France is home to a number of beautiful national parks and around 50 regional nature parks – choosing the country's most spectacular nature reserves isn’t easy. Even so, we’ve hand-picked from the vast selection those that will take you from the snow-capped summits of the Alps and through Europe's largest canyon, to the luscious green volcanoes of the Auvergne region.

    France is the ideal destination to engage in active holidays with its varied natural surroundings and plenty to enjoy in the great outdoors. These incredible spots of biodiversity with stunning landscapes will take your breath away. Embark with us on a journey of discovery through France's most beautiful national parks and regional nature parks.

    1

    Cévennes National Park

    A biosphere reserve in a unique landscape

    Cévennes National Park covers an area of 93,500 hectares and offers a very diverse environment. It’s located to the south of the Massif Central highlands in mid-southern France. Known for its high plateaus, mountains and biodiversity, this park offers the ideal setting for hiking and mountain biking. The immense beauty earned it a UNESCO World Heritage status.

    There are some magnificent traditional villages to discover in Cévennes National Park, like the medieval village of Génolhac. Take the opportunity to taste a few local specialities, such as honey or pélardon cheese. Finally, for something a little different, hop aboard the Cévennes steam train to visit the Bambouseraie, a botanical garden which houses more than 200 varieties of bamboo.

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    2

    Vanoise National Park

    France's first national park

    Vanoise National Park in the Savoie region is France's first national park which was created in 1963. The rich park is home to varied wildlife and during your hiking adventures you may come across ibex, chamois or even marmots.

    This national park is also home to some of Europe's best ski resorts, namely Val-d'Isère, Val Thorens and Courchevel. In the summer months, Vanoise National Park’s many trails, lakes and glaciers offer a variety of hiking routes for all skill levels.

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    3

    Verdon Natural Regional Park

    From deep-blue waters to magnificent fields of lavender

    Verdon Natural Regional Park is home to Europe's largest canyon. Its turquoise waters and cliffs rising to 700 metres above sea level offer truly spectacular views. The Verdon River stretches out along 165 km and offers a whole host of different sporting activities. Travel down the river by canoe or kayak, do some rafting or canyoning, or even try your hand at rock climbing along the magnificent gorges.

    Don't forget to stop at the Plateau de Valensole and take the Route de la Lavande (Lavender route) located to the north of the gorges. This route is famous for its lavender fields that stretch out as far as the eye can see, along with its sunflowers. The beauty of the Provençal landscape will take your breath away.

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    4

    Auvergne Volcanoes Regional Nature Park

    A volcanic range that appeals to hikers of all ages

    Parc Naturel des Volcans d’Auvergne or Auvergne Volcanoes Regional Nature Park is made up of 4 mountain ranges. These are le Massif du Cantal, la Chaîne des Puys, les Massifs du Sancy and le Cézallier. Offering a true breath of fresh mountain air within the heart of the country, this park offers spectacular hiking trails and swimming opportunities in the lakes of Lac d'Aydat or le Lac Chambon in the summer months.

    To learn more about the region and its volcanoes, a visit to Vulcania Park in Saint-Ours, Puy-de-Dôme, is a must. This fun educational park is something the whole family can enjoy. And lastly, you can't leave without tasting one of the Auvergne's 5 kinds of cheese that carry a Protected Designation of Origin status, namely le cantal, le saint-nectaire, la fourme d’Ambert and le bleu d’Auvergne.

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    5

    Luberon Regional Park

    A UNESCO world biosphere reserve

    Parc Naturel Régional du Luberon or Luberon Regional Park stretches from the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence region across to the Vaucluse. The park is home to a rich natural heritage, with its pine and cedar forests, cliffs of white chalk and red ochre and its varied, and sometimes rare, flora. A walk along the colourful paths of the Colorado Provençal near Rustrel is not to be missed.

    The Luberon region is also known for its pretty hilltop villages. Be sure to visit the villages of Roussillon, Gordes and Lourmarin which are considered some of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France or ‘France's Prettiest Villages’. Finally, try some local produce from the Luberon region, as well as some of the local wines with their own AOC (Protected Designation of Origin) status.

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    6

    Écrins National Park

    A European Park up in the high mountains

    Écrins National Park is located between the northern and southern Alps. Its mountain range is made up of 7 large valleys. This park is a true paradise for hikers and climbers alike, with its many summits reaching over 4,000 metres high and is home to more than 700 hiking trails. The altitude determines the incredibly varied landscapes on offer here, whether glaciers, lakes, snowy peaks, meadows or mountain streams.

    The park is also home to a rich fauna and you may even get the chance to see majestic ibex or golden eagles. Écrins National Park is an ideal destination to escape the intense heat and take advantage of an activity holiday at a pleasant altitude.

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    7

    Ballons des Vosges Nature Park

    One of France's largest regional nature reserves

    Ballons des Vosges Nature Park (Le parc naturel régional des Ballons des Vosges) is a regional nature reserve that's also an ideal location for a weekend in the country. The park is located in Grand Est and the hills of the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region, with rounded peaks and lush forests that dominate its landscape. 

    Hike along one of the many trails that lead to the top of the Grand Ballon mountain (1,424 metres above sea level) for a stunning view, from Alsace all the way to the Alps. The park is also renowned for its great lakes, such as the Lac de Gérardmer or the magnificent Lac Blanc which owes its name to its pale-coloured sand.

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    8

    Camargue Regional Nature Park

    Discover a flamingo sanctuary

    Camargue Regional Nature Park (Le parc naturel régional de Camargue) offers a varied landscape in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region. It's home to paddy fields, salt lakes, and fine sandy beaches. The park is best known for its nature reserve, home to the famous pink flamingos and stunning horses that are typical of this region. 

    Visit the picturesque little village of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, which is also a major pilgrimage destination. To go even further back in time, spend the day in the city of Arles, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site thanks to its impressive amphitheatres and other Roman monuments. Finally, if kitesurfing's your thing, you'll have a field day on the wild Beauduc beach.

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    9

    Mercantour National Park

    Mediterranean, Alpine and Provençal influences

    Mercantour National Park is located between the Alpes-Maritimes and the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, on the border with the Piedmont region of Italy, and extends from the mountains to the sea. There's a range of hiking trails on offer for all abilities. You'll discover a wealth of culture and history here.

    Don't miss the Valley of Wonders, home to 40,500 caves paintings, lakes and cave formations that will take your breath away. The Gorges de Daluis, nicknamed the Colorado Niçois, offers dizzying views across its red cliffs and the waters of the Var River which flow below.

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    10

    Armorique Regional Nature Park

    Not to be missed during your trip to Brittany

    Armorique Regional Nature Park runs through the Côtes-d’Armor region and unites sea and mountains. Explore the Presqu'île de Crozon, with its beaches lapped by turquoise waters and its steep cliffs. You may even be lucky enough to spot seals, dolphins or sea otters.

    The Monts d’Arée mountain range at an elevation of 385 metres provides many hiking opportunities that will delight both fitness enthusiasts and families. This site is also renowned for its many stargazing areas. Finally, make the most of your visit by sampling a few of the local Finistère delicacies: traditional galettes bretonnes or buckwheat crepes, kouign-amann which is a cake made with butter, and local cider.

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    Alice Mayer | Contributing Writer

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