CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to France Magazines today CLICK HERE

Discover France’s stunning national parks

PUBLISHED: 15:54 28 March 2018 | UPDATED: 12:11 04 April 2018

The Calanques National Park in France © Dreamstime

The Calanques National Park in France © Dreamstime

Archant

There are 7 amazing national parks in mainland France, here is a quick guide to the French national parks and why you should make time to visit all of them

Calanques National Park

Where is it: Bouches-du-Rhône and Var, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur

Size: 520km²

Established: April 2012

Communes: 7, of which 3 are in the heart of the park

A calanque is a narrow, steep creek, often formed from limestone, found along the Mediterranean coast – which should give you some idea of this national park’s character. The 10th park to be created, it includes coastline and several islands as well as a vast aquatic space boasting one of the Mediterranean’s most diverse underwater ecosystems. It is the only park to contain both land and sea – only 85km² of it is on land – and despite its vast swathes of wilderness, it is located close to the busy city of Marseille, home to two million people. At the other end of the park, you’ll find the popular coastal towns of Cassis and La Ciotat.

The Vanoise National Park in France © mirceax / ThinkstockPhotosThe Vanoise National Park in France © mirceax / ThinkstockPhotos

Vanoise National Park

Where is it: Savoie, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes

Size: 1,250km²

Established: July 1963

Communes: 29, of which 21 are in the heart of the park

France’s first national park, the Vanoise was created to protect the ibex; these delightful creatures can still be seen from the 600km of hiking paths, along with other animals such as chamoix. Sandwiched between the Tarentaise and Maurienne valleys, in the French Alps on the border with Italy, the park offers dramatic scenery with numerous peaks over 3,000m. There’s little by way of development within the park itself, but along its fringes there are the gateway towns of Bourg St-Maurice, Moûtiers and Modane, and ski resorts such as Val-d’lsère, Tignes and Val Thorens, as well as traditional mountain villages.

____________________________________________________________________

Related articles

Hidden corners of France you need to explore

10 things to consider before buying a property in a national park

____________________________________________________________________

Porquerolles in the Port Cros National Park in France © Hyeres TourismePorquerolles in the Port Cros National Park in France © Hyeres Tourisme

Port Cros National Park

Where is it: Hyères islands, Var, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur

Size: 7km²

Established: December 1963

Communes: 11, of which 1 is in the heart of the park

This coastal and marine park focuses on the conservation of marine biodiversity. It comprises the islands of Port-Cros and Porquerolles, the Giens peninsula, Salins d’Hyères (salt marshes) and the Cap Lardier. One of the biggest challenges of this park is the influx of two million visitors a year throughout the protected areas. As well as its natural treasures, the area has a considerable cultural and historical heritage, including numerous military forts, Roman remains and shipwrecks. Port Cros can only be visited on foot, while Porquerolles can be explored on foot or bicycle. Although one of the oldest parks, it was remodelled in 2012 on the principles of sustainable development. Both islands have harbour towns.

Cirque de Gavarnie in the Pyrenees National Park in France © Frog 974 / FotoliaCirque de Gavarnie in the Pyrenees National Park in France © Frog 974 / Fotolia

Pyrénées National Park

Where is it: Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Hautes-Pyrénées, Occitanie

Size: 457km²

Established: March 1967

Communes: 86, of which 16 are in the heart of the park

From the name of this park it’s clear that it’s all about the mountains, but it also boasts lakes, waterfalls, forests and, of course, a huge abundance of wildlife – including the brown bear, recently reintroduced into the park (not without some local objection). On the border with Spain, the park’s best known feature is probably the stunning Cirque de Gavarnie, while towns include Laruns , Cauterets, Luz-St-Sauveur, Gedre, Barèges, Aragnoet and Arreau. Walking is, of course, popular – the challenging Haute Randonnée Pyrénéenne crosses the park – as is road cycling, with famous mountain passes at Col du Tourmalet and Col d’Aspin, and there’s also skiing in winter.

____________________________________________________________________

Related articles

17 picturesque mountain villages in France you should see

Discover the stunning secret beaches of the south of France

____________________________________________________________________

The Cevennes National Park in France © Gard TourismeThe Cevennes National Park in France © Gard Tourisme

Cévennes National Park

Where is it: Lozère, Gard, Ardèche and Aveyron, Occitanie and Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes

Size: 913km²

Established: September 1970

Communes: 152, of which 64 are in the heart of the park

In the south of France, the Cévennes is remarkable for its unique balance between man and nature, shaped by successive generations dating back to the Neolithic era. It is inhabited right into its ‘heart’. The park contains the Aven Armand cave, as well as high peaks such as Mont Aigoual and Mont Lozère. The area was made famous by Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Travels with a donkey’, one of his earliest works. Today the mountains, valleys and plateaux are popular with walkers who will come across reminders of the Camisard religious wars of the 17th century as well as signs of the past silkworm trade. Florac is the main town and there are many traditional villages including the Plus Beau Village of La Garde-Guerin.

