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The Vanoise National Park in Savoie was the first to be created in France in 1963. It boasts exceptional fauna and flora (more than 1,000 different species are referenced). The protected area includes 28 villages, some of them very picturesque: Bonneval-sur-Arc, Aussois, Champagny-en-Vanoise and Pralognan-la-Vanoise.

 

Where is the Vanoise National Park?

The Vanoise National Park is situated in the Savoie département, part of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region.

It is surrounded by two valleys: the Tarentaise to the North and the Maurienne to the South.

Situation Map of Vanoise © French Moments
Situation Map of Vanoise © French Moments

 

Facts and Figures

  • Creation Date: 6 July 1963
  • Highest altitude: 3,855 m (Grande Casse)
  • Lowest altitude: 1,280 m
  • Number of summits above 3,000 m: 107
  • Total area of the central zone: 528,39 km2
  • Total of communes: 28
  • Border length with the Gran Paradiso National Park: 14 km
  • Total area with the twinned Italian park: 1,250 km2 (Western Europe’s largest protected area)
  • Total length of walking tracks: 400 km

 

History of the Vanoise National Park

Mont Pourri, Vanoise National Park © French Moments
Pinky sunset at Mont Pourri (Vanoise) © French Moments

The idea of creating a National Park in Vanoise dates back to 1943 under the impulsion of the Club Alpin Français, the Touring Club de France and hunters.

These groups expressed their concern about the progressive disappearance of the ibex. Many hesitated about the creation of such a protected area. There were various reasons for this, political as well as economic.

Others, though in favour, were reluctant to have parts of their territories included in the Park.

This led to the establishment of two distinctive zones:

  • a central zone (with maximum protection) and
  • a peripheral zone whose purpose was to nurture the region’s natural, cultural and economic richness.
La Plagne, Vanoise © French Moments
The domain of La Plagne is situated in the peripheral zone of the Vanoise National Park © French Moments

The Vanoise National Park was officially created in 1963. It then became the first National Park of France.

Its eastern parts border the Italian National Park of the Gran Paradiso. The two Parks have been twinned since 1972. Altogether cover an area of 1,250 km2, representing Western Europe’s largest protected area.

 

Natural environment and climate in the Vanoise National Park

Mont-Pourri seen from Mont Saint-Jacques (La Plagne) © French Moments
Mont-Pourri seen from Mont Saint-Jacques (La Plagne) © French Moments

Ideally located in the heart of the French Alps, between the valleys of the Maurienne and the Tarentaise, the Vanoise massif includes:

  • 107 summits over 3,000 metres high, and
  • approximately twenty glaciers that feed many strong streams.

The most famous summits are:

  • the Grande Casse (3,855m) at the centre of the Park,
  • the Mont Pourri (3,779m) near Bourg Saint-Maurice,
  • the Grande Motte (3,656m) near Tignes,
  • the Sommet de Bellecôte (3,416m), and
  • the Dent Parrachée (3,684) above Modane in the Maurienne.
Pralognan-la-Vanoise © French Moments
The Three Iconic mountains above Pralognan: from right to left – Moriond, Aiguille de la Vanoise and Grande Casse © French Moments
Grande Motte, Roche de Mio © French Moments
The view from the Roche de Mio: the Grande Motte (3,653 m) © French Moments
Mont Pourri © French Moments
The summit of Mont-Pourri seen from Côte d’Aime © French Moments
Mount Bellecôte, Roche de Mio, La Plagne © French Moments
Mount Bellecôte seen from the Roche de Mio, La Plagne © French Moments

The Prealps and the Belledonne massif protect the Vanoise massif from the influence of the oceanic climate. Therefore the area usually enjoys a sunny summer.

Pralognan-la-Vanoise © French Moments
Summer in Pralognan-la-Vanoise © French Moments

However, winters are unsurprisingly rough, with an arctic climate.

Mont Pourri in Winter © French Moments
Mont Pourri in Winter © French Moments

 

The role of the National Park in the community

The National Park endeavours to protect the Vanoise landscapes, sites and biological diversity. Its challenge is the conciliation between protecting its territory and allowing people to visit this incredible place. To find a good balance, it works with three main objectives:

  • environmental protection,
  • welcoming and informing the public, and
  • participation in local, sustainable development.

A team of 35 Park rangers tour the park. They check that visitors observe the Park’s rules.

Vanoise National Park © French Moments
The Park rangers © French Moments

You better behave! This team has the authority to issue fines if you are violating any of the Park’s rules. However, far from being just the policemen/women of the Park, they often are the ones that conduct guided walks with visitors and share their knowledge and passion for the area.

A National Park is a natural area, open to all but subject to a strict code of conduct… In order to avoid fines (that range from 12 to 150 euros) for contravening Park Regulations, it is better to follow the rules with care…

Vanoise National Park © French Moments
Information panels at the entrance to the Vanoise National Park © French Moments

The circulation of motor vehicles, fishing and picking plants is strictly forbidden, while dogs are not allowed as they might disturb the wildlife.

 

Fauna in the Vanoise

If you are patient enough to observe the wildlife, you will see that the Park has rich and varied fauna.

 

Ibex

General view of Pralognan-la-Vanoise © French Moments
The iconic Ibex statue watching over Pralognan-la-Vanoise © French Moments

The sighting of an ibex is undoubtedly the most rewarding experience as the alpine animal nearly disappeared from the French Alps some 50 years ago. From 40 individuals in 1963, the ibex have multiplied to more than 2,000 today. They represent the largest ibex population in France. The challenge has been overcome, and the ibex has become the emblem of the Park.

