is an EUwide network of nature protection areas established under the 1992 Habitats Directive. The aim of the network is to assure the long-term survival of Europe's most valuable and threatened species and habitats.) The high plateau is a remarkable karstic environment with many associated  features such as sink holes, wells and underground cave systems, whilst the surrounding rock faces provide great views of the geology of the Vercors. Water is rare as surface run-off. Springs often originate at a particular level and often return underground to emerge at much lower levels. Water drains rapidly through the rock and so the risk of pollution is much higher than in other rock types.

The high plateau is roughly one third forest, one third exposed rock and one third grassland. The habitat which is characteristic of the reserve and which is also the most sensitive is a mosaic of these 3 types together, with stands of pine among a mix of grasslands and rocky outcrops.

In terms of fauna the area is rich due to a lack of human interaction. It is characterised by a high altitude, with species which aren’t found in other parts of the Vercors due to lower altitudes. It has over 60km of rock faces which creates habitats for a number of species, especially birds. The reserve has almost a total absence of water on the surface.

The flora is influenced by the meeting point of 3 climatic zones: Alpine due to the altitude, continental and Mediterranean due to its geographical location. Varying altitude also makes for a range of habitats with the flora also changing according to the presence or absence of rock on the surface.

The Grand Veymont is the highest point in the Vercors at 2341m in height. It is a popular walk, although it requires a long approach even before beginning the main climb as the nearest road is over 10km away. The Grand Veymont is in fact just the highest point of a ridge that extends over several kilometres which has been tilted to the west, corresponding to the gentler slopes to the west. The summit, like much of the rock faces consists of hard and deep layers of coral limestone.

Mont Aiguille mountain is the remnants of a plateau that has been eroded to leave only a single pillar of rock. This has resulted in several unique features of Mont Aiguille, including the vertical cliffs and the presence of meadows on the summit plateau. The mountain was first climbed in 1492 after Charles VIII ordered that the peak be climbed. Antoine de Ville, one of his servants made the climb using a combination of ropes, ladders and other artificial aids. He was visited in the days that followed by many local members of the nobility and aristocracy. They slept on the summit for over a week, erecting a stone shelter and crosses. This ascension is thought to be the first climb of any technical difficulty.

The Vercors is also well known as a place of Resistance during the Second World War. Those young French who sought to escape compulsory work (Service du Travail Obligatoire), making machines and material for the Germans or the Vichy regime, joined a growing group of Maquis (resistance fighters), who sought refuge in inaccessible places such as the mountains of the Vercors.

Our self guided walking holiday Panoramic Vercors is available from mid May to early October. We can also operate a Tailor-made guided walking holiday, Vercors: Jewel in the Alps, subject to availability.

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