Pony riding in the Parc de Figuerolles, MartiguesA great variety of family attractions are on offer at the huge Figuerolles park, prettily set in pine woods and olive groves by the Berre Lake just outside Martigues.

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Formerly the weekend estate of the Denverville family, wealthy soap manufacturers based in Marseille, this 130 hectare / 321 acre plot of land has only belonged fully to the town of Martigues since 1995.

It has been open as a park since 2005 and the range of facilities is therefore still being expanded. Entrance is free and, while you have to pay for some of the amenities, you could also easily have quite an inexpensive family day out here compared to theme parks such as OK Corral

Certainly it's enormously popular with Martigues locals who come here to jog, walk their dogs or just hang out on the beach by the lake, especially on days when bad weather makes the seaside a less alluring alternative.

It remains busy in winter. However, the park does close in summer on days when the combination of drought and high wind pose a serious fire risk. Click on the map of the Parc de Figuerolles to enlarge the image.

Map of Parc de FiguerollesThe main entrance to the park sits on high ground with a 2 km / 1.2 mile walk down to a narrow shell beach running along l'Étang de Berre (the Berre Lake).

If the beach - which has a small play area - is your goal, it's best to splash out on the modestly priced tickets for the tourist train.

This will take you down the hill to the beach on a twisty road with lovely views that represents a thrill in itself and will, more importantly, bring you back up that hill again (you can hop off the train at the lake and come back on a later one).

The 40 minute ride will also give you a tour of the park's other attractions. The tourist train, pictured, can accommodate pushchairs / buggies and wheelchairs.

Little Train Parc de FiguerollesA 2 km / 1.2 mile botanical trail is lined with around 50 flowers and shrubs from a range of Mediterranean countries and takes you past wells, sheep pens, cisterns, agricultural buildings and ruined restanques (the provençal word for stone terraces) - in fact it's called the Sentier des Restanques in French.

Although it's irrigated, this part of the park is, perhaps, slightly less interesting in the height of summer, when weeks of high temperatures and low rainfall leave the Provence countryside generally looking a bit bedraggled.

But, by way of compensation, you can visit the municipal greenhouses instead during July and August, when the public can admire the flowers grown there to decorate the centre of Martigues (enquire about this in advance at the Tourist Office).

Note that, as the park contains a lot of highly inflammable vegetation - olive and pine trees especially - smoking is strictly forbidden.

An educational farm presents over 300 animals and some of the rural traditions of Provence. They include sheep-shearing, sheepdog demonstrations, donkey rides, beekeeping, Easter egg hunts and a transhumance week (which explains the migration of animals between winter and summer pastures). Entrance free. Tel: (+33) 4 42 44 12 78.

An equestrian centre offers pony and horse rides, riding lessons and trips through the park in horse-drawn carriages. April to October. There is a charge for these rides. Tel: (+33) 6 21 49 04 11.

Mountain bike circuit, Parc de Figuerolles, MartiguesTwo 3 km / 1.8 mile long VTT (cross-country) bike circuits (pictured) run along the Berre lake, while yummy mummies make for the poussette jogging (pushchair / buggy jogging) trails to burn off the baby bulge.

The Indian Forest is a treetop adventure playground for children aged five and upwards (and adults) with two different circuits including two 200 metre / 650 feet tyroliennes (zip lines).

There is an admission charge for this, but preferential rates are available when booking ahead at the Martigues Tourist Office.

Open every day during school holidays and Wednesdays, weekends and public holidays at other times (closed in January). Tel: (+33) 6 19 25 78 52.

The Znaque is a shady picnic spot with a snack-bar, carousel and - importantly for midsummer visitors - a misting system to cool things down.

Bizarrely, the municipal car pound is tucked away in one corner of the park. Note that the golf course and camping area marked on the map are not currently in use.

The amenities at the park do not accept payment by credit card, so be sure to bring enough cash (if you forget, there are cash distributors / ATMs at a nearby shopping estate just down the road)

How to get to the Parc de Figuerolles: The park is 4 km / 2.5 miles north of Martigues. By car, take the D5 road in the direction of Saint Mitre les Remparts and turn right at the roundabout when indicated.

From Marseille, take the A55 towards Martigues, exit 13a, then the D5. There are two large car-parks by the two entrances.

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By public transport, bus no.24 from Martigues town centre will take you right to the main gate.

Where: The Parc de Figuerolles, chemin de Figuerolles, 13500 Martigues. Tel: (+33) 4 42 49 44 42.



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