Here are the highlights, according to global travellers.*
The 103-metre-deep chasm of Gouffre de Padirac, not far from Tour-de-Faure
Right in the middle of the Causses du Quercy Natural Regional Park, the town of Tour-de-Faure provides access to a natural wonderland of oak woodland, canyons, cliffs and hauntingly beautiful caves. But by far the most astonishing attraction is the Gouffre de Padirac; this rare and ancient natural wonder formed when a vast chunk of limestone terrain collapsed, leaving a 103-metre-deep chasm in the earth. Visitors can now enter the crater on foot, via a staircase built into its walls, before hopping on a boat taking you along an underground river past dreamily contorted rock formations lit by orange and green spotlights. Check into the highly rated Auberge des Versanes, where breakfast features produce from the property’s own garden.
Col de Bavella, an area known for its raging rivers, beautiful watersfalls, rock pools and forests
For unbridled natural beauty and mesmerising mountain scenery, you can’t do much better than the village of Zonza. Perched among olive and chestnut trees, it faces the rocky spires of the Aiguilles de Bavella, a formation of serrated, red granite peaks that tower above the rest of the mountainous Alta Rocca region. For those keen to explore, head to Col de Bavella, an area known for its raging rivers, beautiful waterfalls, rock pools, and forests roamed by wild pigs. A must-see is the Trou de la Bombe, a naturally-formed, 8-metre hole amid the mountains – though the hike to get there is fairly challenging so be prepared. Treat yourself to a stay at Hotel Le Tourisme, set in a former coaching inn for the Alta Rocca area and featuring a hot tub with mountain views.
The snow-capped peaks of the Pyrenees overlook the small town of Amélie-les-Bains-Palalda
On the border of France and Spain, surrounded by the bountiful natural beauty of the Pyrenees, sits the small town of Amélie-les-Bains-Palalda. Visitors come for the thermal springs and access to the Catalan Pyrenees Regional Nature Park, consisting of 138,000 hectares of wild and unspoilt scenery. Expect vast plains, snow-capped peaks, rare flora and fauna, and plenty of adventure activities; from canyoning in the Tech Valley or hiking the sacred mountain of Canigou, to following the walkway through the steep, mossy cliffs of the butterfly-filled Gorges de la Fou. Stay beside the river that flows through the Tech Valley, at the turreted, pale yellow Appart'Hotel Castel Emeraude.
Roussillon, Provence - Alpes - Côte d'Azur
The peach-coloured town of Roussillon sits within the glorious Luberon National Regional Park
With its lavender fields, turquoise glacial lakes and the sun-kissed Riviera, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur is one of the most stunning regions in France. To see some of its most beautiful features, visit Roussillon, a town within the 500-square-mile Luberon Natural Regional Park. This peach-coloured town, built upon a giant ridge of red rock, is blissfully pretty in itself. But it’s through exploring the rest of the reserve that you’ll uncover a bounty of natural beauty, with limestone mountains, deep green cypress trees, Provençal orchards and hilltop villages scattered across the landscape. Stay at Le Clos de la Glycine Hotel, a boutique property just a few hundred metres from the Ochre Trail, a walking path winding through the region’s former open-pit ochre quarries.
Orbey is a town within the bucolic region of the Alsace, known for its rolling hills, vineyards and valleys
Just south of Strasbourg, the town of Orbey lies in the Alsace, a bucolic region of flower-adorned, timber-framed houses, vineyards, valleys and the low-lying Vosges mountains. Unlike the Alps and the Pyrenees, the Vosges are relatively untouched by mass tourism, yet offer a variety of natural beauty, from steep waterfalls and lakes to thick forests cut through with hiking paths. Orbey itself lies within the Ballons des Vosges Regional Nature Park, where conifer forest cloaks the majority of the calming landscape, defined by the gentle curves of the round peaks (the name ‘ballons’ refers to the mountains’ balloon shapes). You can follow trails on foot or by bike, or for the more adventurous nature-lovers, there’s always hang-gliding, canyoning and horse riding. Enjoy valley views from the mountainside garden at Hôtel Restaurant Domaine De Basil.
**These destinations were the most highly rated in France for 'nature', according to Booking.com travellers.