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Lac de Serre-Poncon in the Provence Region of France proves that mankind can create a treasure of nature while solving a problem. Building a dam across the Durance River created one of Europe's largest reservoirs. In the process, a hydroelectric generation station was created, irrigation and drinking water secured, and devastating flooding contained. The dam was originally planned in 1856, but unstable soils forced delays until new technology was developed in 1955 to make the project feasible. Several small villages were forced to relocate. A small chapel, established in 1020 AD, survived the filling of the lake on a tiny island. Although the cemetery and a walled chapel were lost under the water, the Saint-Michel Chapel still stands and has become one of the most photographed views in the Hautes-Alps Region. The new lake lies inland from the heavily-touristed French Riviera near the many ski resorts of the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, making Lac de Serre-Poncon a highly desirable holiday destination. The climate is mild, and the region receives about 300 days of sunshine each year.
Covering almost 7,000 acres, Lac de Serre-Poncon stretches 13 miles upriver from the new dam. The rugged terrain created many bays and arms, increasing the shoreline length to 50 miles. Although the lake is deep, hot springs bring the temperature of the water up to an average of 73 degrees - perfect for swimming and water sports. The enterprising local people quickly developed a tourist industry around their new water feature. Holiday-makers enjoy sailing, wind surfing, water skiing, jet skiing, kite surfing, canoeing and kayaking on the lake. Water skiing and wakeboard centers are located at Crots, Chorges and Savines-le-Lac.
Below the dam, rafting and canyoning expeditions have developed on the Durance River. The entire region is supplied with bicycle paths; bicycle expeditions lead riders on guided excursions of several days, with their luggage transported ahead to campsites. Both the lake and the river are favorites for anglers, who find a variety of fish due to the diversity of water bodies. Either on Lac de Serre-Poncon, its tributary streams, or the river below the dam, fishermen can catch pike, arctic char, carp, perch, grayling, cristivomer, tench, brook trout, whitefish, roach and bleak. Rumor has it that pike are sometimes caught here that are over a meter long. Motor boats are allowed on Lac de Serre-Poncon with proper license, but only canoes and electric boats are available for rent.
Gites (holiday lodgings) are available in several places around Lac de Serre-Poncon. Resort hotels, hostels, bed and breakfasts, private villas and summer holiday apartments are plentiful enough that visitors should have no trouble arranging reservations. Popular with younger adults, camping and caravan grounds are located both on the lakefront and a short distance away. Necessary amenities are available in the towns along the lake. Saint-Vincent-les-Forts overlooks the lake from its perch on the nearby mountain slope. Surrounded by an almost 7,000-acre larch forest, the town was once the stronghold for the Ubaye Valley. A major hang gliding and paragliding launch site here has hosted the World Paragliding Championships. Favorite attractions are the forest, the old fort, and the swimming beach and yacht basin. Miles of cross-country skiing trails line the forest during the winter. A sailing school at Savines-le-Lac draws budding sailors to its shores. Near the dam, the Museoscope du Lac shows videos of the building of the dam, the history of the area, the old villages and the river.
If activities at Lac de Serre-Poncon aren't enough to keep the holiday-maker busy, the historic region is filled with side trips and day excursions, either walking or cycling, to see ruins, historic spots and geological formations. Remollon is located on the right bank of the Durance River, 12 miles from the city of Gap. Even though set at an altitude of 2,200 feet, the area has long been known for its excellent vineyards and fine orchards, due to the abundant sunshine this area receives. The 17th century bell tower, the chapel of Saint-Roch, the old village and its old town houses (with doors from the 17th century), fountains, the waterfall at its mill and petrifying spring are all of great interest to the history buff. Nearby the ancient town of Theus holds the ruins of a 14th century castle and a church that was rebuilt in the 18th century. The trail up the mountain out of the village leads to the Demoiselles Coiffees - crumbling stone columns supporting granite rocks. According to legend, "Les Demoiselles de Theus," as the columns are called, were known in ancient history for their beauty. They indulged in a last dance, wearing large flat hats on their heads. But, when the twelfth stroke of midnight struck at the Church of Theus, they turned forever to stone.
Located only 15 miles southeast of the city of Gap, Lac de Serre-Poncon is the perfect holiday destination for a long weekend or a complete summer vacation. In the winter, the gites in the area are perfect for ski trips into the nearby mountains. Only 125 miles inland from Nice, vacation rentals at Lac de Serre-Poncon are a complete change of pace from the more heavily populated Cote d'Azur. Finding real estate for purchase in the area may be possible, but self-catering holiday rentals are always available. So there's no reason to wait any longer. Pack the outdoor gear and the sunscreen and come to Lac de Serre-Poncon. It will quickly become your favorite corner of the world.
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