Sports & Outdoors

Explore France's idyllic and crowd-free national parks

Enjoy any one of these beautiful national parks across France, for a scenic, crowd-free holiday.

If you are looking for a break that allows you to stay safe and away from the crowds, the following spacious national parks dotted across France are the perfect option. With a mixture of landscapes and plenty of flora and fauna, you’re sure to feel well rested amongst the natural surroundings in no time.

Écrins National Park

Made up of seven different mountain valleys, Écrins National Park is a large expanse of forests, rocky cliffs, and fascinating wildlife.

Distance from Eurotunnel Le Shuttle

Getting to Écrins National Park from Calais is around a seven-hour drive from Calais. You’ll pass the wonderful cities of Dijon in Burgundy and Lyon, providing you with the chance to take a break from driving and to explore.

What to do

If you visit during winter, skiing will be the main activity on your agenda. However, during the warmer months hiking is a popular choice. There’s around 700-kilometres of hiking trails, providing visitors with everything from a couple of hours of walking to several days of trekking; just choose a trail that suits your skill level.

What to see

The seven valleys of Écrins are Briançonnais, Champsaur, Embrun, Oisans, Valbonnais, Valgaudemar, and Vallouise. Each valley offers its own level of difficulty and stunning views, for hikers and guided tours. The Briançonnais Valley, for example, provides hikers with easy trails that cross through villages, past streams and farming fields, where lambs graze on the grass. Alternatively, the Valbonnais Valley offers much longer trails that are safe and easy for families and give them the chance to explore beech-fir covered forests.

Where to stay

There are many sites in and around the park that offer warm and cosy accommodation. If you fancy going camping this summer with your family, be sure to make a stop at Indigo Vallouise, a camping site within the Vallouise Valley. If you don’t have your own tent and camping kit, you can rent all of that from Indigo Vallouise’s shop. The nearby village has a bakery that sells freshly baked croissants, and on top of camping and hiking, you’ll get to take a dip in the outdoor swimming pool, play tennis, or enjoy a game of volleyball.

Two hikers enjoying a rest by lakes up in the snow-capped mountains

Calanques National Park

Nestled between Marseille and Cassis, Calanques National Park not only boasts a warm Mediterranean climate, it’s also surrounded by stunning turquoise sea, jagged white cliffs and secluded creeks.

Distance from Eurotunnel Le Shuttle

If Calanques is the national park for you, then be prepared for a slightly longer, but more scenic journey of nine-and-a-quarter hours. Be sure to stop by Reims and Dijon along the way, both filled with culture and culinary delights.

What to do

Like the many of the France’s national parks, hiking is one of the more popular activities of choice. Choose from the various trails that have been mapped out and take time to discover the areas incredible natural biodiversity, both on land and out at sea. The tourist information centre can inform you of rare species to look out for on your cliff-top hikes. As well as hiking, be sure to take part in plenty of water sports, from scuba diving in the reefs to paddling through the water in kayaks.

What to see

With the warm Mediterranean climate, you’ll be able to take part in diving, and explore the fascinating marine life that lives within the national park. Plunge into the water, and swim in and out of the shoals of fish, bottlenose dolphins, and loggerhead sea turtles gliding past the brightly coloured coral. As you clamber over the white cliffs, keep an eye out for the striking Bonelli’s eagle.

Where to stay

Unfortunately, camping within the park is forbidden, but there are plenty of places to stay in nearby Marseille and Cassis. Why not stay at one of Marseille’s quaint B&Bs, where you can revel in the views of the mountainous landscape, the beautiful sea and enjoy plates of delicious Provençal food.

Man with backpack looking out across blue waters and white cliffs as he hikes a marked path with railings

Vanoise National Park

Vanoise National Park offers visitors the chance to try out a range of exciting outdoors activities, as well as an opportunity to observe the fascinating wildlife that inhabits its valleys.

Distance from Eurotunnel Le Shuttle

Beautiful Vanoise National Park lies around eight-hours from Calais, which will also give you the chance to rest and explore en route. You can plan a mini roadtrip to Reims, taking in quintessential towns such as Abbeville and Amiens, then further south visit Grenoble (a top foodie town) and Lyon.

What to do

As well as hiking trails, there is also the opportunity to explore the park and its surrounds with paragliding and cycling tours, as long as you abide to the park’s rules of looking after the environment. Paragliding isn’t allowed directly in the park due to the rare birds, but there are many options nearby. The same applies for cycling, but there are many alternative cycle routes and trails listed for visitors to enjoy, which pass through the nearby towns of Bonneval-sur-Arc and Champagny-en-Vanoise.

