Let’s walk through the gardens and forests for some unexpected discoveries : The tourism nature in France. Amazing specimen and unique green settings attest to the history and the geography of a country full of surprises.
Big Trees and Beautiful Forests : The tourisme in France
Forest covers 25% of France (not including the overseas regions) and shows, region by region, a rich natural and cultural heritage. French history has a strong link with many references to powerful symbol. It was under the Saint Louis oak (in the Vincennes Forest), where the king dispensed justice in the Middle Age. Another example is the traditional celebration of the May tree when a tree was planted in the village on the first day of this spring month. The last example is the Alsatian Christmas tree coming from a mix pagan and Christian religions.
Parks and orchards
Everywhere, beautiful and “domesticated” trees are a part of the landscapes and invite people to take a stroll: in public gardens (the huge “umbrella” beech in Bayeux, in Normandy), through the grounds surrounding chateaux (the giant cedar in Azay-le-rideau, in Haute Savoie), or along majestic avenues (the plane trees in the Mirabeau courtyard in Aix-en-Provence)…We admire them but there is no official tribute to trees.
However, regions dedicated to the production of fruit celebrate their fertile orchards: the walnut celebration in Perigord and in Dauphine (at the end of October and November), celebrations of the chestnut in Ardeche (in fall) and in Var, the lime’s fair of Buis-les-Baronnies (at the beginning of July), and the celebration of the olive in Nyons, in Drome, etc…)
French Forest and Men
The forest is not as wild as you would think. Since the beginning of the time, men shaped and cleared it (by the monks in the Middle Ages), or replanted with care (by orders of Louis XIV and again in the19th century).
There was always an interest in the forest: timber frames for houses of course, but also the firewood for forges… The great oak grove near Bourges, in the geographic center of France was built by Colbert (17th century) in order to create long trunks to make masts for ship (Today, barrels for vintage wine are produced here).
Tree or « Arbre » in french
The vast pine forest of the Landes, south of Bordeaux, was used for wood pulp. The Jura, Morvan or Lorain Vosges mountain ranges were covered with spruce, a very productive coniferous tree. In mountains, larches were developed (in the south of Alps) and Mediterranean cedars (in the mountains of the Luberon) to prevent erosion. There is currently a proposal to create the first AOC (label guaranteeing the origin) for the forest of the Chartreuse (near Grenoble) just like wine or cheese.
In the Jura, woodcutters pick the most beautiful tree of the pine forest: the president of the firs. The one picked a few decades ago is in Grand Combe-Chateleu, (near Morteau and Pontarlier). A small country road and hiking path lead to this tree; it has a plaque stating that it is : 551meters high with a volume of 29meters3.
In the Ardennes, the modest village of Renwez (close to Charleville-Mezieres) pay tribute to wood and its trade and craftsmanship.
The national forest office organizes several activities and welcomes tourists, for example, in the forests of Rambouillet and Fontainebleau (around Paris) or hiking tours in themountains (the routes of Retrouvance) in the Southern Alps. This institution manages a fabulous sites, like the arboretum of the Barres estate (near Orleans): 2,700 species which represent one of the biggest collections in the world.
The beech grove of the Sainte-Beaume (on a sanctuary cliff’s foot) in Provence or the Basque beech grove of Iraty (the largest in Europe) are considered as models. Some Mediterranean forests are listed in the “world reserve of biosphere” by UNESCO, whiche applies to the Luberon and for the Mont Ventoux. Specialists also list venerable specimens, like the thousand year old olive tree in Roquebrune-Cap Martin (near Monaco) or this 800 year old oak tree called Le Pied Cormier – in the forest of Vesnon (in Champagne). The ONF (French Forest Office) made a list of more than 300 venerable and exceptional trees thanks to their lifetime or their magnificent appearance.
Sometimes, trees are the source of mystery and legend. The mistletoe oak (mistletoe is actually a parasitic plant) is found in Celtic worship (it was a sacred tree for druids) more specifically in the Broceliande magic forest (home to Merlin the enchanter) in the heart of Brittany (called Paimpont’s forest).
Also in Brittany, the forest of the Guerche holds the virgin’s oak, covered with statuettes and commemorative plaques. In Lorraine, the Saint-Avold’s forest holds the oak of the witches! And the Verzy’s forest (near Reims) holds a unique phenomenon: beeches with strange forms…
Swinging in the the trees
Created about 10 years ago, this “sport” consists of playing as Tarzan does,but in complete safety with a harness. In France, there are about 200 Adventure Parks; this is a fun way to discover the forest. The new astounding trend is the ‘perched hut’ set in trees! You can find a comfortable B&B, 20m2, suspended 5 or 10m. high, from 60 to 90€ per night,: the Ormes property(near Saint Malo), the gites village of Tropes (near Jupilles, Loir Valley) or the Clos Rufisque in Aubagne (near Marseille)…