National Parks in West Europe

France/Italy/Portugal/Spain/Switzerland, Europe
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Le Rateau (3769m)

In the same spirit as its sister pages from other European areas, this page is meant to present National Parks in Western Europe. More precisely Latin-European countries : France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Switzerland (although this last one has some Germanic roots as well, we have decided to include it in this page).
France is handled by Myzantrope, Italy by Ganesh70 and Spain by Eza.
We are still looking for contributors who could help us on Portugal and Switzerland.

Other National Parks lists for Europe :
NPs of Central and East Europe
NPs of North Europe
NPs of Northwest Europe
NPs of Northeast Europe


La Meije (3983m)

Map of National Parks in FranceFrench National Parks

The first National Park created in France was Parc National de la Vanoise in 1963, in the French Alps by the Italian border. As in other countries the idea was to protect the environment from urban expansion and to prevent people from damaging this beautiful nature. It was also a way to give a large space to local wildlife to live (almost) as it had always been living, free from human impact. In 2007, two new areas are becoming National Parks in France (overseas) in Guyana (in South America, Northeast of Brazil) to preserve Amazonian-type forest and in Ile de la Réunion, a volcanic island located 730 kms East of Madagascar, close to Mauritius.
Thanks to its overseas territories, France offers a wide variety of National Parks : from snow-capped summits in the Alps and Pyrénées to volcanoes in Guadeloupe and Réunion ; and from jungle in South America to sea shores in the Mediterranean sea !

NB : the information listed below comes for a large part from Parcs Nationaux de France

National ParkSurfaceHighest PointDescriptionCreatedPark Map
1Vanoise196 476 haGrande Casse (3855m)Alpine, with glaciers and high summits above 3000m1963
Map of Vanoise
2Port-Cros1 983 haLa Vigie (199m)Mediterranean island with endangered marine fauna1963
Map of Port-Cros
3Pyrénées252 059 haGrand Vignemale (3298m)Alpine, with glaciers and high summits above 3000m1967
Map of Pyrénées
4Cévennes321 380 haSommet de Finiels (1699m)Low mountains with open areas and woods1970
Map of Cévennes
5Ecrins271 381 haBarre des Ecrins (4102m)Alpine, with glaciers and high summits above 3000m1973
Map of Ecrins
6Mercantour214 765 haCime du Gélas (3143m)Alpine, with a few glaciers, and green valleys1979
Map of Mercantour
7Guadeloupe33 580 haSoufrière (1467m)Volcanic island in the Carribeans1989
Map of Guadeloupe
8GuyaneAmazonian forest area2007
9RéunionPiton de la Fournaise (2631m)Volcanic island in the Indian Ocean2007

Aiguille du Plat de la Selle (3596m)

Italy / Italia

The king of Gran Paradiso National ParkThe king of Gran Paradiso

National parks in northern ItalyNational parks in northern Italy

National parks in southern ItalyNational parks in southern Italy

In Italy there are 23 national parks ( 5% of the national territory ), where you can enjoy the extraordinary richness of the nature and of the history of this wonderful country. Some of this parks are situated in fantastic mountain areas, famous worldwide for their unique panoramas.

In this protected areas you'll certainly find something for your taste: spectacular mountains, millenary forests, rare wildlife, archeological sites, picturesque medieval villages, relaxing countryside, canyons, lakes, waterfalls, white sand beaches, virgin islands… and also a very famous volcano. In the italian parks normally there aren't fees to pay or particular restrictions, all that is asked is the respect for the wildlife and for the work of the people who is trying to protect this immense patrimony.

