Heading to the South of France? This beautiful part of Europe beckons unbridled adventures with its diverse landscapes, rich cultural heritage, and incredible landscapes too.
From rugged mountains and immense valleys to pristine coastlines, each corner of Southern France and its national parks offer a tapestry of natural wonders. Visitors flock all year round, largely thanks to near-perfect conditions for winter sports in the Pyrenees and the Alps. These mountainous regions contribute to annual ski resort revenues of over 1.4 billion euros across the country.
If you’re ready to discover a quieter side to this enchanting, star-studded world for yourself, it’s time to explore Southern France’s National Parks.
Tips for exploring national parks in France
Respect your environment
You should try to be eco-conscious whenever you travel abroad, but it’s worth remembering that the French take environmental responsibility very seriously. Always pick up your rubbish and never leave a trace behind you, especially when visiting protected spaces like national parks.
Wherever possible, support local businesses on your travels and make donations to the charities making a difference there. Just a reminder: cash payments are usually preferred.
Next, you need to be self-sufficient if you’re heading out into the hills or mountains.
You should pack those extra emergency items that you wouldn’t necessarily take on a beach holiday, because you never know what could happen on the trails. You might not access Wi-Fi or power every day, so it’s worth taking a spare burner phone and a portable charging bank too. Don’t forget the first-aid kit, compass, and snacks for the journey.
Lastly, you should try to immerse yourself as much as possible while you’re away in France!
Embrace the local culture by meeting local people, learning a bit of the language, and sampling culinary specialities in the places you visit. Whether it’s freshly caught seafood in Calanques or decadent stews in des Écrins, there’s bound to be something new to try. Don’t shy away from new experiences, as they’re the foundations behind lifelong memories from your travels.
Our top 3 national parks in Southern France
Firstly, to help you plan your trip, you should get familiar with some of the best national parks in the area. We’ve listed three of our favourites below.
Parc national des Cévennes
If you’ve never been to Cévennes National Park before, it’s time to add it to your list. Having earned a spot on the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage list, this park is known for its incredible biodiversity and conservation of important species in the animal and plant kingdoms.
Cévennes is paradise for naturalists and history buffs alike. Ancient farming life is encompassed and preserved across the region through eco-museums and real experiences open to tourists. You could get involved by milking cows, rounding up goats, or making cheese at a local farm.
Our tip: Peak season, between June and September, is best for immersive trips to this unique destination famed for its organic, pastoral history.
Parc national des Calanques
No trip to the south of France would be complete without a coastal retreat. Fortunately, you’ll find a picture-perfect scene at the Parc National des Calanques, located just a surprisingly short distance from the urban centre of Marseille.
Renowned for its rugged limestone cliffs, secret coves, and dreamy crystalline waters, this coastline became a national park in 2012. Immense biodiversity attracts visitors from across the globe, with over 900 types of plant and some incredibly rare animal species to see. Calanques translates literally to coves, so exploring the coastline is a must.
Even if you’re staying in Marseilles – or further along the Cote d’Azur – des Calanques is certainly worth visiting for a day or two. Regional road and rail connections make it easy to get there.
Our tip: Calanques extends into the warm Mediterranean Sea, so it’s worth going out onto the water if you get the chance. From kayaking to caving, you won’t be short of options.
Parc national des Écrins
As the country’s second-largest national park, this glacier-sculpted landscape boasts over 600 kilometres of hiking trails for you to explore.
Once the snow melts from the high peaks to the valley floor, it reveals luscious alpine meadows between dense forests. Beech, alder, spruce and fir trees can be found in the Valbonnais forest, the largest in des Écrins. You might spot orange lilies, silver geranium and other fragrant plants native to the landscape. Nestled between the peaks, you’ll find quaint towns and villages.
This national park is perfect for nature lovers and conservationists, and it’s also incredibly easy to reach from the UK. After a short, non-stop flight, direct Lyon airport transfers get you to the mountains in under three hours.
Our tip: The must-see Crevasses trail climbs gently up to towering glaciers. On the steep slopes beneath you, look out for thriving populations of ibex – and smaller residents like marmots.
It’s impossible to summarise the vast opportunities in the region in just one guide.
Exploring the remarkable national parks in Southern France is something you should do at your own pace, with every effort to understand life as the locals see it. Take your time, relax, and don’t forget to speak some French!