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AR Guide to: The Nature of the Rhône-Alpes

Rhône-Alpes is France’s second largest and wealthiest region, behind the Ile-de-France.

Centred around the historic city of Lyon (France’s second city and since Roman times a crucial regional capital), it’s a region of contrasts: from the pristine peaks and pastures of the Alps to the bustling cities and fertile fields of the Rhône Valley.

The region has laid claim to the title of France’s gastronomic epicentre, with an extraordinary culinary tradition forged in the classical kitchens of Burgundy, supplied with world-beating Côte d’Or wines and an array of fine produce from the meadows of Savoy, the peaks of Isère, the gorges of the Ardèche and the waters of the river Rhône.

This produce is fabulous, rich and varied but all stems from the same basic source: a pure, natural environment, irrigated by pure, crystal clear mountain water.

Pedestrian Saint Georges footbridge and the Saint Georges church in Lyon
Pedestrian Saint Georges footbridge and the Saint Georges church in Lyon

Pristine waters

From Mont Blanc and Lake Annecy to Lyon, the Beaujolais vineyards and the gateway to Provence, Rhône-Alpes is a region of outstanding natural and cultural sites and a rich historic past. With nine nature parks including two national parks, water is everywhere in Rhône-Alpes: pristine lakes, clear rivers and mirror-like pools.

The Rhône Alpes is the biggest source of water in France, with mountain streams rising from glaciers, tearing down the mountains and wearing away the ancient rock.

Here water is like another natural environment: snow and glaciers, ponds, rivers and, of course, lakes. 

Mont Blanc
Mont Blanc

The Rhône-Alpes has no fewer than three of the five largest lakes in France (Lake Geneva, Lac du Bourget and Lac d’Annecy) plus 7,000 km of streams or rivers. The Rhône alone, at 812 km long, is the most powerful river in France.

  • 7,000km of rivers
  • 21 lakes larger than 0.5km²
  • 13 lakes larger than 1km², including Lake Bourget and Lake Annecy
  • 400km² of glaciers
  • 32 mineral water or spring water production sites
  • 15 spa resorts and seven health resorts (visited by 20% of French spa users)
  • 191km of navigable waterways on the Rhône and 106km on the Saône
  • 485km of cycle paths along the Rhône, from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean (ViaRhona)

The region’s waters also offer beneficial therapeutic effects, which has led to the creation of some fine thermal resorts. Rhône-Alpes has more than 30 mineral waters which are marketed by brands such as Evian, Badoit and Vals.

Pure nature

With its two National Parks and six Regional Natural Parks, the Rhône-Alpes ensures that these beautiful, unspoilt natural gifts are a testament to the growing success of environmentally-sensitive policies. Visitors to any of the parks can enjoy the silence of some truly wild places and the chance to spot rare species of mammals, birds or plants.

  • The Vanoise National Park is home to a colony of 2,500 ibex, the largest ibex reserve in the French Alps.
  • The Ecrins National Park is the largest of France’s national parks. It contains 17,000 hectares of glaciers and a collection of peaks rising to over 13,000 ft.
  • The Haut Jura Regional Park covers 1,455 km2 of the Jura Mountains at the gateway to Switzerland and Lake Geneva.
  • The Chartreuse Regional Park, the greenest Park, earning it the nickname ‘the Emerald of the Alps’, is the smallest of the pre-Alpine ranges.
  • The Bauges Regional Park is an island of untouched countryside at moderate altitude situated between Chambéry, Annecy and Albertville.
  • The Pilat Regional Park is rising in steps from the Rhône Valley, between Lyon and Saint Etienne.
  • The Vercors Regional Park, which stretches between the Drôme and Isère at the gateway to Provence and the High Alps, is a natural limestone fortress.
  • The Monts d’Ardèche Regional Park, created in 2001 on the initiative of the region’s chestnut growers.
  • The most recently created park (2012) is the Baronnies Provençales Regional Park located in the southern Drôme, where lavender is the emblematic plant.
Jura Mountains
Jura Mountains

Things to do in Rhône-Alpes 

From the tumbling mountain streams of the Alps for white water activities to the serenity of the Ain or the Drôme or to the impressive gorges of the Ardèche for canoeing and kayaking, there is a vast choice when it comes to ‘messing about on the water’. 

Enjoy endless possibilities for activities in this special region of pure water and pure nature. You can opt for white water rafting, canyoning, hydrospeed and other breath-taking pursuits. Or opt for windsurfing, water ski and wakeboard on the lakes and of course sailing and cruising too. There are even leisure water parks for the whole family to enjoy. 

Off the water, the region is popular for paragliding and ice walking, as well as hiking and biking along the numerous walking trails. There are paths suitable for all levels and ages.

Kayaking in the Ardèche 
Kayaking in the Ardèche 

Campsites in the Rhône-Alpes

With over 900 campsites in Rhône-Alpes you will be assured of a warm welcome. Camping, rental accommodation, mobile homes, holiday chalets and a wide variety of glamping style options are available. 

These campsites are close to popular resorts or tucked away in idyllic locations, from the Alpine lakes to the Ardèche Gorges. For activity-filled family holidays choose campsites with a choice of restaurants, shops, children’s clubs, entertainment, and even aquatic parks or covered heated pools. 

Top picks

Nature Parc l’Ardéchois Vallon-Pont-d’Arc, Ardèche

Camping Nature Parc l’Ardéchois is a very high quality, family run site within walking distance of Vallon-Pont-d’Arc. It borders the River Ardèche and canoe trips are run, professionally, direct from the site. This campsite is ideal for families with younger children seeking an active holiday.

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Sunêlia Aluna Vacances Ruoms, Ardèche

Nestled on the doorstep of the Ardèche Gorges, surrounded by nature and outdoor pursuits of all varieties; energetic ones such as rafting, cycling and swimming, and relaxing ones like walking, picnicking and exploring nature, camping at Sunêlia Aluna Vacances has something for all the family.

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Castel Domaine de Sévenier Lagorce, Ardèche

If you're looking for something a little more luxurious... Le Domaine de Sévenier is a modern, high quality chalet complex enjoying a hilltop location with fine panoramic views over the surrounding garrigue, a unique mix of oak trees, juniper, rosemary and thyme.

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