10 amazing French forests to wander through


Nature and Outdoor Activities

Yvon Boelle
© Yvon Boelle

Reading time: 0 minPublished on 4 April 2024

This summer, more than ever, the desire for the fresh air of the forest is very much needed! You won't come across the big bad wolf, but you will for sure encounter remarkable trees, bright glades, majestic alleys and rare species of France. So, let’s take a walk in the woods, through the plains or in the mountains, from the Basque Country to Alsace, from Brittany to Auvergne, from the Alps to Corsica, to discover some of the most incredible French forests.

The Iraty Forest in the Basque Country, the most mysterious

Barbara Cerovsek - Adobe Stock
© Barbara Cerovsek - Adobe Stock

For centuries, we made ships's masts with the trunks of the leafy giants of this forest. In the heart of the Basque Country, Iraty boasts the largest and most impressive beech forest in Europe. Its mysterious undergrowth rustles with each step, whispering about its legendary stories. According to the Basques, Iraty was said to be inhabited by Basajaun, the lord of the forest, and by the Laminak, the half angels-half men unique in Basque Country mythology.

Itary forest

The forest of Broceliande in Brittany, the most legendary

Axel Fontaine - Adobe Stock
© Axel Fontaine - Adobe Stock

Here you can find the tomb of Merlin and the house of the fairy Viviane. Refresh yourself with the miraculous water of the Barenton Fountain and follow in the footsteps of the evil knights in the Val sans Retour. Welcome to Brittany, in the legendary forest of Brocéliande, a fabulous setting and home to the adventures of King Arthur. Sown with megaliths, planted with oaks and maritime pines, the forest enchants all visitors, beckoning you with deep ponds and moors speckled with heather, hemlock and broom.

Broceliande forest

The forest of Tronçais in Auvergne, the oldest

Marc - Adobe Stock
© Marc - Adobe Stock

Christened "the Sentinel," the oldest oak in the Tronçais Forest in Auvergne was planted in 1580! While the oldest, it's not the only tree in the forest that has lived through the centuries; many of its neighbors carry their ancestral foliage in flambing orange, red, and yellow when the autumn comes. This extraordinary oak grove, one of the most beautiful in Europe, unfurls its branches near the charming village of Hérisson. It's also home to the bucolic Saint-Bonnet pond, where cycling, hiking and swimming are a must in Auvergne for lovers of active travel.

Tronçais forest

The forest of the Grande Chartreuse in the Alps, the most serene

blume33l / Adobe Stock
© blume33l / Adobe Stock

This is an emerald forest where huge beech and fir trees grow from 800 to 1500 m (2624 to 4921 feet) of altitude. Between steep limestone cliffs and peaceful pastures, the landscapes of the Alps are grandiose, inviting contemplation or and respectful silence. This is particularly true around the Monastery of the Great Chartreuse, reachable only by foot. The serenity of this place is perfect for magnificent hikes. In this preserved mountain, it is not uncommon to cross deer, chamois and mouflons frolicking carefree.

Grande Chartreuse forest

The forest of Fontainebleau near Paris, the most royal

 Francisco Javier Gil / Adobe Stock
© Francisco Javier Gil / Adobe Stock

Climbing enthusiasts adore its rocky chaos, sandstone rocks and shady gorges. Seventy kilometers (43 miles) southeast of Paris, the forest of Fontainebleau and its unique topography surround the city and the royal castle in a sea of pines and oaks, a formidable playground for young and old. One hundred and fifty kilometers (93 miles) of marked paths, including the near-sacred walk of the painters of Barbizon and Auguste Renoir. It offers sumptuous panoramas under high forests, between mysterious ponds and mossy moors.

Fontainebleau forest

The forest of Compiègne in the Hauts de France, the most historic

Un monde à vélo
© Un monde à vélo

The Saint-Jean oak was planted during the reign of Saint-Louis in the 13th century. This forest was the favorite hunting ground of the kings of France, know best known as the woodsy setting for the signing of the Armistice of 11 November 1918 in the Rethondes clearing. Less than an hour from Paris, in the Hauts-de-France region, the forest of Compiègne is a history book in the form of some of the oldest trees in France. It's also breathtakingly beautiful, with magnificent alleys, popular with walkers, riders and cyclists.

Compiègne forest

The Haguenau forest in Alsace, the most nature-filled

Zvardon / Office de Tourisme du Pays de Haguenau
© Zvardon / Office de Tourisme du Pays de Haguenau

This is the only forest in France where Scots pines grow naturally alongside oaks and beeches. Hagueneau is an "exceptional forest," labeled as such in February 2020. Between the Vosges massif and the Rhine valley, the Haguenau forest is also the largest in Alsace, and one of the oldest at 900 years old. Crossed by five rivers, dotted with ponds, it shelters small friendly inhabitants such as beaver, lynx and crested newt. Explore Haguenau coupled with that of the forest of Ribeauvillé, on the Alsace wine route, equally remarkable with its giant Douglas firs.

The Haguenau forest

The Vizzavona forest in Corsica, the most southern

Willem / Adobe Stock
© Willem / Adobe Stock

Do you dream of bathing in crystal clear pools, chilling at the foot of a singing waterfall or enjoying a nap in the shade of a large pine laricio, the emblem of Corsica? For hiking, tree climbing, canyoning or idleness, the Vizzavona Forest is one of the treasures of "the Island of Beauty." From its perch of 1163 m (3815 ft) of altitude, the panorama is vertiginous. It's amazing to take in from the windows of the Trinichellu, a small Corsican train that serves the village of Vizzavona, between Bastia and Ajaccio. Vizzavona is an experience not to be missed.

The Vizzavona forest

The park of Chambord in the Loire Valley, the most bucolic

Chambord is one of the most prestigious castles in the Loire Valley, the region that the kings of France so cherished. With its sloping towers, Chambord is worthy of a fairy tale palace. Surrounding the château is its large park, an enchanted forest where deer brash in the autumn. As vast as the Paris metro area, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Chambord is the largest enclosed park in Europe: 5,440 hectares (13442 acres) of oaks, pines, moors and marshes surrounded by 32 kms (20 miles) of walls! On foot, on horseback, by bike, in a horse-drawn carriage or in 4X4, accompanied by a forest ranger, the visit is always royal.

Chambord Park

The Forest of the Landes, the largest

Pictures news / Adobe Stock
© Pictures news / Adobe Stock

The brave explorers who climb to the top of the Dune du Pilat on the Arcachon basin, a few miles from Bordeaux, deserve this sublime reward. On one side, the blue of the Atlantic dotted with islets of the Banc d'Arguin. On the other side, an ocean of greenery and thousands of pine trees undulating as far as the eye can see. The largest forest massif in metropolitan France, the Landes de Gascogne forest has artificial origins, entirely planted in the 19th century, but it remains an olfactory paradise for hikers, with its sandy trails and fern mats.

The forest of the Landes

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