Official site of the Italian Parks

name of the parkregionesurfacedescriptioncreated
Parco delle Dolomiti Bellunesiveneto31512 haThis park is situated in a very wild area of the Dolomites, among less known mountain groups like Cimonega, Monti del Sole or Schiara. Very interesting for the complex geological history of the mountain chains and for the extraordinary richness of the flora.1993
Parco delle StelvioLombardia-Trentino Alto Adige134620 haOne of the best alpine parks, situated in a wonderful area dominated by the mighty Ortles-Cevedale group. Very rich flora and fauna.1935
Val GrandePiemonte14598 haA completely unspoilt alpine area of the italian western alps. Great views to the Monte Rosa massif and amazingly beautiful wildlife.1992
Parco del Gran ParadisoPiemonte-Valle d'Aosta70318 ha Famous monumental mountains and uncontaminated environment: one of the most beautiful places of the Alps. 1922
Parco delle Cinque TerreLiguria3860 ha Cinque terre is one of the most famous ( and most visited ) places of Italy. Picturesque medieval villages, rocky cliffs and the characteristic terraces… But also good food and wines. 1999
Parco dell'Appenino Tosco-EmilianoToscana-Emilia Romagna22792 ha A park in a less known mountain chain of Italy. Very interesting wildlife, rare flowers, lakes and waterfalls and medieval fortresses. A great place to relax, maybe riding a horse…2001
Parco delle Foreste Casentinesi, Monte Falterona e CampignaEmilia Romagna-Toscana36400 ha Millenary fairy-tale forests in the center of Italy. Great place for hikers and nature lovers. Two very important sanctuaries in the area: Verna and Camaldoli. 1993
Parco dell'Arcipelago ToscanoToscana17694 ha(land)+61474 ha(sea) The biggest marine park of Europe and one of the most beautiful protected areas of the Mediterranean sea. Seven different islands with a complex geological history and a rich wildlife both marine and terrestrial1989
Parco dei Monti SibilliniUmbria-Marche70000 ha A beautiful important mountain area in the Central Appennines. A land suspended between the middle age and the modern era, where the time seems to go slower… 1993
Parco del Gran Sasso e Monti della lagaLazio-Marche-Abruzzo 150000 haThree mountain chains with the highest summit of the Appennines, the Corno Grande ( 2912 m ). But also medieval villages, archeological sites, extraordinary wildlife and delicious gastronomic products.1991
Parco della MajellaAbruzzo 74095 ha Majella is an impressive limestone massif, the landmark of the regione Abruzzo. The area of the park is extremely wild and solitary, very rich of rare elusive animals and of an incredible variety of flora ( 1800 species ). The first humans settled down here 800000 years ago, so you can find here witnesses of thousands of years of history.1991
Parco dell'Abruzzo, Lazio e MoliseAbruzzo-Lazio-Molise50000 ha Probably the most famous italian national park. Situated in the heart of the Appennines, this wild protected area is an example not only in Italy but in Europe as well. Here you can meet rare animals like the italian wolf or the Marsicano bear and see an incredible variety of flowers and plants, in a wonderful, uncontaminated enviroment.1922
Parco del CirceoLazio 8500 ha A protected area near Roma very interesting for the fauna ( especially migratory birds ) and for the impressive prehistoric and roman archeological sites.1934
Parco del VesuvioCampania8482 ha A park born with the main pourpose to protect the world's most famous volcano.1991
Parco del GarganoPuglia121118 ha Gargano is a flat promontory just above the "heel" of Italy. The biodiversity of this area is really exceptional.1995
Parco dell'Alta MurgiaPuglia67739 ha Thousands of years of erosion modeled this wild area transforming it in a huge natural sculpture. Deep canyons, carsic caves and deserted plateaus. Very interesting fauna, especially the numerous species of birds of prey. 2004
Parco del Cilento e Vallo di DianoCampania181048 ha The second national park of Italy, situated in an area rich of millenary history and mysterious forests. But also wonderful cliffs from where you can enjoy spectacular views.1991
Parco del PollinoCalabria-Basilicata182180 ha The biggest national park of Italy, with an uncontaminated environment and the beautiful dolomitic and limestone mountains of the Pollino massif, from where you can enjoy some of the most fantastic views of the entire country. Important archeological sites, picturesque out of time villages and a very rich wildlife.1990
Parco della SilaCalabria73695 ha One of the wildest areas of the country. Altough not much high the summits of the Sila group offer great views, especially to the seas ( Tirreno and Ionio ), to the mountains of Aspromonte and Pollino and to the volcano Etna.1997
Parco dell'AspromonteCalabria76000 ha This is the southernmost area of the Appennines, but the sharp, granitic mountains of the Aspromonte group look more like alpine peaks. Huge millenary forests and extraordinary rich wildlife.1989
Parco del GennargentuSardegna73935 ha The island of Sardegna is well known for its fantastic beaches and for its very turistic areas, but in its heart there are still wild and unspoilt places, where you can see lovely villages, beautiful mountains and forests and it's not rare to meet wild animals. 1998
Parco dell'Arcipelago di La MaddalenaSardegna5134 ha(land)+15046 ha(sea) This geo-marine park is without doubt one of the most beautiful of the world. The islands of this archipelago are almost all deserted and uncontaminated. White or pink sand beaches, wonderful little bays, unusual granitic rock formations and all around an unbeliavable emeraldine sea. A real paradise for sea lovers.1998
Parco dell'AsinaraSardegna52000 ha This island is well known in Italy because it has been a maximum security jail for many years. Having been isolated for long time can offer a unique environment, with very rare animals and plants.1997

