Photograph by Jan Wlodarczyk, Alamy
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The water-scoured canyons of the Tarn gorge in France’s Cevennes National Park draw boaters, hikers, and climbers.

Photograph by Jan Wlodarczyk, Alamy

Cevennes National Park, France

Name: Cevennes National Park
Location: France
Date Established: 1970
Size: 353 square miles (913 square kilometers)

Did You Know?

• Peaks to Plains In Cevennes National Park low mountains flow smoothly onto the plains of Languedoc, creating a patchwork of rocky heights, grasslands, forests, and farms. This is not a pure wilderness park but a classic landscape of traditional French life.

• Many Villages Cevennes is the only national park in France that has human settlements at its core—there are some 250 villages within its borders.

• Prehistoric Inhabitation People have lived here since at least 400,000 B.C. By about 2,500 B.C. they were erecting standing stones, called megaliths, which can still be seen today. Later, the Romans left their mark with enduring buildings, burial sites, and roads. Many churches from the Middle Ages also still stand, although most of that era’s castles are in ruins.

• Agricultural Woes Agricultural crises plagued the area around the park beginning in the second half of the 19th century. Diseases devastated silkworms, which were then key to a local industry, and sweet chestnut trees, which had been introduced by the Romans. These and other economic problems led to an exodus and a significant population decline, which was exacerbated by the staggering death tolls of World War I.

• Functional Farms Today about 400 farms operate in the park’s central zone and cover 25 percent of its land area. These enterprises are dominated by cattle and sheep grazing lands, and farmers produce meats and exceptional cheeses like Roquefort and Fédou.

• Wild Wonders Despite a strong human presence the park boasts plenty of purely natural wonders. The Tarn and Jonte gorges present dramatic vistas, where waterways have scoured canyons and created rock faces up to 1,640 feet (500 meters) high. Boaters often run the Tarn gorge, while fishermen favor the waters of the Jonte.

• Cave Attractions Cevennes National Park is home to an outstanding trio of caves: Aven Armand, Dargilan, and Bramabiau, which have attracted visitors since the end of the 19th century. Aven Armand is large enough to hold Notre-Dame Cathedral and has more than 400 giant stalagmites. Dargilan, known as the “pink cave,” has a 21,528-square-foot (2,000-square-meter) calcite flow—the world's largest—and Bramabiau is essentially an underground canyon cut by the subterranean Bonheur River.

How to Get There

Nîmes and Montpelier, each on France’s TGV high-speed rail line, make excellent embarkation points for journeys by car, bus, or local rail to various local destinations within Cevennes National Park.

When to Visit

Spring and summer showcase more than 1,700 flowering plants, including lady’s slipper orchids, lilies, and wild daffodils. In total, the park shelters some 2,300 plant species, though it occupies only half a percent of the nation’s land area.

How to Visit

Walkers are spoiled for choice in Cevennes with 1,522 miles (2,449 kilometers) of marked trails. Cyclists and horseback riders have many options as well. Scenic drives here are rewarding, especially when coupled with stops for exploration in the charming and quintessentially French communities scattered throughout the park.