1. Protected natural habitats
Since the launch of its very first national park in Isère, the Parc de la Bérarde, in 1913, France has embarked on a twin mission to safeguard and revive its natural habitats and biodiversity and boost local economies through sustainable tourism. Today, the country counts 11 national parks spanning 60,000km2, 54 natural regional parks and nine natural marine parks as well as 47 ‘Grands Sites’ welcoming around 32 million visitors each year.
2. UNESCO-listed savoir-faire
France’s wealth of natural wonders is second only to its cultural heritage, history and traditions. No fewer than 23 French celebrations, crafts and customs - among them alpinism, Britanny’s Fest-noz dance festival or the perfume-making techniques of Grasse - take pride of place on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List.
3. Slow tourism
A boon for eco-tourists and lovers of the great outdoors, France is crisscrossed by no fewer than 369 GR (Sentier de Grande Randonnée) hiking trails, including the iconic Chemin de Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle and the tour du Mont Blanc trek. The playground of seasoned cyclists, the Hexagon is also bisected by nine (out of 15) trans-European cycle routes; chief among them the Vélodyssée, Loire à Vélo and Viarhôna.
4. Sustainable accommodation
A total of 191 hotels, B&Bs and guesthouses across the country have been awarded the EU Ecolabel for environmental excellence to date. A further 644 are members of the Clef Verte (Green Key), the very first international network of environmentally-friendly tourism facilities. Additionally, 40 establishments have been recognised for their sustainable credentials by the Green Globe association. No fewer than 280 rentals hold Gîtes Panda status while 320 holiday lets across the country are Ecogîte-certified.
5. Must-try produce and local specialities
France isn’t nicknamed the “land of a thousand cheeses” for nothing. Every last corner of the country is brimming with homegrown produce and its art de la table is the envy of the world. From the red label and ‘Organic Agriculture’ stamp to the AOP and AOC appellations, countless designations ensure the protection and guarantee the origin and traceability of its cheeses, renowned wines and other gourmet staples.
6. Sustainable food
An increasing number of restaurateurs are now adopting a more sustainable approach to gastronomy by reducing food miles and waste and serving up locally-sourced, seasonal and authentic fare. In a bid to recognise their efforts, the Michelin Guide launched a new Sustainable Gastronomy label in 2020, singling out eateries with outstanding environmental practices. Around 50 restaurants have been awarded the green-dining accolade to date.
7. The rural heartland
France’s rolling countryside, its spellbinding landscapes and slower pace of life have always held a near magnetic attraction for tourists in search of authenticity. Thanks to such initiatives as ‘Accueil Paysan’ and ‘Bienvenue à la ferme’, holidaymakers can now get a taste of the simple life, hop on a whistle-stop tour of local farms and meet the gatekeepers of ancestral traditions and savoir-faire.
8. Picture-perfect towns and villages
The Hexagon’s quaint towns and villages are the perfect antidote to mass tourism; a chance to discover picturesque nooks away from the madding crowd. The best way to start your exploration is by checking out the various labels and designations signposting France’s historic villages and most remarkable towns. The ‘Plus Beaux Villages de France’ association counts 159 member villages and aims to promote and protect the country’s most enchanting hamlets. A total of 107 unmissable towns and villages have been recognised as ‘Plus Beaux Détours de France’ thanks to their unique character, host of attractions and charming accommodation. Finally, the ‘Petites Cités de Caractère’ label champions outstanding rural towns paving the way for sustainable tourism.
9. Green cities
France counts some of the most eco-friendly cities in the world, chief among them Nantes, which was voted European Green Capital in 2013. Following hot on its heels, Dijon and Grenoble recently reached the finals of the 2022 European Green Capital Award. While Lyon narrowly missed out on a place in the shortlist, its commitment to sustainability and green-living track record have been recognised time and again over the years. Not only was Lyon named French Diversity Capital in 2019, it holds the coveted title of European Smart City.
10. Accessible tourism for all
From ‘Destinations pour tous’ to ‘Tourisme & Handicap’, a growing number of nationwide campaigns and labels strive to improve accessibility for and cater to the less-able-bodied. No fewer than 5,536 tourist attractions and accommodations across the country are now wheelchair-friendly including 337 in Charente-Maritime alone and 205 in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques.