4 national parks to enjoy the mountains this winter

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Nature and Outdoor ActivitiesMountainsNatural Parks

Parc national des Ecrins/Warluzelle Olivier
© Parc national des Ecrins/Warluzelle Olivier

Reading time: 0 minPublished on 21 November 2023

Of the 11 French national parks, four are located in the mountains. From the Vanoise to the Pyrenees, via Les Ecrins and the Mercantour, these are protected areas where nature flourishes freely. Here, the greatest attention is paid to the wild fauna, especially in winter when it becomes more vulnerable. Man makes himself very small, and carefully chooses his activities to blend in as discreetly as possible with the life of nature.

Les Ecrins National Park: for hikers and gourmets

Parc national des Ecrins / Coursier Cyril
© Parc national des Ecrins / Coursier Cyril

The Briançonnais, the Oisans, the Valbonnais, or the Valgaudemar: here are valleys that are more confidential than their big cousins in the Vanoise, but which are a joy for hikers in summer and winter. The Ecrins National Park forms a steep passage between the Northern and Southern Alps, with more than 15 peaks above 3,000 metres, pierced by deep valleys and chiselled by glaciers.

The Ecrins National Park teams organise numerous themed hikes, specially designed for families, for example to meet the chamois. In these great wild spaces, you can also opt for a snowshoe walk and take on the role of a trapper for half a day: accessible to children aged 5 and over a walk accompanied by a naturalist guide promises some nice encounters!

The Ecrins is also a region renowned for its excellent mountain products: at La Grave or La Meije, you can stroll through the mountain villages and discover the producers' farms with delight. Cheese, meat, pasta, honey, nougat... Gourmets will be served!

Ecrins National Park

The Vanoise National Park: heading for the high peaks

Parc national de la Vanoise / BRÉGEON Sébastien
© Parc national de la Vanoise / BRÉGEON Sébastien

Here we are in the heart of the Savoyard Alps, between the Maurienne and Tarentaise valleys. Here, the summits rise to more than 3,000 metres and majestic glaciers sparkle. Although the park is surrounded by famous winter sports resorts (Tignes, Val d'Isère, Les Ménuires and Val Thorens), its heart is a protected area where there are no ski lifts.

Families can follow in the footsteps of wild animals, accompanied by naturalist guides from the Vanoise National Park. Outings are organised several times a week during the school holidays, for example in Pralognan-la-Vanoise. In the snow, it is a real naturalist treasure hunt that is organised, all in discretion: there is no question of disturbing the emblematic species of the park, such as chamois, mountain hares or black grouse!

Fancy a more sporting day out? Go to the resort of Aussois or Val Cenis to try your hand at ski-joeranging, pulled by a pony or a donkey, or why not try a yooner, a snow scooter which promises great sensations. The more adventurous can go paragliding or try ice climbing: contrary to popular belief, it is accessible to all levels! And for an unforgettable outing, head for Aussois: teams of sled dogs offer family outings. Magical!

Vanoise National Park

Mercantour National Park: the wildest one

The Mercantour has not usurped its reputation as the wildest national park in France: it was here that the wolf made its grand return to French territory in 1992. Nestled against the Italian border, between Barcelonnette and Monaco, the Mercantour National Park is the southern tip of the Alps, where the mountain range teases the Mediterranean Sea. This gives a very special character to these peaks, tinged with maritime influences.

Winter and summer alike, the Mercantour is one of the most famous places in France to admire the stars. Families can enjoy an observation of the sky at nightfall, around the Lac d'Allos. Far from any light pollution, you can discover the Milky Way and the main celestial objects with a specialised guide, in French or English: an outing accessible to children from 8 years old.

The next day, put on your snowshoes for a walk in the Cluite forest. From 7 to 77 years old, guide Marc Aynié will help you to spot fresh animal tracks in the snow. And why not continue the adventure by building an igloo? From the age of 6, everyone gets involved. Once the camp is set up, a hot chocolate is served to reward the brave workers.

Mercantour National Park

The Pyrenees National Park: a strong character

From the immense limestone massif of Gavarnie to the granite mountain of Cauterets, from the elegant volcanic silhouette of the Pic du Midi d'Ossau to the secret valleys of the Aspe valley, the Pyrenees National Park plays on contrasts.

Here, the alpine chamois has no say: the local star is the isard, its Pyrenean cousin. Snowshoe hikes are organised for the whole family in the Anéou cirque, one of the most famous in the Ossau valley, to meet this emblematic inhabitant of the Pyrenean mountains. It is also an opportunity to watch out for the birds of prey that populate these summits, such as the white eagle, the bearded vulture or the golden eagle.

Nestled against the Spanish border, the Pyrenees National Park also has its own unique culture, the result of a clever mix of French and Spanish influences. Legends shaped by centuries of mountain culture are born here. Starting from the village of Guchen, the storyteller Maelle Benureau will take you on a two-hour walk, on foot or on snowshoes: as you walk, let yourself be carried away by her accounts of the life of the inhabitants of the valleys and summits, by their traditional tales and myths. A dive into Pyrenean culture that will delight young and old alike

Pyrenees National Park

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