The Ecomusee du ForetIf you are looking for an alternative to the usual characterless American-style theme parks, the Écomusée de la Forêt (Forest Ecomuseum) could fit the bill.

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An introduction to the unique ecology of the Mediterranean landscape, it's a fun, instructive and immaculately green family outing,

The Écomusée de la Forêt is a good option if the weather forecast is uncertain, since it encompasses a large gallery space as well as a 13 hectare / 32 acre park. Note, however, that the latter may be closed on windy days in summer if there is a high risk of fire: see below.

Indoors, the main building contains exhibitions on provençal flora and fauna, the history of the local landscapes and insights into the way people live in the forest.

There are also temporary installations of paintings, photographs and sculptures, as well as displays on themes such as honey and apiculture.

The signage may be in French, but audio-guides in English, Italian and German are available. And language shouldn't present a problem at the interactive displays.

The Ecomusee de la ForetAt the "wall of sensations", children can experience the forest through their senses, listening to cicadas and birdsong, touching pine cones, feathers, bark and acorns and inhaling the scent of thyme.

They learn how to tell the ages of trees or to identify an animal from a fragment of its coat, and hear about the scourge of forest fires which terrorise Provence each summer. The museum has wheel- and push-chair access.

Outdoors, the park offers two nature trails, a maze, treasure hunts and other activities. The museum restaurant, La Table Verte, serves regional dishes and there's a picnic area in the park.

The Ecomusée is open Sunday-Friday all year round, apart from seasonal closures at the end of August and over Christmas and New Year (check the museum website first if you are planing to visit around these times).

However, in summer between 1 June and 30 September access to forests and national parks in Provence is restricted (or in extreme cases banned altogether) if there is an elevated fire risk. This also applies to the Ecomusée park.

During this period there are three risk levels: orange (access authorised), red (access authorised between 6am and 11am) and black (access banned).

The level varies according to weather conditions and is set daily at 6pm for the following day. It's available on the official helpline, tel (+33) 8 11 20 13 13, in English as well as French and published (in French only) on the Bouches du Rhône regional website.

Alternatively, you could phone the museum first thing in the morning to check the fire risk level. If the park is closed, you can still tour the museum, and use your ticket to enter the park at a later date.

Where: Le Écomusée de la Forêt, CD7, chemin de Roman, 13120 Gardanne. Tel: (+33) 4 42 65 42 10. Website for the Écomusée de la Forêt (in French only).

How to get there: On the A7 motorway from Avignon or Nice, take the exit for Pont de l'Arc. On the A51 motorway, take the exit for Luynes. It's a fifteen minute drive from Aix and half an hour from Marseille and there is free parking at the Écomusée de la Forêt.

Or take bus no.181 from Aix en Provence. Click here for the timetable (choose the relevant route number in the menu tab).

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