Tour Details

Dates:29th of May - 5th of Jun 2024
Availability:9Guaranteed departure
Group Size:Minimum 4, maximum 12 guests
Grading:Easy day walks
PricesFull price: £1,495.00 / person Single room supplement: £175.00 / person Deposit: £150.00 / person
Price includes: Accommodation, all meals, ground transportation, services of your guides, and a holiday report
Not included: International travel, drinks and other personal items, holiday insurance

Tour Highlights

  • 75 or more species of spring butterflies expected, and a host of wildflowers too, including many orchids
  • Amongst them, highlights we hope to see include Violet Copper, Spanish Festoon, Apollo and Clouded Apollo, Iberian Scarce Swallowtail, Provencal Fritillary, and more besides
  • Our hotel for the week is particularly notable, with fine evening meals to enjoy
  • A donation will be made to the European Butterfly Group, supporting proactive research and conservation

Tour Description

This end of spring tour to the Eastern French Pyrenees is a gift from the heavens for all those who love beautiful, diverse countryside, a wide smorgasbord of fabulous butterflies, and an array of attractive orchids set in undulating hills around the sacred, 2,784m Catalonian peak of Mt Canigou.

An interesting and eclectic range of habitat is on offer in this region, from the drier maquis and garrigue to the east near Perpignan, to verdant mid-altitude tracks around the Canigou massif as well as the more austere, inland montane plateau close to the Spanish border, and the delightfully green, damp meadows and roadsides of the Aude Valley.

As a consequence, we can expect butterflies with a wide background of habitat preferences, and anticipate around 90 species likely to be recorded over the course of the week.

The more Mediterranean-influenced terrain will provide the dry, scrub loving species such as Western Marbled White Melanargia occitania, Cardinal Argynnis pandora, Spanish Gatekeeper Pyronia bathseba, Dusky Heath Coenonympha dorus, Green-underside Blue Glaucopsyche alexis, Lulworth Skipper Thymelicus acteon, Spanish Festoon Zerynthia rumina, Cleopatra Gonepteryx cleopatra, and maybe even Two-tailed Pasha Charaxes jasius, at a known hilltopping site close to the town of Millas. There will also be good numbers of the beckeri form of Marsh Fritillary Euphydryas aurinia, a larger, more brick-red version of the insect found in several parts of the UK.

There is also the possibility of seeing arguably France’s rarest butterfly, Spanish Fritillary Euphydryas desfontainii. We will visit two quarries close to the village of Sournia where we have recorded it twice before.

In the lower reaches of the mountains around Canigou, the roadside banks will play host to Apollo Parnassius apollo, Clouded Apollo Parnassius mnemosyne, Sooty Copper Lycaena tityrus, Provence Orange Tip Anthocharis euphenoides, Provençal Fritillary Melitaea deione, Oberthür’s Grizzled Skipper Pyrgus armoricanus, Chequered Blue Scolitantides orion, Black-veined White Aporia crataegi, Southern White Admiral Limenitis reducta, Meadow Fritillary Melitaea parthenoides, and plenty more.

The Aude Valley traditionally provides a different selection of butterflies, with Chequered Skipper Carterocephalus palaemon, Bright-eyed Ringlet Erebia oeme, Map Araschnia levana and Silver-studded Blue Plebejus argus on the likely menu, alongside other desirables en route, such as Purple-edged Copper Lycaena hippothoe, Amanda’s Blue Polyommatus amandus, and Pearl-bordered Fritillary Boloria euphrosyne, not to mention several beautiful species of flowering orchid which can be seen in meadows along the roadsides, including Bug Orchid Anacamptis coriophora, while roadside verges themselves harbour magnificent Military Orchid Orchis militaris.

The highlight of the tour however is the visit to 1,500m, following the spectacular railway upon which the famous ‘petit train jaune’, runs. This will seem like going back in time, as the high temperatures and advanced vegetation of the lower eastern areas give way to wild daffodil-strewn fields and damper, marshier terrain near the villages of Eyne and Llo. It will be hard to believe it is late May as the leaves on the trees will largely yet to have unfurled, but there is one iconic butterfly that relishes these conditions – the rare, endangered and beautiful Violet Copper Lycaena helle.

Other species to be found in this higher altitude terrain are Green Hairstreak Callophrys rubi, De Prunner’s Ringlet Erebia triarius, the montane debilis form of Marsh Fritillary, Swallowtail Papilio machaon, Mazarine Blue Cyaniris semiargus, and Safflower Skipper Pyrgus carthami.

This tour also allows good sightings of many of the raptors to be found in this region, with Griffon Vultures Gyps fulvus a regular companion, and even the occasional Lammergeier Gypaetus barbartus.