The Ecrins National Park in France © Karen TaitThe Ecrins National Park in France © Karen Tait

Écrins National Park

Where is it: Hautes-Alpes and Isère, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur and Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes

Size: 918km²

Established: March 1973

Communes: 61, of which 26 are in the heart of the park

The Écrins National Park is mountainous territory (the highest point is the Barre des Écrins at 4,102m) with defined valleys (Oisans, Valbonnais, Briançonnais, Vallouise, Embrunais, Champsaur and Valgaudemar) as well as lush meadows. Its diverse vegetation is a result of huge differences in altitude and the climatic influences of the Alps and Mediterranean. It is ideal territory for hiking and other outdoor pursuits including skiing and mountaineering. The scattering of villages within the park includes Vallouise and Les Vigneaux. The ski resort of Les Deux Alpes is just outside the park, along with towns such as Briançon and Gap, where some of the park’s information centres are found.

____________________________________________________________________

Related articles

The Living France guide to the great outdoors

18 pretty villages in Midi-Pyrénées you need to visit

____________________________________________________________________

The Mercantour National Park in France © kavram / ThinkstockPhotosThe Mercantour National Park in France © kavram / ThinkstockPhotos

Mercantour National Park

Where is it: Alpes-Maritimes, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence

Size: 685km²

Established: March 1973

Communes: 28, of which 27 are in the heart of the park

On the border with Italy, about an hour from the Mediterranean, this southern Alpine region is popular for hiking, with over 600km of marked footpaths, as well as mountaineering, and watersports on the many rivers and lakes. There are ski resorts too, such as Pra Loup, Sauze/Super-Sauze and Val d’Allos. The central uninhabited zone comprises seven valleys (Roya, Bévéra, Vésubie, Tinée, Haut Var/Cians, Verdon and Ubaye), while the peripheral zone is home to 28 villages, many ‘perched’ such as Belvédère. The Vallée des Merveilles is a unique site, home to hundreds of 3,000-year-old rock carvings of people and animals. Towns on the edge of the park include Barcelonette, Sospel, St-Martin-de-Entraunes, St-Sauveur-sur-Tinée, St-Etienne-de-Tinée and St-Martin-Vésubie.

Cirque de Cilaos in La Reunion National Park © Amanda DaviesCirque de Cilaos in La Reunion National Park © Amanda Davies

National parks outside mainland France

Réunion National Park, Réunion

Guiana Amazonian Park, French Guiana

Guadeloupe National Park, Guadeloupe

Article by France Magazine France Magazine

More from Travel

Friday, December 7, 2018

These welcoming and wonderful Christmas markets are just a short trip across the Channel away, so what are you waiting for?

Read more
Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Discover the Christmas delights of northern France with our top five Christmas markets in the region

Read more
Wednesday, November 28, 2018

From lakeside jazz festivals to chestnut fairs, get stuck in with these events taking place across France in December 2018

Read more
Thursday, November 22, 2018

You can ditch the airport queues and long drives, and hit the rails instead, says Daniel Elkan. The French Alps has an abundance of ski resorts that suit families, easily accessed by train.

Read more
Monday, November 19, 2018

Budget travellers can pay nothing to stay at bed and breakfasts around the world during Barter Week in exchange for manual, creative or teaching activities

Read more
Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Find out when your favourite French ski resort opens and closes this year and start planning your ski trip to France

Read more
Winter trips
Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Find out what events are taking place in France to commemorate the Armistice centenary.

Read more
Friday, October 26, 2018

The full route of the 2019 Tour de France was announced in Paris on 25 October

Read more
Tuesday, October 23, 2018

From hot air balloon gatherings to scallop festivals, there’s always something fun and unique going on in France in November

Read more
Monday, October 22, 2018

Visit historic cities, Western Front battlefields and Unesco heritage sites on a journey through Hauts-de-France

Read more
Subscribe for

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

France Forum

Questions about France? Visit our free France forum to get help and advice from thousands of other Francophiles and expats. Topics include: property, tax, law, travelling, pets, education, healthcare and much more.

Join the forum

Most Read

Join us on social media

France magazine
Living France magazine
French Property News magazine

Enter our competitions

Win books, DVDs, travel and even holidays in France in our great competitions! Take a look at our latest competitions…

Enter now