Discover the Vanoise National Park

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The Vanoise National Park in Savoie was the first of its kind to be created in France back 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.

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Where the Vanoise National Park is located?

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

The National Park’s 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 kms
  • Total area with the twinned Italian park: 1,250 km2 (Western Europe’s largest protected area)
  • Total length of walking tracks: 400 kms

History of the Vanoise National Park

Mont Pourri, Vanoise National Park © French Moments

Pinky sunset at Mont Pourri (Vanoise) © French Moments

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.

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 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 distinctive zones:

  • a central zone (with a maximum protection) and
  • a peripheral zone whose purpose was to nurture the region’s natural, cultural and economical 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.

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 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. They check that visitors observe the Park’s rules.

Vanoise National Park © French Moments

The Park rangers © French Moments

You better behave! For 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 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…

Vanoise National Park © French Moments

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

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.

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 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. 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: 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 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.

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 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 mostly famous for its cheese, made of the milk from the famous Tarine cows. 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.

Heath Spotted-orchid © French Moments

Heath Spotted-orchid © French Moments

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.

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 in the peripheral zone

Outside the limits of the National park there’s a wide range of ski and summer resorts to explore, as well as picturesque alpine villages.

Ski Resorts

The Vanoise is surrounded by some of the world’s top ski resorts:

  • La Plagne
  • Les Arcs
  • Tignes
  • Val d’Isère
  • Courchevel
  • Les Ménuires
  • Méribel
  • Val Thorens

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

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 6 information points dedicated to 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

Have you been to the Vanoise? If so, share with us the highlights of your visit by commenting below!

Inspired? Pin it for later!

Explore the Vanoise National Park © French Moments


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About 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. In 2014 he moved back to Europe from Sydney with his wife and daughter to be closer to their families and to France. He has a background teaching French 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.

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