Vanoise National Park (Parc national de la Vanoise)

Vanoise National Park


Location: Savoie   Map

Area: 1,250 km²

Official site


Description of Vanoise National Park

Vanoise National Park is the first French national park that was created on 1963. It protects area of two majestic Tarentaise and Maurinne valleys in the French Alps. Vanoise National Park is located in Rhône-Alpes Province on the French- Italian border it continues to Italian Gran Paradiso National Park. The area of the natural reserve covers 1,250 km² and it is virtually unpopulated. Some of the villages include Champagny-le-Haut, Champagny-le-Bas, La Chiserette, La Cuaz, Le Bois, Friburge and Séez. Animals in the region include Alpine ibex, Chamois, Alpine Marmot, Eurasian Lynx, Mountain Hare, Stoat and many others.



Although nature reserves already existed in France, the Vanoise is the first French national park; it was created in 1963. The main reason for its creation is the virtual disappearance of the ibex in the Vanoise massif. Indeed, it was still present on the heights of the southern slope of the massif in Maurienne, territory difficult to access, because of higher average altitude and steeper, forming a pocket of survivors of their kind. This mammal with long, curved horns was exterminated as soon as the guns first appeared. In the neighboring Gran Paradiso massif, in Italy, there were still around 100 animals when hunting was banned in 1823. King Victor Emmanuel II created a “royal reserve” there in 1856, which became the Grand-Paradis national park in 1922.

In France, a nature reserve was created in Vanoise in 1943 under the leadership of the French Alpine Club, the Touring-Club de France and hunters. Among them, in particular, Marcel Couturier (1897-1973), doctor, mountaineer (he gives his name to one of the corridors of the Aiguille verte) and great ibex hunter, who campaigns for the creation of a nature reserve in order to protect game, which would allow the ibex of the Grand Paradiso to repopulate the French side. However, for various reasons (including a conviction for poaching, which tarnishes its image), Couturier did not participate in the actual establishment of the park. Besides Couturier, Gilbert André (1927-2018), elected mayor of Bonneval-sur-Arc in 1956 (a mandate that he retained for several decades), campaigned for the creation of a "cultural park", intended to protect local populations and their traditions. He submitted a report for the creation of such a park in 1955 to the National Council for the Protection of Nature, founded a committee of parks in France with the help of Vincent Planque to which several ministers and academics joined, and manages to convince the General Council of Savoy to vote unanimously, in December 1955, a wish in favor of the creation of such a park, gathering around him Pierre Dumas (UNR), Joseph Fontanet (MRP) and Pierre Cot (related PCF) 7. Gilbert André is marked by the writings of George Duhamel, Gustave Thibon, Alexis Carrel as well as Lanza del Vasto (he frequented one of the first communities of L'Arche). Finally, Jean Eyheralde (1922-200), parish priest of Argentière, who set up an alpine garden at the Col des Montets and long chaired the association of Friends of the Vanoise national park, as well as Gilbert Amigues (1929-), forester who worked for a long time at the DDA, participate in these efforts. However, the respective projects clash somewhat. Marcel Couturier thus favors the protection of wild fauna; Gilbert André, who supports this, also wants to protect local traditions; Gilbert Amigues wants to limit the influence of man, which he considers harmful on the environment, while Jean Eyheralde wants to open nature to the eyes of men in order to awaken their consciousness ... In addition, G. André, which combines the defense of heritage and the environment, opposes the division of the park into a central and peripheral zone, wishing on the contrary that everything be protected, including the valley bottoms.

Finally, the territory project is entrusted to the architect-urban planner Denys Pradelle who defines a central protected zone (fauna, flora, natural space ...) where, in particular, all hunting is prohibited, and a peripheral zone rather intended tourism development.

After many hesitations about its surface or the priorities given to nature and people, the national park was established in 1963, the first French national park. The park was created by Decree No. 63-651 of July 6, 1963.

The Vanoise affair
In 1968, the notion of inviolability of the heart of the park was threatened by a tourist development project. The promoter Super-Tignes, after the failure of a first project, proposes the construction of a new station in the valley of the brook of Thorens, in the valley of Belleville. The project provides for a ski resort with an international vocation and the development of the ski area, an extension of which is envisaged on the Chavière glacier for summer skiing. This project would also be completed by the creation of a station on the Maurienne side, in the Val-Chavière (above Modane).


The development of this ski area on the Chavière glacier requires a decision by the Board of Directors (CA) of the Park, because the glacier is located in the heart of the park. On December 23, the CA is seized. During the meeting, he rejected a development project located in Tignes, the Val-Chavière project, but asked for additional information for the extension on the glacier for the Val Thorens resort. At a new meeting, on May 23, 1969, a new project was presented. If at first the members of the board were not in favor of this extension, it seems that this time, the president of the Park, Pierre Dumas, secretary of state for tourism and mayor of Chambéry, is revising his judgment and is in favor. In March, the General Council of Savoie votes its support for the project, following the motion of the president and mayor of Saint-Martin-de-Belleville, Joseph Fontanet.

In 1970, in the context of cantonal elections, the station promoter announced the creation of 15,000 jobs. In October 1970, Prime Minister Jacques Chaban-Delmas gave his approval for the construction of the station. An opposition mobilized and a group of environmentalists brought the case before the Council of State for non-compliance with article 15 of the park regulations, namely the principle of inviolability of the heart of the park. President Pompidou confirms the construction of the station. However, on June 10, 1970, in the Council of Ministers, he declared: “France has the immense chance to have vast spaces admirable in their diversity. Determined action against nuisances is part of the environmental policy. Its purpose is to make the society of tomorrow human ”. This declaration is understood as a guarantee of the inviolability of the heart of the park. Work on the Val Thorens resort can begin, but without extending to the glacier.



Following on from Alain Marnsey (mayor of Aussois), Guy Chaumereuil chaired the Board of Directors of the Vanoise National Park from July 2014 to December 2015. Elected on December 11, 2015, Laurent Tresallet, mayor of Peisey-Nancroix, in favor of the charter succeeds it.



With 107 peaks exceeding 3000 m, the Vanoise park presents a rugged and imposing relief, crisscrossed by wide pastoral valleys generally offering easy access to the various passes. The park is a popular place for hikers (crossing the GR5 and GR55), who come from Aussois to enjoy the glaciers and the many high-altitude lakes, or the countless plant varieties listed in the massif.

The highest point is the Pointe de la Grande Casse (3,855 m). The main peaks are:
Grande Casse (3,855 m)
Mont Pourri (3,779 m)
Tooth Parrachée (3,697 m)
Dôme de l'Arpont (3,601 m)
Levanna (Central) (3,619 m)
Chasseforêt Dome (3,586 m)
Grand roc Noir (3,582 m)
Aiguille de Péclet (3,561 m)
Pointe du Génépy (3,551 m)
Polset needle (3,531 m)
Pointe de Labby (3,521 m)
Grande aiguille Rousse (3 482 m)
Pointe de l'Échelle (3,422 m)
Pointe de la Galise (3,343 m)
Bellecôte (3,417 m)

Rock heritage
Rock art is very common in the Vanoise National Park, with in particular the large body of rock engravings of the Great Black Rock, in the municipalities of Termignon, Lanslebourg and Lanslevillard, as well as those of Aussois, in the Parc des Lozes, and de Bessans, at the Rocher du Château.