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France: Wildlife Destinations


Camargue's star species: Greater flamingo • Whiskered tern • Bee-eaters • Dragonflies


Just south of Arles, clutched between two arms of the Rhône, lies one of Europe’s great wetlands – a 100,000-ha mosaic of lagoons, dunes and marshland. It’s tempting to think of the Camargue as a watery wilderness, but people have not only played a major role in its creation (through drains, dykes and salt pans), but they continue to use the land for rearing the region’s famous white horses and black bulls. That still leaves plenty of room for birds though. Around 400 species have been recorded, including ducks, geese, avocets, herons, warblers and kingfishers. It’s the greater flamingo, however, that draws the crowds. Pretty in pink, these leggy birds tiptoe through the briny pools feeding on tiny shrimps. Around 10,000 pairs nest at Ilot du Fangassier.

Other good birdwatching spots include the dunes at La Pointe de Beauduc (migrants and waders), the pastures of Le Grenouillet (herons, bee-eaters, waders and terns) and the roadside observation deck at Mas Neuf (stilts, godwits, pratincoles, herons and warblers). Located 4km from Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, Parc Ornithologique de Pont de Gau is a 60-ha bird sanctuary in the heart of the Camargue with nature trails and hides. Elsewhere in the region, make a beeline for Les Apilles (a range of limestone hills where eagle owls and Egyptian vultures can be found) and La Crau, a strange pebbly landscape that’s home to hoopoe, larks and shrikes.

Getting there From Arles, take the D570 through the western side of the Camargue to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. At Albaron, the D37 heads to Étang de Vaccarès, the largest of the Camargue’s lagoons.
Getting around You can tour the Camargue by car in a day. Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is a good base for cycling or walking to La Gacholle lighthouse along the sea dyke.
When to go Park open year round; even winter is good for birds.
Visitor centres Located in the core Camargue National Reserve, Capelière has an information centre on the region’s wildlife. There are also visitor centres at La Gacholle lighthouse and Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.
Things to do Guided tours, nature trails, birdwatching, walking, cycling, horse riding
Places to stay  Campsites, B&Bs and hotels in surrounding area
Further information


Cevennes National park

Cevennes' star species: Orchids • Butterflies • Eagles • Little bustard • Green lizard


A varied region on the southeast edge of the Massif Central, the Cévennes has granite peaks, limestone plateaux and gorges, meadows, forests and rivers. Gorges du Tarn and Corniche des Cévennes are excellent for raptors, including booted, golden and short-toed eagles. The stunning blue rock thrush can also be found, along with fragrant, green-winged and lesser butterfly orchids. Griffon vultures have been reintroduced to Gorges de la Jonte, while the 1,699m massif of Mont Lozere is the haunt of Montagu’s harriers. The remarkable diversity of the Cévennes unfolds further as you drive towards the summit of Mt Aigoual through beech and chestnut woodland inhabited by hoopoe and red deer, or west towards the short-grass prairies of the Causses – a breeding site for little bustard and stone curlew.

Getting there Easily accessed from Montpellier and Nîmes.
Getting around In addition to roads, there are over 3,500km of hiking paths, 400km of horse riding trails and mountain biking routes on the Causse Méjean and the Aigoual massif.
When to go Park open year round; visit in spring for orchids.
Visitor centres Around 30 throughout the region, plus Eco-Museums (networks of museums and heritage trails for each massif).
Things to do Guided tours, nature trails, birdwatching, walking, cycling, horse riding
Places to stay Gîtes d’étape allow hikers to stay overnight at various points along trails in the park.
Further information


French Alps

Three of the nine national parks in France are found in the Alps. Better known for its skiing, La Vanoise National Park has a large population of ibex, as well as nesting golden eagles and lammergeiers. More than 100 peaks in Les Ecrins National Park are over 3,000m high – perfect territory for some 15,000 chamois and 600 ibex. Curving towards Provence, Mercantour National Park is the most species-rich of the three parks, with no less than 2,000 plant species, 153 bird species and 58 mammal species, including a small population of wolves.  


Read the latest posts on European wildlife travel

wildlife travel essentials: France


Air France connects Paris to 200 destinations in 85 countries. As well as an extensive autoroute network, France has an efficient rail system, with high-speed TGV trains linking major centres.


Several operators offer regional wildlife tours in France. Brittany Wildlife Tours covers northwest France; Faunus Wildlife Tours delves into the Ariege region of the French Pyrenees; Northern France Wildlife Tours focuses on Brittany, Normandy and Pays de la Loire, and Wildlife Provencale offers wildlife holidays in the South of France.


Visit during the spring and autumn for bird migrations; early to mid- summer for wildflowers and butterflies. August can be very busy and hot, particularly in the south.



WWF’s Gîtes Panda status
is awarded to rental properties in natural areas that preserve traditional styles of architecture and offer sustainable tourism in a rural environment. Also consider Camping France or cottage rental companies like Allez France.

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Wildlife Wishlist was founded by zoologist, conservationist and award-winning travel writer and photographer William Gray. Sharing his passion for wildlife and recommendations for responsible travel, Will has spent around 30 years tracking down the world's best wildlife holiday experiences.