Spain / España

A global number of 13 National Parks are scattered around the spanish territory, offering a wide choice of landscapes and wildlife. The first ones officially recognized were those placed in the north, Picos de Europa came first and Ordesa-Monte Perdido was next, both of them related to the mountain environment in the northern ranges. But spanish national parks are not only about mountains. You can find beautiful green islands on the Atlantic, right in front of the galician coast, but also huge swamps in the southern coast of Andalucia or volcanic landscape in Lanzarote (Canary Islands).
Park nameComunidad AutónomaSurface (Km2)Highest pointWhat to expect
Aigües Tortes y Lago de Sant MauriciCataluña141.19Punta Alta (3014 m)A high massif in the Pyrenees of Catalonia, with an impressive number of mountain lakes (many of them have a dam in order to obtain electric energy, couldn't be perfect…) and plenty of granite high peaks ranging up to the three-thousanders of the nearby massif of Punta Alta. Beautiful landscapes, several mountain huts, good climbing and beautiful romanesque medieval churches in the nearby Vall de Bohí
Archipiélago de CabreraIslas Baleares100.21A finely preserved mediterranean island environment, placed an hour navigation away from Majorca. Endemic bushes and plants, migrating birds (spring and autumn) and wonderful underwater species
CabañerosCastilla - La Mancha408.56Calamocho (1422 m)A protected plain surrounded by two ranges of the small Montes de Toledo, Cabañeros' main attraction is the animal life. Deers, wild boars and vultures stand amongst the main species to be seen
Caldera de TaburienteIslas Canarias46.90Roque de los Muchachos (2426 m)A deep ancient erosion crater (caldera) placed on the island of La Palma, and nowadays covered by wild local forests (including some endemic species). Also clear skies, clear enough to deserve installation of an astronomical observatory on the edge of the Caldera.
DoñanaAndalucía542.52A wide extension covered by the swamps formed by river Guadalquivir when it joins the ocean. The area is a rest stop for many of the migrating birds travelling from Europe to Africa, and therefore offers wonderful sightings when the time comes. Bad news? You'll have to ask for permission and get a guided tour, Doñana has a restricted access
GarajonayIslas Canarias39.86Garajonay (1487 m)A wide extension of laurisilva forest, a reminder of the wet jungles that covered the area back in the Tertiary Era and spectacular rocky formations known as Los Roques
Islas Atlánticas de GaliciaGalicia84.80Four groups of islands placed a short distance away from the galician west coast. A small part of the park surface is formed by the green islands, where you will find small churches and ancient ruins of pre-roman dwellings ("castros"). The rest is a marine protected space
Ordesa y Monte PerdidoAragón156Monte Perdido (3355 m)Four deep canyons (Ordesa, Añisclo, Escuain and Pineta) and the limestone massif of the Tres Sorores (includes Monte Perdido, the third highest mountain in the Pyrenees). Many other peaks, including several three-thousanders on the north border of the Park (shared with the french Parc National des Pyrenées). Alpine flora and fauna. One of the main remaining glaciers of the Pyrenees on the north face of Monte Perdido
Picos de EuropaCantabria / Asturias / Castilla y León646.60Torre Cerredo (2648 m)A wide limestone massif shared by three regions and placed less than twenty kilometers away from the sea. Nice hikes with a fantastic background, a totemical mountain (Picu Urriellu - Naranjo de Bulnes) and technical climbs all over the area. The historical sanctuary of Covadonga, where the Middle Age Reconquista is said to have begun, and the beauty of the small villages around the Park complete the picture
Sierra NevadaAndalucía862.08Mulhacén (3482 m)A wide mountain range placed in southern Spain, just a few kilometers away from the sea. Offers high mountains (some of the highest in continental Spain) and small white villages on its south side
Tablas de DaimielCastilla - La Mancha19.28An area covered by the waters in the middle of the plains in south central Spain. Used to be a good area for the rest of migrating birds, but nowadays is serious risk because of the severe draughts in the area
TeideIslas Canarias189.90Teide (3718 m)The highest summit in the whole of Spain should be a good enough reason to visit this park, but you can also enjoy a wonderful volcanic landscape and unrivaled sights from the upper station of the cablecar.
TimanfayaIslas Canarias51.07Montaña del Fuego (525 m)A rather small area covered by the remains of a volcanic eruption that took place in the eighteenth century. Underground fire, dust, camels and a different landscape

Spanish National Parks - geography

Where to find them? Check this map. The most striking observation is probably the four parks placed in the Canary Islands, all of them related (in one way or another) to volcanoes. But you might also be able to dive in the Archipiélago de Cabrera, climb the glacier on the north face of Monte Perdido or do some birdwatching in the Doñana swamps.

A couple of external links
Official web page of the Spanish National Parks (Spanish Ministry for the Environment)
Natural Parks, a web page on spanish protected natural spaces - not just National Parks (only spanish version available, sorry). Kindly suggested by Diego Sahagún

Additions and CorrectionsPost an Addition or Correction

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Diego Sahagún

Diego Sahagún - Dec 12, 2007 6:37 am - Hasn't voted

Spain National Parks and Nature Reserves

Diego Sahagún

Diego Sahagún - Oct 22, 2009 8:09 pm - Hasn't voted

Peat fire threatens National Park in Spain

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