French National Parks

Discover the natural romance of the most stunning landscapes in France

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Ronnie McCluskey

Ronnie McCluskey
HomeAway travel expert


French national parkIt’s fair to say that France’s National Parks are every bit as colourful and diverse as the country’s inhabitants. Selected for their outstanding natural beauty and the cultural heritage they represent, these ten protected land and seascapes provide a remarkable backdrop for a memorable holiday. Seven of the parks are on the mainland, the latest of which was added in 2012; the remaining three are located in former colonial territories. Representing both the symbolic values of each area, and modern efforts in sustainable development, it’s little wonder that over seven million people visit them collectively each year. 

From the highest peaks of the Alps to the depths of prehistoric caves, France’s National Parks offer something for all ages and interests. Find out for yourself by hopping across the Channel for an active holiday break full of discovery, wildlife and a breath of fresh air.

 

Top five French National Parks to visit


   

Vanoise National Park (Parc National de la Vanoise) Vanoise National Park (Parc National de la Vanoise)

Located in the Savoie department, bordering Italy, the Vanoise is an immense region incorporating some of the most popular winter resorts. Its marked long-distance footpaths stretch over 500km and even include a part of the famous Grande Traversée des Alpes. Among many other species, the rare golden eagle and bearded vulture make it a popular destination for bird-watchers. Moreover, the reappearance of the elusive Eurasian Lynx pays testament to the reputation of the spectacular area as a standard bearer for conservation efforts the world over.

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Cévennes National Park (Parc National des Cévennes) Cévennes National Park (Parc National des Cévennes)

A somewhat different mountainous environment can be found further inland. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Cévennes span a diverse terrain of large unspoiled plains and granite massifs, interspersed with areas where the effects of generations of human activity are immediately apparent. This park boasts a truly rich local culture, expressed in particular by trades like chestnut farming, goats' cheese production and silkworm breeding. Come to the Cévennes for a true experience of rural France – and don’t forget to play a game of petanque with the hospitable locals in one of its picturesque villages. 

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Calanques National Park (Parc National des Calanques) Calanques National Park (Parc National des Calanques)

France’s newest addition to its portfolio of protected areas is located on the Mediterranean coast, stretching from Marseille to Cassis. Added in 2012, it’s the first mainland park to be designated so since 1979. Its layout makes it unique in Europe, as it sprawls through a variety of natural aquatic and suburban landscapes. In addition to stunning sea views and diverse marine fauna, it offers opportunities for tracing back man’s early footsteps in the prehistoric caves of Cosquer. 

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Port-Cros National Park (Parc National de Port-Cros) Port-Cros National Park (Parc National de Port-Cros)

If you’re looking for a different take on the splendour of the French Riviera, hop on a passenger ferry for a visit to the country’s smallest national park. Port-Cros is a protected group of islands, which are beautifully rugged by nature. As soon as the pretty little port comes into view, you’ll notice the ancient forts looming high above its periphery. The park is also superb for hiking in unspoiled land, letting you discover a varied mix of herb and plant life. 

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Pyrénées National Park (Parc National des Pyrénées) Pyrénées National Park (Parc National des Pyrénées)

Perhaps the most dramatic of all of the country’s National Parks is the Pyrénées, protecting 176 square miles of land that never falls below 3,200 feet, rising as high as 10,800 feet at the summit of Pique Long Vignemale. It’s unique in the sense that its core area has no permanent inhabitants, devoted entirely as it is to preserving the rich biodiversity it harbours. The ruggedness of the land makes it difficult to traverse, yet represents interesting territory to conquer for the hardened cyclist, rock climber or fishing enthusiast. 

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