The Géopark and Géomuseum of Haute-Provence, located beside the town of Dignes-les-Bains has woodland nature walks, study sites and museum about geology and natural history.
The Geomuseum is family oriented, with the exhibits oriented towards children yet serious enough for adults. Information signs in the museum are in French and English.
The first view of the Geomuseum is a mysterious looking building sitting on a rock ledge in the midst of a vast forested hillside. The museum is billed as a "Musée Promenade", as the long walk up from the parking area to the museum buildings winds through the woods. Apart from the beauty of the forest walk, partly along side a small stream and past a waterfall, there's not really a museum aspect until you reach the top.
A large gift shop on the ground floor has a large collection of books about geology, nature, animals, fish, fossils and other related subjects. The exhibit rooms are located on the ground floor and several floors or half-floors upward.
Focused on geology, the museum has many fossils, and most (all?) of them come from the immediate region. There's a good exhibit of ancient cave bears. Another room is about more modern bears, explaining the history of bears in europe and the problems of trying to live with bears in our modern society - relating to the current controversy in the Pyrenées.
With mankind's geological history beginning in the sea, this museum shows a lot of fossils that came from the sea, and the top floor has 10 small aquariums with live fish on the inside and the related fossils just below.
There's a great view from the museum, out across the river valley towards the town of Digne-les-Bains. The grounds are calm and pretty, and the surrounding woods that you walk up through have picnic areas where you can take your lunch or just sit and relax.
Not handicapped friendly. The walk from the parking area and ticket booth is steeply up hill, at least 15 minutes. The walk zig-zags through a lovely, cool forest and is quite pretty, but it's not an easy climb for people not good at walking. Inside the museum, the rooms are somewhat vertically oriented, on separate floors or opening off a turn in the stairway. There's no elevator and really no space to put in ramps.
On the hillside of the Geomuseum, about half-way between the parking and the museum buildings at the top, is an terraced area in the trees reservered for butterflies. Available with a separate ticket (with or without the museum ticket), guided tours are conducted twice a day, at 11h00 and 16h30, and take about an hour.
The tour is partly to see many beautiful butterflies, but mostly to learn about them. The guide begins with a lesson about butterflies, pretty much everything you would want to know, and probably more than you can remember. (The tour is in French only; it's possible that the guide(s) speak English as well, but our tour was all French.) You then move from place to place through the terraced area where bushes, trees and flowers have been planted to attract the different species of butterflies, viewing the flora and the butterflies, and stopping for more lessons along the way.
Our own group had 24 people, including kiddies. While most people crowded around the guide for the explanations, a few rested in the shade and three or four (including ourselves) wandered off now and again to chase the creatures with our cameras, returning just for snatches of the lectures.
There are about 130 species of butterflies attracted to this butterfly garden, out of 120 species total in France. We learned that butterflies have a specific plant they prefer for gathering necter, and a different plant or tree they prefer for nesting.
The tour is very educational, but even if you don't follow the lectures closely, wandering through the many flowering plants and watching the butterflies is probably worth the visit.
Also a Butterfly Garden.
Location: 2 km north of Digne-les-Bains center.
Stroll in a geological reserve of fossils, in a park full of waterfalls and streams. Ten aquariums of tropical and Mediterranean fish alongside their ancient fossils.
Open: Apr-June, Sept-Oct: 7/7; 9h-12h, 14h-17h30 (-16h30 fridays)
July-Aug Weekdays: 9h-13h, 14h-19h
July-Aug Sat-Sun: 10h-12h30, 14h-18h30
Ticket office Weekdays: 9h-12h, 13h30-17h
Ticket office Sat-Sun: 9h30-12h30, 13h30-17h30
Entry: Museum, promenade: 4.60 euros; 2.75 euros kids
Butterfly tour: 7.00 euros; 4.00 euros kids
Tel: 0492 367 070
Transportation Géoparc de Haute-Provence
Take the D900A road out of town to the north, along side the river. The road turns sharp left over a narrow girder bridge across the river. At the far end of the bridge, where the road turns right, the driveway into the museum exits to the left.
There's a bus from Digne center to the museum entry road. From there it's a 10 minute walk in to the parking area and the ticket booths.