The Stunning French National Parks That Nature Lovers Should Add To Their Bucket List

Nestled along the breathtaking Mediterranean coastline of southern France, you'll find one of Europe's most spectacular national parks. Calanques National Park encompasses 21,000 acres of coastal land and over 100,000 acres of marine ecosystem. The land portion of the park includes remote coastal cliffs, rocky beaches, babbling creaks, and even some semi-urban areas.

Calanques National Park is located along the stretch of coastline just outside of Marseille, France's the second largest city, so visiting is an ideal way to escape the lively energy found in the famous tourist city for some natural scenery and outdoor recreation. It's essential to keep in mind that the primary purpose of the park is to preserve the sensitive ecosystem found within, so the park is often closed to hikers during peak tourist season.

If you're looking to experience the exceptional vistas, wildlife, and sparkling turquoise waters of the Mediterranean Sea like never before, it's well worth planning a trip to Calanques National Park. But remember to remain flexible when it comes to getting there. If you're visiting during the summer, access may be limited to protect the ecosystem. While you may not be permitted to hike, consider experiencing the park via a kayaking expedition or a boat tour. Regardless of how you get there, visiting Calanques National Park is sure to be an unforgettable experience in which you'll be able to fully immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the French Mediterranean.

The crown jewel of Provence

Calanques National Park is just under an hour from the major metropolitan city of Marseille, making it a popular tourist destination for locals and tourists alike. More than 3 million people visit the park each year to experience its stunning views of the sea, rugged cliffs, and wildlife.

The landscape began forming millions of years ago and has been influenced by factors like the collision of tectonic plates, erosion, sea level changes, and temperature variations, all resulting in a gorgeous combination of rocky cliffs and white sand beaches.

The area was established as a national park in 2012 to protect its unique ecosystems and their biodiversity for future generations. During your visit, you may spot a variety of rare bird species, including the majestic Bonelli's eagle with its impressive 5-foot wingspan. Other highlights include more than 900 species of plants, including colorful wildflowers, many of which are protected species. 

The sea portion of the park serves as an oasis for marine life. Visitors often spot dolphins and the massive rorqual whales seeking harbor in the calm waters between the rugged bluffs. The biodiversity within Calanques National Park is one of the many reasons its preservation is crucial and why outdoor enthusiasts fall in love the moment they arrive — it's a major bucket list destination for nature lovers visiting southern France. 

The best ways to experience Calanques National Park

Depending on conditions and time of year, you can reach this beautiful natural setting by land or sea. Access to the park can be limited between June 1 and September 30 to protect the ecosystem and visitors due to the increased risk of fires. The status of the park's accessibility is updated daily during these months. The easiest way to receive updates is to download the official Calanques National Park app. Additionally, the app provides visitors with information on hiking trails, history, and wildlife within the park.

The park usually remains open between October 31 and May 31, so it's best to visit during that window when you can access it via land or sea. The most popular entrance to the park via land is from a picturesque fishing village, Calanques de Cassis. From there, you can drive right up to one of the most popular natural inlets known as Port Miou and begin the popular hike along the Cassis Calanques, which includes three stunning inlets, remote beaches, and beautiful views. Hiking to all three will take around three hours.

Alternatively, you can reach the park via a guided boat tour. There are tour companies offering traditional sailboat and motorboat tours, which will allow opportunities to swim in the bright blue waters, snorkel, and soak up the sun. Kayaking tours on the creeks, rock climbing adventures, and mountain bike expeditions are other ways to enjoy your expedition into Calanques National Park.