This tour is the perfect way to end spring with a treasure chest full of butterflies, orchids, birds and beautiful landscapes. We hope you will enjoy seeing for yourself what makes this close to the perfect European destination at this time of year.

Tour Leaders

In the past decade David has devoted his life to butterflies - sharing them with guests, but also working proactively on the committee of the European Butterfly Group, and (until recently) as an identification consultant on the UK Butterflies website.

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Emmanuelle is a keen naturalist and former ranger for the National Trust, with a particular interest in butterflies and birds, and wildlife photography in general. She also plays a mean game of petanque!

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Tour Location


Tour Itinerary

  • DAY 1

Meet at Carcassonne airport* and transfer to Vernet-les-Bains.

If time permits, we’ll make a local excursion near the hotel to find our feet and our first butterflies of the week.

  • DAY 2

Sournia area.

Exploring abandoned quarries and herb-rich meadows, we should encounter an excellent range of species during the course of the day. Target species: Marsh Fritillary Euphydryas aurinia f. beckeri, Provencal Fritillary Mellicta dejone, Spanish Festoon Zerynthia rumina, Osiris Blue Cupido osiris, Western Dappled White Euchloe crameri, Western Marbled White Melanargia occitanica and, if we’re very lucky, Spanish Fritillary Euphydryas desfontainii.

  • DAY 3

Canigou, Col de Jou, and la Torre de Goa.

Looking for spring and montane species today. Target species: Apollo Parnassius apollo, Clouded Apollo Parnassius mnemosyne, Provence Orange-tip Anthocharis euphenoides, Chequered Blue Scolitantides orion, Green-underside Blue Glaucopsyche alexis, and Purple-shot Copper Lycaena alciphron.

  • DAY 4

Conat and mountain pass towards Py.

Exploring the varied woodland and dry slopes of the Conat valley, and a mountain pass for more montane species. Targets: Spanish Festoon Zerynthia rumina, Apollo Parnassius apollo, Clouded Apollo Parnassius mnemosyne, Provence Orange-tip Anthocharis euphenoides, Provencal Short-tailed Blue Cupido alcetas, Turquoise Blue Polyommatus dorylas, Mazarine Blue Cyaniris semiargus, Iberian Scarce Swallowtail Iphiclides feisthamelii, and Pearly Heath Coenonympha arcania.

  • DAY 5

Mosset and Aude Valley.

Pushing east into the lush Aude department, we find a new range of butterflies, and abundant orchids too. Target species: Clouded Apollo Parnassius mnemosyne, Purple-edged Copper Lycaena hippothoe, Amanda’s Blue Polyommatus amandus, Map Araschinia levana, Duke of Burgundy Hamearis lucina, Bright-eyed Ringlet Erebia oeme, and Olive Skipper Pyrgus serratulae.

  • DAY 6

Força Réal area.

Heading closer to the Mediterranean, we spend the day in drier, more arid surroundings than of late, with limestone hillsides and dry grasslands offering a different butterfly fauna again. Targets: Spanish Gatekeeper Pyrnia bathseba, Dusky Heath Coenonympha dorus, Cardinal Argynnis pandora, Southern White Admiral Limenitis reducta, Two-tailed Pasha Charaxes jasius, Provence Chalkhill Blue Polyommatus hispana.

  • DAY 7:

Carancas Gorge area.

A final day of complete contrast as move west into the mountains to explore damp meadows at 1,400-1,600masl. Butterflies abound here, as do marvellous wildflowers. Target species: Violet Copper Lycaena helle, Sooty Copper Lycaena tityrus, False Heath Fritillary Melitaea diamina, Weaver’s Fritillary Boloria dia, de Prunner’s Ringlet Erebia triaria.

  • DAY 8

Depart Vernet-les-Bains and transfer to Carcassonne airport.

As with all of our tours, we want our guests to enjoy the very best views of the very best wildlife and, as such, we think it’s important to retain a little flexibility in the holiday itinerary. This means that we may choose to swap days around to take into account local weather conditions, or the timing of the flight or flowering season we find upon arrival at our holiday destination. Rest assured, we will ensure you visit all the best sites, and we have your best interests and comfort at heart!

*We’ll meet at the airport as this is a convenient travel hub for many. However, we appreciate that some guests may have chosen to come overland via rail to Carcassonne. The railway station in town is extremely well-served by TGV, Intercités and TER services operated by SNCF, and sits on both the Bordeaux–Sète and Carcassonne–Rivesaltes lines. There is a regular shuttle bus service linking the station with the airport.

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