All of us have fond memories of walking in the woods—mushroom hunting, scarlet leaves, rubber boots and the smell of damp earth. Grab your overcoat and board the next train for the most beautiful forests in France, all under the stewardship of the National Forest Office (ONF).
Escape to a haven of green on the doorstep of Paris
Located just 25 km southeast of the French capital in Essonne, Sénart Forest is one of the leading woodlands in the Paris Region. Its broad paths, originally designed for royal hunting parties, attract 3 million visitors a year, and their asphalt surface makes them especially good for biking. Meanwhile, the smaller trails through this 3,000-hectare national forest are ideal for walks and family outings.
There are many extraordinary trees here, including the Sessile Oak at the Four Oaks crossroads: at age 500, it’s the oldest tree in the forest. End your visit at the Pheasantry, built under Louis XVI, which now houses the forest information centre. There you’ll find exhibits, a programme of outings and workshops, and even a stuffed wolf—the last to be killed in Sénart Forest in the late 19th century.
Sénart Forest spans 3,186 hectares.
Take line D of the RER commuter network to the station at Boussy-Saint-Antoine, Brunoy, Montgeron-Crosne, Combs-la-Ville-Quincy, Grand Bourg or Évry-Val-de-Seine, then board one of the local bus lines that stop near the forest.
Let Compiègne Forest take you back in time
As you roam through Compiègne Forest, you’ll glimpse some of the great moments in French history. The creation of the franc by King John the Good in 1360. Joan of Arc’s capture in 1430. And the signature of the armistice that ended World War I on 11 November 1918.
All the while, you’ll breathe the crisp air among the beeches, oaks, hornbeams and pines of this stunning 14,000-hectare green space, where you can choose many different walks along 900 km of geometrically drawn paths.
Afraid of losing your way? No worries. There are 310 signposts to guide you, each marked with a red rectangle. Napoleon III had them added so the Empress Eugénie would never get lost. She knew that if she turned her back to the red mark, she would always be facing Compiègne Palace—no matter where she was.
largest hardwood forest in France, after Orléans and Fontainebleau
Board a TER regional train at Paris-Nord, Creil, Amiens, Ribécourt, Saint-Quentin or Maubeuge, and get off at Compiègne station. From there, you can walk to the forest in about 20 minutes.
Hit the heights in Grande Chartreuse Forest
Seek out Grande Chartreuse Forest for the breath-taking scenery of the French Alps. Once owned by the Catholic Church, it is surrounded by steep limestone cliffs and ranges from 415 to 2,000 metres in altitude. Fir and spruce account for 65% of its trees, and the forest is so well stewarded that it has earned the ONF’s Forêt d’Exception® label.
As you walk along one of the many family-friendly trails through Grande Chartreuse, you’ll discover mountain streams, the beautiful Col de Porte and Col de la Charmette passes, and many more stunning sights. Be sure to explore this forest before the winter months, when the landscape is shrouded in snow.
Grande Chartreuse Forest peaks at 2,082m altitude.
Take a TER regional train from Lyon Part-Dieu station to Chambéry-Challes-les-Eaux, Voiron or Grenoble, then board a bus for Saint-Pierre-de-Chartreuse, Saint-Laurent-du-Pont or Saint-Pierre-d'Entremont
Explore Bouconne Forest, a stone’s throw from Toulouse
Bouconne Forest is an oasis of green on the northwest corner of the metropolis—the last vestige of a vast wooded region that was cleared from the Middle Ages through the 17th century. Though it’s made up primarily of oaks, the forest is home to many other tree species, and it’s the perfect place for an autumn getaway, with wide paths and beautiful Lac de la Bordette.
Five well-marked walking trails range from 4.5 km to 10 km, and if you’re visiting with children, don’t miss the 2-km ecology trail, designed to teach youngsters about the treasures of the forest and the importance of preserving it.
The GR653 trail to Santiago de Compostela passes through Bouconne Forest.
Pay court to the Kings of Lioran Forest
Lioran Forest, in the Cantal region southwest of Clermont-Ferrand, is ideal for an autumn excursion.
Nestled in the heart of Auvergne Volcanoes Regional Park, this softwood forest stretches over 1,500 hectares and is home to a number of spectacular trees, including the pines known as Lioranus, Gargantua and Abieti. All three measure some four metres in circumference, and in 1994, ONF crowned them “Kings of Lioran Forest”.
pines were named “Kings of Lioran Forest” in 1994
See unforgettable views of the Vosges Mountains in Donon Forest
Donon Forest peaks at over 1,000 metres in altitude, making it the ideal vantage point for admiring the Vosges Massif, the Alsace plain and the Lorraine Plateau.
Hike the GR5 trail to the summit of Donon Mountain to explore this sweeping, rarely visited gem. As you make your way through the forest, you’re likely to see vestiges of France’s Gallo-Roman past, along with remarkable plants such as Osmunda regalis, the royal fern, and rare birds like the capercaillie, the largest member of the grouse family.
Part of the forest is designated a Natura 2000 site for its outstanding natural habitats.
Take a TER regional train on the Strasbourg-Rothau line to Schirmeck-La Broque station, then follow the trail marked with a red circle to the village of Vacquenoux. Once there, cross the road and take the path marked with a yellow cross, which leads gently up into the woods right behind the ranger lodge.
Breathe the bracing sea air in Brittany’s Penhoat-Lancerf Forest
Penhoat-Lancerf is Northern Brittany’s largest coastal forest. Its 600-hectare expanse was once covered with heath and moorland, but in the late 19th-century it was planted with maritime pines to produce beams for export to England, where they were used to shore up coal mines. Today the landscape around Penhoat-Lancerf changes as the tides wash in and out of the Trieux River estuary.
The walking path begins at the estuary information centre, a former manor house that played a role in a tragic murder case nearly a century ago. It stands near the Traou Nez rail stop and offers a programme of events and exhibitions on local history.
Penhoat-Lancerf Forest has been owned by France’s coastal conservancy since 1982.
Take a TER regional train on the Guingamp-Paimpol line to the Traou Nez stop. From there, the estuary information centre and the trail through the Penhoat-Lancerf forest are just a few steps away.