What to see

Many beautiful animals have claimed the mountainous landscape of Vanoise National Park as their home. As you make your way through the green grasslands and rocky mounds you’ll encounter a number of native animals, including marmots, voles and, chamois, as well as magnificent golden eagles, black grouse, and eagle owls that soar through the sky. You will also walk through numerous blueberry and juniper plants, as well as forests of larches, Arolla pines, and mountain pines.

Where to stay

After a long day of hiking, why not enjoy a relaxing stay at the Chalet Les Frenes in the nearby ski resort of Chamonix? It’s only a one-hour and 14-minute drive from the valleys of Vanoise National Park. With incredible views of the lush, green Chamonix valleys, it’s the perfect location for a summer away with friends and family.

Stream of blue water running through a valley with hiking trails running alongside

Cévennes National Park

Listed as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve and home to a rich and diverse range of flora and fauna, Cévennes National Park is full of wild countryside, dotted with rivers and streams. The whole area of Cévennes is perfect for a break amongst nature, which we talk about in our very own guide.

Distance from Eurotunnel Le Shuttle

From Calais, the drive to the park will take around 9 and a half hours. Some wonderful places to stop would be the cities Paris or Orléans. Further south on your journey lies Clermont-Ferrand which attracts ski-fanatics come winter but is also a beautiful hiking spot year-round. 

What to do

As well as exploring the different landscapes of moors, forest, and pine groves (just to start) on foot, there’s also Florac Castle in Lozère, which holds a permanent exhibition, ‘Passengers of the landscape’, all about the natural environments of the Cévennes National Park.

What to see

This national park has some gorgeous settlements within its borders, around 250 villages are here. Many offer the chance to see typical French life and culture, as well as sample local cuisines like Bajana, a traditional chestnut soup. Visit the Tarn and Jonte gorges for dramatic views featuring canyons and rock faces up to 1,640 feet (500 meters) high. You should also plan to see the trio of caves, Aven Armand, Dargilan, and Bramabiau, the first being large enough to hold Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris!

Where to stay

There are campsites available within the park, such as Camping Huttopia – Millau just a little way from Gorges du Tarn with great facilities on-site for canoeing, climbing, and hiking. Or, just outside Florac, Camping Chantemerle offers mobile homes on the banks of the river Tarn with on-site dining options and a grocery shop for the essentials.

Fields of trees and flowers stretching out for miles with mountains in the distance

Pyrenees National Park

A veritable treasure trove of hiking and trekking trails, Pyrenees National Park also has numerous high-altitude lakes, exciting wildlife (including golden eagles), and of course, stunning mountain views of The Pyrenees themselves.

Distance from Eurotunnel Le Shuttle

From Calais to the park will take around 11 hours should you drive direct, but of course you can plan some great stops along the way. Paris, Limoges, and Toulouse all lie along the most direct route to the south, the latter offering one of the country’s best food and wine festivals.

What to do

Hiking and wildlife spotting are perhaps the most popular activities here, but the numerous lakes and streams are also wonderful for wild swimming in the warmer months. Fishing is also an option, although check for permits as flora and fauna here are protected in certain areas of the park.

What to see

As well as all the natural beauty, there are traditional French villages and towns offering local cuisine and a glimpse of rural life. Gavarnie, Cauterets, and Gabas are popular, but for quieter spots, try Laruns or Arreau to the west and east respectively. Keep your eyes peeled on hikes as the park is home to brown bears, not to mention rare wild-flowers and some beautiful birds.

Where to stay

It is possible to stay within the park, plus you can choose between camping under the stars or a range of hotels if you prefer a little more glamour. Many of the chalets or apartments will offer stunning views as standard, thanks to the surrounding mountains, but you are never far from natural beauty wherever you choose to lay your head.

Hiking trail beside a river running down a green valley towards mountains and fields in the distance

Discover France’s national parks with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle

France is filled with these natural spaces, perfect for a holiday. If none of the above suit, you are sure to be enchanted by Parc Naturel de la Brenne, or why not explore Aube with its delicious Champagne and exciting fishing opportunities?

All the parks above offer a safe option for a well-deserved break, with an ability to adhere to any social distancing restrictions in place. Always remember to check our latest travel advice for Covid-19 here before you book.

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Discover France’s national parks with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle

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More French nature destinations