5 Parks to Visit Near the French Riviera
On a hot summer day, when the highways, marinas, and beaches of the Côte d’Azur are teaming, take a nature break away from the crowds. The fact that the countryside is easy to access is one of many appeals of the French Riviera.
From the Mediterranean coast to the Alps, there are 19 Departmental Natural Parks within the region. With the preservation of flora and fauna in mind, these green spaces are the perfect diversion. We feature five (5) of these parks below.
Parc national des Ecrins
Skiers and cyclists already know the names of famous mountain peaks and ski resorts in this enormous park. Stretching from Gap to Grenoble, Parc national des Ecrins includes 100 mountains, 60 lakes and 700 km of hiking trails. Your outdoor adventure awaits, whether your preference is taking a few runs down the ski slopes at Les Deux Alpes or the steep challenge of Alpe d’Huez on a bike.
Gorges du Verdon
The Gorges du Verdon is a magnificent area sometimes referred to as France’s Grand Canyon. The turquoise-green Verdon River cuts a meandering path along the steep, limestone cliffs. The gorge’s length is roughly 25 kilometres (km), and at some points, the cliffs reach heights of 700m (2,300ft).
Although the Gorges du Verdon is undoubtedly extraordinary, the comparison to the Grand Canyon might be an exaggeration. The Grand Canyon is 446km long, 29km across at its widest point and reaches depths of 1,800m (6000 ft).
Designated as a park in 1997, the Parc Naturel Régional du Verdon incorporates 43 towns. However, there has been recorded human presence in the area for 30,000 years. Over time Moorish invasions, the plague and economic challenges have all impacted the small villages and residents. All the while, the Verdon River continued to mark its course, creating unique rock formations like the Styx. For sporty types, the Parc Naturel Régional du Verdon is a paradise with hiking, climbing (1,500 routes), kayaking, canyoning, mountain biking, and paragliding.
Mercantour National Park
Only an hour removed from the French Riviera, the stunning Mercantour National Park offers adventure seekers year-round options. Straddling the Italian border Parco Alpi Maritimi and protected by the French State, the Mercantour has many hiking trails, including the 220-kilometre Grande Traversée du Mercantour. Quite an undertaking, this point-to-point trail takes approximately two (2) weeks and includes more than 12,000 metres of descent finishing in Menton.
La Vallée des Merveilles (Valley of Wonders) deep within the Mercantour is a prehistoric marvel with thousands of Bronze Age rock carvings. Bronze Age artists carved approximately 40,000 etchings on the coloured rocks. Visit the Merveilles with a guide to gain insight into human life in that era as depicted by the images. Read more about this magical place here.
Parc Naturel Régional des Préalpes d’Azur
Located in the foothills around Grasse, the Parc Naturel Regional des Préalpes d’Azur was established in 2012. Between the Mediterranean and the Alps, this park encompasses 45 communities and covers 90,000 hectares of countryside. Discover the many hiking trails, mountain bike routes and hilltop villages. For those who prefer to explore underground, there are natural grottos and caves.
In an area with 2,000 plant species, protecting and maintaining the regional biodiversity is one of the aims of the park’s stewards. One fabulous example is the Garden du Vallon du Brec, in Coursegoules, with intercontinental plant species from China, Japan, and North America. The garden, established in 1992, is a place to enjoy gorgeous native and exotic plants, roses, and endemic species of the Côte d’Azur.
The Parc des Préalpes d’Azur “Producers Guide” available at a tourism office or via download provides ideas for farm visits within the park.
Discover the Parc des Préalpes d’Azur (website)
1, avenue François Goby
06 460 Saint-Vallier-de-Thiey
Parc des Rives du Loup
Parc des Rives du Loup, at 52 hectares, is a small park relative to the ones listed above. Located between Colle-sur-Loup and Villeneuve-Loubet, its proximity to the coast makes Rives du Loup an excellent destination for a family outing. Stroll along shaded trails on the banks of the Loup River or hire a kayak at La-Colle-sur-Loup.
More Ideas for A Visit to the French Riviera