Réserve Géologique de Haute-Provence

Parc National du Mercantour

It's hard to believe, but millions of years ago the Alps sat at the bottom of a vast temperate sea, leaving behind millions of fossils pressed into the rock – including ammonites, trilobites and even the footprints of prehistoric birds. Spread across 18 sites collectively known as the Réserve Géologique de Haute-Provence, they offer a fascinating window into the Alps' ancient past – but you'll need a car (and the official map, available at tourist offices) to find them.

Interpretive panels explain each of the sites, most of which lie around Barles (north) and Barrême (south). One of the easiest to reach is an impressive limestone slab with some 500 ammonites, about 3km north of Digne on the road to Barles.

You'll need a full day to cover the whole route – especially if you want to combine it with a visit to the Musée Promenade.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Parc National du Mercantour attractions

1. Distillerie du Siron

9.95 MILES

A beautifully sited lavender factory near Thoard, along the Route du Temps. You can watch the distillation process and buy products in the onsite shop.

2. Musée Promenade

10.84 MILES

Situated 2km north of Digne-les-Bains in St-Bénoît, en route to Barle, this museum and outdoor park features four trails that explore the region's geology…

3. Musée Gassendi

11.84 MILES

A rather oddball mix of exhibits are on show at Digne's main museum – from 19th-century Provençal paintings and natural history exhibits to contemporary…

4. Musée de la Lavande

11.98 MILES

Opened in 2015, this new museum in Digne explores Provence's lavender-growing culture through a mix of multimedia displays, explanatory panels, archive…

5. Route du Temps

16.66 MILES

The Route du Temps is a signed route that winds through some of the area's most dramatic valleys, historical sites and rock formations; it starts just…

6. Citadelle de Sisteron

16.98 MILES

For the finest views of the valley, make a beeline for Sisteron's hilltop citadel, perched on a flank of rock high above the town. Built in stages between…

7. Colmars-les-Alpes

18.39 MILES

With its towers, turrets and ramparts, this medieval village looks like a relic from a Monty Python film set. In the late 14th century, the valleys around…

8. Musée de la Vallée

20.73 MILES

Surrounded by a fine public park, this intriguing museum explores the valley's history. Highlights include a fascinating collection of Bronze Age…