Alpine gardens: a habitat for precious mountain flowers
In addition to several botanical gardens devoted to mountain flora, a number of delightful marked paths enable visitors to admire rare plants and identify them in their natural habitat, either independently or accompanied by qualified naturalist guides. Here are a few examples:
Jardin Alpin Universitaire du Col du Lautaret (Hautes-Alpes)
This exceptional botanical conservatory has been a leading authority in this field for the past 110 years. Situated at an altitude of nearly 2,100m, at the Le Lautaret pass, it is subjected to the full force of mountain weather conditions, and as a result is only open to visitors in summer (admission fee). Eminent scientists (managed by the University of Grenoble) come here to study hundreds of floral essences from the Alps, as well as from Nordic countries and other mountain ranges around the world. While edelweiss and the blue thistle are just two of the many "classic" species found here, visitors rarely comprehend the incredible capacity of plants to adapt to the severe cold - an example of this is the Alpine toadflax rock plant (also known as the Lion's Mouth). On occasions, it's possible to find as many as twenty or more different colours and species on a single square metre of Alpine meadow, even in areas battered by the wind and suffering from drought-like conditions. A world apart!
La Jaysinia, a patron's garden, in Samoëns (Haute-Savoie, Grand Massif)
This attractively laid-out botanical garden, which is home to a collection of 5,000 mountain plants, is situated in the centre of the pretty village of Samoëns, at an altitude of 720m. Free to visitors, it serves as a research laboratory for the Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle, but is also tied up with a unique personal story: that of Marie-Louise Jaÿ (after whom the garden is named). At the end of the 19th century, this young peasant woman went to Paris where she married a charming shopkeeper by the name of Ernest Cognacq. The couple went on to establish one of the first department stores, a pioneering concept at the time. Her fortune made, this beautiful woman was to become the patron of the village in which she was born, creating this magnificent garden in 1906.
"Botanical" hikes in the Asco valley (Corsica)
"In Terra Corsa", a tour operator and organiser of outdoor leisure and sports activities on the Island of Beauty, arranges excursions along a discovery path in the company of a qualified guide.
Botanical footpath, in Tende (Alpes-Maritimes)
An association has been formed to develop the Sentier Botanique de l'Aigle, a botanical path near Tende in the Mercantour range (in the hinterland of the city of Nice).
Botanical footpath, in Thannenkirch (in the Vosges)
Created by a local association (Les Amis du Taennchel), this "sentier botanique" introduces visitors to the main forest species of the Vosges mountains on a 3km walk (1hr 30min).
Maisons du Parc National des Ecrins (between the Isère and the Hautes-Alpes)
This national park has set up 7 visitor and documentation centres, including one in Vallouise, which is encircled by a discovery walk with information panels, examples of flora etc.