 

Chamois

Another alpine animal is the chamois. It has met a similar increase: from 400 in 1963, there are now over 5,500 individuals! It has become easier to see them while walking in the Park. The chamois lives from 2,000 to 2,500 metres. An interesting fact: it’s always the older female who takes on the responsibility of the group in case of danger!

 

Marmot

A marmot at La Plagne © French moments
Marmot on the lookout © French moments

 

Like the chamois and the ibex, the little marmot is a symbolic animal of the Vanoise. If the tourist in Alsace is looking for a stork nesting on a chimney top, the visitor in the Vanoise won’t be satisfied until he sees the cute little rodent. “No worries” for the marmot is easily noticeable when people remain silent and have a bit of patience. The strident cry of the guarding marmot is the signal of their presence. The little animal is not bothered by the thousands of skiers in the peripheral area, for it is in hibernation under the snow for six months, from October to March.

A marmot at La Plagne © French moments
A marmot at La Plagne © French moments

The marmot has really established itself in the Vanoise, occupying all favourable zones:

  • sunny and rocky grass slopes, and
  • in particular, the mountain pastures between 1,800m and 2,700m.
Little marmots playing © French Moments
Little marmots playing © French Moments

The marmot is adapted to open areas: there is always one on the lookout. Absent in forests, it lives in family groups and does not stray far from its burrow.

 

Tarine cows

Tarine and Abondance Cows in the Vanoise © French Moments
Tarine and Abondance Cows in the Vanoise © French Moments

The region is most famous for its cheese, made of milk from the famous Tarine cows. For example, the complex flavour of Beaufort cheese is due to several conditions involving the Tarine cow.

 

Flora in the Vanoise

One of the most colourful images you may have of the Vanoise in summer is of high pastures thick with Alpine flowers. The Vanoise has an impressive floral pool with more than 1,200 different varieties of plants.

Heath Spotted-orchid © French Moments
Heath Spotted-orchid © French Moments

June is the best month to visit the Vanoise National Park as many flowers of all colours are set against glittering mountain tops. To see high-altitude flora, July and August are the best months.

Edelweiss © French Moments
Edelweiss © French Moments
Oneflower fleabane © French Moments
Oneflower fleabane © French Moments
Alpenrose © French Moments
Alpenrose © French Moments
Alpine aster © French Moments
Alpine aster © French Moments
Vanilla orchid © French Moments
Vanilla orchid © French Moments

 

Many species are protected even outside the limits of the National Park. A good thing to do is take a book describing the flowers and their pictures when you are hiking in the region.

In the Vanoise, you will find different vegetation depending on the altitude.

Different vegetation depending on the altitude in Vanoise © French Moments
Different vegetation depending on the altitude in Vanoise © French Moments

 

The best sites to see

There’s a wide range of ski and summer resorts to explore just outside the National Park limits, including picturesque alpine villages.

 

Ski Resorts

The Vanoise is home to some of the world’s top ski resorts:

  • La Plagne
  • Les Arcs
  • Tignes
  • Val d’Isère
  • Courchevel
  • Les Ménuires
  • Méribel
  • Val Thorens
Aboard the Transarc télécabine, Les Arcs © French Moments
Aboard the Transarc télécabine in Les Arcs © French Moments
The descent to Plagne-Centre aboard the funiplagne © French Moments
The descent to Plagne-Centre aboard the funiplagne © French Moments
General view of Val Thorens © C.Cattin OT Val Thorens
General view of Val Thorens © C.Cattin OT Val Thorens
The lake of Tignes © French Moments
The lake of Tignes © French Moments

 

Small towns, villages and Baroque churches

There’s also some beautiful villages to see, some with stunning Baroque churches:

  • Pralognan-la-Vanoise
  • Champagny-en-Vanoise
  • Bozel
  • St Bon-Tarentaise
  • Brides-les-Bains
  • Moûtiers
  • Aime
  • Landry
  • Peisey-Nancroix
  • Bourg-Saint-Maurice
  • Ste-Foy Tarentaise
  • Bonneval-sur-Arc
  • Bessans
  • Aussois
Village of Peisey © French Moments
Village of Peisey © French Moments
Pralognan-la-Vanoise © French Moments
The village centre of Pralognan-la-Vanoise © French Moments
Basilica of Aime © French Moments
The Romanesque basilica of Aime © French Moments
Onion dome steeples of Savoy - Landry © French Moments
The church of Landry © French Moments
Mont Saint-Jacques, La Plagne in Autumn © French Moments
Bourg-Saint-Maurice from Mont Saint-Jacques © French Moments
Village of Sainte-Foy-Tarentaise © French Moments
Village of Sainte-Foy-Tarentaise © French Moments
departement of Savoie Moûtiers Tarentaise
The historic town of Moûtiers in the Tarentaise Valley © French Moments
Bonneval-sur-Arc © French Moments
The last village of the Maurienne Valley: Bonneval-sur-Arc © French Moments

 

 

More info!

Rosuel, one of the 6 Gateways to the Vanoise National Park © French Moments
Rosuel, one of the 6 Gateways to the Vanoise National Park © French Moments

There are six information points for the National Park’s visitors. Open to the public, they serve as gateways to the Vanoise National Park (more info on opening times):

  • Réserve Naturelle de Plan de Tuéda (Courchevel)
  • Pralognan-la-Vanoise
  • Rosuel (Peisey-Nancroix)
  • Val d’Isère
  • Termignon
  • Modane

 

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Explore the Vanoise National Park © French Moments

About the author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. He has a background teaching French, Economics and Current Affairs, and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations, and a degree of Economics and Management. Pierre is the author of the Discovery Course on the Secrets of the Eiffel Tower and the Christmas book "Voyage au Pays de Noël".

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