France is a country offering an unbelievable diversity of landscapes. From mountains to ocean, plains, and canyons: it has it all. What better way to make the most of your vacation in France than to stop by its most beautiful natural landmarks? Whether it is a colourful field of lavender, a turquoise lake, or a dune by the ocean, we prepared a list of incredible places for nature lovers.
Calanques of Marseille
If there is an absolute wonder that you must see when visiting Marseille, it is the Calanques National Park. This protected natural area stretching over 20 km from Marseille to Cassis counts no less than 26 Calanques of various sizes. A Calanque is a geological formation made of limestone, forming a cliff above the turquoise sea. A few of them even hide beautiful fine sandy beaches.
Some Calanques are easily accessible after a short walk, while others are the reward obtained after a challenging hike. The Calanque de Port-Pin is particularly adapted to families thanks to its relatively easy access in about half an hour. Its beach of sand and pebbles is perfect for enjoying a day of sunbathing and swimming. For hiking lovers, we recommend the Calanque d’En-Vau, accessible through various routes. The most scenic hike to access it will be completed in about 3 hours and passes by the Calanque de Port-Miou and Port-Pin as well. It offers breathtaking views of the sea and the typical Mediterranean vegetation.
The Calanques National Park is usually open all year round. However, since it is a highly protected environment, its access might be closed or regulated at certain times of the year, especially during summer. To avoid the tourist peaks, prefer the months of May, June, or September.
Dune of Pilat
Listed as a natural heritage site, it is the highest dune in Europe at 102 meters. Climb until reaching its summit, and you will get a spectacular panorama of Arcachon Bay, the Cap-Ferret lighthouse, and a never-ending forest everywhere you look. Due to erosion, it is a natural landmark constantly on the move. Every year its height varies from a few centimetres to several meters due primarily to the action of winds.
The Dune of Pilat can usually be accessed all year round. Its landscapes and colour palettes are incredible no matter the season. Note that for increased accessibility, the site installs stairs each year from April to November to climb up the dune without too much struggle. Activities for kids and guided tours are also available at certain times of the year. Check the official website for more information.
The best time to visit the dune is probably at sunset. Its height and orientation constitute a viewpoint of choice to enjoy the changing light and colours over the incredible ocean-dune-forest landscape.
Known as the French “Grand Canyon”, the Verdon Gorges is the largest canyon in Europe and a hub for many activities. Whether you like hiking, climbing, or water sports, it is the perfect place to have memorable times in this grandiose landscape of turquoise waters and cliffs.
Due to the nature of the site, the most popular activities are water sports. You can rent a canoe, a stand-up paddle, or go for a canyoning day trip with a professional. Another option is “water hiking”. This discipline consists in following the river by walking, swimming, and jumping into the water when it is safe to do so. It is a great option for families with kids and people who are not afraid of water.
A very French way to enjoy this unique place in a relaxing atmosphere is to stay at a “camping”! It is one of the favourite ways for French people to enjoy their vacation. But no worries. Campings in France are far from being only a campsite where you can set your tent. They usually offer accommodation in cozy mobile homes containing all you need at a reasonable price. Some of them also feature a swimming pool exclusive to its residents, as well as a bar/restaurant and entertainment.
As the highest peak in Western Europe, Mont-Blanc is a landscape not to be missed when visiting the French Alps. One can enjoy the breathtaking views of the mountains from the valley of Chamonix, which is equally beautiful in winter and summer.
From the center of Chamonix, the Aiguille du Midi Cable Car takes you in 20 minutes at 3842 m high. The terraces at the summit offer a panoramic view of the Alps, in particular, the Mont-Blanc. Do not miss the “step into the void” experience: step into a viewing box made of transparent glass and look down at the thousand meters of void under your feet. Adrenaline guaranteed!
The valley of Mont-Blanc offers activities for all tastes. Hikers can enjoy some of the best viewpoints thanks to the extended network of hiking trails available for all levels. Another option to explore the valley is to embark on the Montenvers train for a fantastic journey through time. This little train will bring you 1,913 meters high to the “Mer de Glace”, the largest glacier in France.
If you are more into visiting some typical villages, you can check Servoz, Argentière and Vallorcine and soak in their Alpine architecture and charm.
French landscapes will never stop surprising you. Did you know that in the southern region of Luberon is a landscape unique in its kind, commonly referred to as the “Provencal Colorado”? This comparison perfectly illustrates the singularity of the Ochre Massif, a place with remarkable geological formations featuring the flaming colour of ochre. These strange formations in the heart of Provence are the result of both natural erosion and human activity.
The Ochre Massif extends over 25 km and comprises two distinct touristic sites: the Provencal Colorado and the Ochre Trail. The Provencal Colorado, on the eastern part of the massif, is the most extended one. It features two loop itineraries taking between 1 and 2 hours to complete. The Ochre Trail, on the western part, is also divided into two itineraries requiring between 30 and 45 minutes walk. Information signs along the trails describe the ochre deposits' geology, history, and flora. These trails have more than 350 steps, so it is not recommended for people with restricted mobility. You can couple your visit to the Ochre trail with a stop in the village of Roussillon, considered one of the most beautiful in France.
Whichever site you visit, you must know that the entrance requires a small fee. It will cost you between 3 and 7€ (3-7 USD). In high tourist season, access might be restricted to reservations only to preserve the site’s integrity. You can check the official website for more information about the current regulations.
