The Vanoise National Park in Savoie was the first of its kind to be created in France in 1963. It has an exceptional flora (more than 1,000 different species are referenced) and includes 28 villages, such as Bonneval-sur-Arc, Aussois, Champagny-en-Vanoise and Pralognan-la-Vanoise.
History of the National Park
The idea of the creation of a National Park in Vanoise dates back to 1943 under the impulsion of the Club Alpin Français, the Touring Club de France and hunters, who expressed their concern about the progressive disappearance of the ibex. Many hesitated about the creation of such a protected area, this for various reasons, political as well as economical. Others, though in favour, were reluctant to have parts of their own territories included in the Park. This led to the establishment of two zones: a central one (with a maximum protection) and a peripheral one whose purpose was to nurture the region’s natural, cultural and economical richness.
The Vanoise National Park was officially created in 1963 and 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 and altogether cover an area of 1,250 km2, representing Western Europe’s largest protected area.
Natural environment and climate
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.
Protected by the Prealps and the Belledonne massif from the influence of the oceanic climate, the Vanoise massif usually enjoys a sunny summer. However, winters are unsurprisingly rough, with an arctic climate.
The role of the Park in the community
The National Park endeavours to protect the Vanoise landscapes, sites and biological diversity. Its challenge is the conciliation between the protection of its territory whilst still allowing people to visit this incredible place. In order 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, checking that the Park’s rules are observed by those visiting it. You better behave! These people have 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 of 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… even more threatening is the possibility for the Park Rangers prosecuting the offenders! The circulation of motor vehicles, fishing and the picking of plants are 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 a rich and varied fauna. The sighting of an ibex is without doubt 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 be more than 2,000 today, which represent the largest population in France. The challenge has been overcome and the ibex has become the emblem of the Park.
Another alpine animal, the chamois, has had 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. It 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!
Like the chamois and the ibex, the little marmot is an emblematic 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 during 6 months from October to March.
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. The marmot is adapted to open areas: there is always one on lookout. Absent in forests, it lives in family groups and does not stray far from its burrow.
The region is mostly famous for its cheese, made of the milk from the famous cows of the Savoie: the Tarine. The complex flavour of Beaufort cheese for example, is due to several conditions which involve 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.
June is the best month to visit the Vanoise National Park as a multitude of flowers of all colours are set against glittering mountain tops. To see high-altitude flora, July and August are the best months.
Many species are protected even outside the limits of the National Park. A good thing to do is to take a book with you 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.