How about this for a day of vacation adventure?  Head to the Forest of Robin where you will suddenly find yourself surrounded by kids swinging in trees.  There is a small French village in the Drome of Provence called Marsanne which holds a true “backroads” secret. 

Marsanne, Drome Provence

Marsanne is only about 20 minutes north of our favorite destination in Provence, the city of Montelimar which is named after Lord Montelimar who funded Rochemaure Castle.  Driving through beautiful rolling countryside, one must choose whether to gaze at the snow capped peaks of the Vercors mountains in the distance or catch the farms and aquestrian training centers that line the highway along the way.  The objective of the adventure, however, remains top of mind; finding the hidden Forest of Robin, or what is affectionately known by our kids as “Robinhood’s Forest”. 

Foret de Robin

This is no ordinary forest.  This is a pristine primeval wood at the top of a mountain looking over the village of Marsanne and “La plaine de Roubion” which is a small river that feeds into the Rhone.  In those woods lies an attraction that is a “must do” for the entire family.  Accrobranche is where kids swing in the trees.  Adults swing in the trees.  In fact anyone who cares to feel like a kid again can strap on the climbing harness, pay the $25 -30 euros for the day and start climbing into the canopy of the Forest of Robin. 

The trees are huge and spectacular.  So large, in fact, that there are multiple levels of accrobranche courses, ranging from beginner to advanced, layered on top of one another in this roughly 40 acre section of the national park.  Accrobranche is a network of thick metal cables that are connected to trees.  Each cable line represents a section of the course.  The cables can be only a few feet of the ground or way up at the top of the forest canopy depending on the skill level of the course. 

You start low and as you become more adventerous you work yourself higher into the canopy.  Each run has its own unique method of crossing between the trees from one wooden platform to the next.  For example, using mountaineering caribiners you lock your rock climbing harness to the cable and begin to cross between the trees by walking on a suspension bridge made of wooden planks.  Or you could walk across on a cable tight rope or perhaps a series of swinging wooden logs lined up with the ends touching eachother where you would take a few steps then cross over to the next swinging log.  Before you know it, you are 100 feet off the ground and there are dozens of squealing kids, moms and dads beneath you all making their way from one tree to the next. It’s really like being one of the lost boys in “Peter Pan”.  I actually heard one old guy with red socks, bad shorts and a scruffy complexion a couple of trees away muttering to himself in a British accent “Now I remember Wendy…I’m Peter!”

At the very top of a giant pine tree is a wooden platform fit for about a dozen climbers.  It looks like a huge tree fort.  I was probably as frightened looking up at it as I would have been looking down from on top.  There was laughter and bird calls coming from the tree tops.  When I heard the “cockadoodledoo!” bellowing out I figured either a picnicker had too much pastis for lunch, or a bus full of Packer fans pulled in.  It couldn’t have been a bus of Vikings fans, because as a Vikings fan I absolutely can tell the difference between a “cockadoodledoo!” and a “boobradchildressboo!” echoing through the trees.  One sounds like the offense successfully converted on 4th and one and the latter sounds like the mating call of a defeated arctic yak.

I then heard my name being called.  I zoomed in with my camera and located my 8 year old daughter stepping out onto the ledge of that advanced climbing platform 100 feet up.  She was th only kid up there and my heart was in my throat.  The run is called a “tyrolienne”.  The climber snaps the two carabiners to a metal pulley fastened to the cable to flies about 75 yards down to another very large pine, landing on a military cargo net.  The trick is to start climbing as fast as possible so the next climber doesn’t come crashing into you.  My daughter made it look easy as she flew past through the tree tops.   My wife, of course, helped here get safely attached and the followed our daughter to help her scramble up when she hit the net.

So with such a large adventure park a few clicks away from the village of Marsanne, why would one “suddenly” find themself surrounded by kids in trees?  Because the place is tricky to find.  At the end of the sleepy main street of Marsanne, a hard left turn that is not well marked is required.  Then climbing steep switchbacks up the mountain, one really doens’t know how far to go.  Just when it seems sensible to turn around and head home, there lies a parking lot with cars and picnickers playing petanque and running across the forest road to the accrobranche equipment chalet out in the woods.

Accrobranche is remote and there is no electricity.  That means that there is no credit card machine.  So if you are bringing your family, you need to plan on having around $100 euros cash on hand for the park tickets.  As we discovered, heading back down the mountain in search of cash, the sleepy town of Marsanne has but one ATM machine in the center of town which seems to be always out of cash.  I think the locals get a kick out of watching the frustrated tourists pull out their ATM card, then read the out of order sign and stomp away.   

Accrobranche is a great way to spend a day having lots of fun and see a area of Provence many would otherwise pass by.  Pack a lunch to keep in the car and don’t hesitate to bring the entire family, no matter their age.

Ciao for now!

For a real TechVoyageur experience, visit historic Rochemaure Castle in the heart of Provence!