At the border between France and Switzerland is the beautiful region of Jura, characterized by its mountains and lakes. It is a fabulous place to visit for nature lovers or amateurs of water sports.
Lakes are everywhere in Jura, but some are more popular than others. Among them is the Vouglans Lake, a destination for fishing, paddle boarding, sailing, and waterskiing. Its sandy beaches are ideal for sunbathing or taking a refreshing dip into the clear waters. It is also an excellent spot for hiking, with numerous trails around the Lake offering magnificent panoramic views. An exclusive activity to do at the Lac de Vouglans is Via Ferrata. This discipline consists in hiking a steep path on the cliffs equipped with stairs, suspension bridges, and structures designed to attach carabiners. The itinerary follows the cliff and offers a breathtaking view of Vouglans Lake. Rent equipment at the starting point of the Via Ferrata and follow a safety tour before exploring on your own.
Another popular area for hiking is the Belvédère des 4 Lacs, a viewpoint offering a panorama over four lakes at a time. This point can be easily accessed from a closeby parking lot or as part of a scenic 9 kilometres hike. Whether you are seeking outdoor adventures or a relaxing getaway, the French Jura region has everything you need!
Cliff of Etretat
As the number one landmark of Normandy's coast, Etretat's iconic cliffs made the small town world-famous. Each year, Etretat attracts more than 1 million tourists eager to see these 90-meter cliffs with their own eyes.
These geological structures formed underwater several million years ago when the sea was still covering the North of France. It might come as a surprise, but the cliffs are made of algae - or, more specifically, calcareous algae skeletons. When dying, mineral skeletons of these algae accumulate in the seabed. The successive cycles of proliferation and death are at the origin of the different layers you can observe on the cliffs of Etretat!
There are two prominent landmarks on the cliffs of Etretat: the Manneporte and the Porte d'Aval. Both of them were slowly carved by the waves crashing on the cliff. To admire these natural wonders, you can climb the 341 stairs from the beach to reach the top of the cliffs. Be careful to stay at a reasonable distance from the edge: these areas are unstable and subject to landslides.
The cliffs are also very impressive from the sea: the association Voiles et Galets offers various water activities at the foot of the arches like kayaking, stand-up paddling, or sailboat. In summer, you can also admire them on a sea trip from Le Havre or Fécamp.
Pink Lakes of Camargue
The southern region of Camargue is known as a major producer of salt. Near the fortified city of Aigues-Mortes, you will find a remarkable landmark: the pink salt lakes. Visitors can tour salt-making facilities to get close to the pink lakes and maybe encounter some pink flamingos.
At that point, you are probably wondering why everything is pink around here. Well, it is mainly due to a specific species of algae called Dunaliella salina. This species grows specifically in high salt concentrations and synthesizes pink pigments. Their presence in the water is responsible for the vibrant colour of these salt lakes. The same thing goes for flamingos. Born white or gray, consumption of these algae and accumulation of the pigments in their skin and feathers is what makes them pink.
The region of Aigues-Mortes is perfect for a day trip. You can start by visiting the fortified town in the morning. On Wednesdays and Sundays is the traditional market offering local and artisanal products. After that, you can head to the salt facilities for a tour. The best time to observe an intense pink is between June and August. Various options are available for visitors: hop on a little train, rent a bike, or go on a guided walking tour. End your visit by a stop at the shop to bring some salt back home!
Nicknamed the "blue gold", lavender fields are characteristic of the region of Provence. The dream of tourists worldwide is the chance to visit one of them during the blooming season.
The Plateau de Valensole is where you will find Provence's most photogenic lavender fields. Unfortunately, the lavender season is relatively short, so you have to plan your trip carefully if you want a chance to enjoy this unique spectacle. The best time to see the lavender in bloom is from the last week of June to the beginning of August. Various events and festivals celebrate the season of lavender in the region. To celebrate the harvest, the Lavender Festival in Sault-en-Provence takes place each year on August 15th. If you want to learn more about how the lavender flowers are transformed, you can also visit Lavandes Angelvin in Valensole, a familial artisanal company offering tours and direct sale of the products they manufacture from lavender.
If you are looking for a picturesque place to do an improvised photo shoot, provencal lavender fields are your best option! Generally mixed with other types of cultures like sunflowers of wheat, these landscapes are perfect for colourful photo composition.
Pink Granite Coast
Wild spectacular landscapes go one after another along the Pink Granite Coast in the North of Brittany. It is a playground for children to use their imagination when comparing these impressive granite blocks to fantasy silhouettes. Some rocks with very iconic shapes even became tourist attractions. The pink colour of the rocks comes from a mineral called hematite embedded in the granite. There are only three pink granite coasts in the world, and two of them are in France! The second one is in Corsica, a French island in the Mediterranean sea.
The most popular way of exploring the granite coast is by hiking a portion of the “Customs Officers Path”. This trail follows the coast of Brittany for over 2,000 km from the Mont-Saint-Michel to the bridge of Saint-Nazaire. Customs officers formerly used this path – hence its name – to prevent smuggling.
The coast offers numerous water activities for the most sporty ones. You can check with local sailing centers to see what option suits you best. For a relaxing vacation, stop at Perros-Guirec, the largest seaside resort on the coast. This charming coastal town features a thalasso center and fine sandy beaches perfect for sunbathing. However, be aware that the temperature of the sea remains cold: around 16°C only in summer.
Whatever region of France you plan on exploring, there will always be some breathtaking landscapes around the corner. You can check our article if you are also interested in visiting some charming small towns during your stay.