Avesnois, Paysage de bocage ©CRTC Hauts-de-France - Pascal MorèsAvesnois, Paysage de bocage ©CRTC Hauts-de-France - Pascal Morès
©Le bocage avesnois| CRTC Hauts-de-France - Pascal Morès

Pristine areas of natural beauty: 5 regional natural parks in Hauts-de-France

Did you know that Scarpe-Escaut in Hauts-de-France became France’s very first regional natural park in 1968? We are extremely proud to have pioneered environmental protection and we are now focusing on sustainable development.
There are now 56 areas designated as Parcs Naturels Régionaux (PNR) and they are helping to highlight the relationship between humans and the natural world in these times of uncertainty about our planet. The Somme bay has most recently joined the larger areas of the Oise-Pays de France, the Avesnois, the Caps et Marais d’Opale and Scarpe-Escaut as a PNR. Each park has its own personality and offers visitors a unique experience. Let’s take a gentle stroll through each of the protected areas in Hauts-de-France.


01.Le Parc Naturel Régional Scarpe-Escaut



Respect to the oldest of them all!

Le Parc Naturel Régional Scarpe-Escaut carries you deep into the carved furrows of the rivers Scarpe and Escaut to breathe clean forest air in the area around the towns of Raismes, Saint-Amand and Wallers. Vast expanses of meadow and farmland, including peat bogs, plateaux, plains and valleys are also available for you to explore. This is a surprising and unexpected haven in an area better known for its industrial heritage. By foot, horse or bike in tune with the meandering local barges, travel between land and water. Find a release in the heart of this natural world, where heritage meets a countryside full of architectural delights like chapels and dovecotes. To the south, industrial heritage and mining have been preserved, the slag heaps protected and nurtured to create biodiversity and a wide range of recreational activities are on offer.

A must-see is the Mare à Goriaux, a huge water-filled reservoir just west of Raismes that was once a mining pit. It’s now home to a wide range of wildlife. You can also visit Saint-Amand-les-Eaux, the only thermal resort north of Paris, and afterwards dine at local restaurants serving dishes created from regional produce. Outdoors, there’s an abundance of flora and fauna here and, as the park shares a border with the Parc des Plaines de l’Escaut in Belgium, you’ll find a spirit of cooperation, coordination and dynamism.


02. Le Parc Naturel Cap et Marais d’Opale

Le Parc Naturel Cap et Marais d’Opale is a wild wonderland between Cap Gris-Nez, Blanc-Nez and inland marshlands. Here, an iridescent light inspires painters and adds a touch of mystery, revealing subtle variations in the diverse landscapes. The park is bordered by the Opal Coast and blessed with dunes, estuaries, cliffs, rocky foreshores and sandy bays. It is also home to the spectacular Les Deux-Caps, classified as a ‘Grand Site de France’ and a favourite spot for photographers. Away from the coast, you’ll find an idyllic rural land of woods and pasture dotted with villages, large forests and steep valleys that culminate in the hills of Artois. Then, in a wetland basin, you can find the surprising Audomarois marshes, UNESCO-listed marshlands that are a classified biosphere nature reserve. For 1000 years, Saint-Omer, which borders the marshes to the south, has been renowned for its market gardening, especially its cauliflowers. It’s a land that can be explored via canals aboard “escutes” and “bacôves”, flat-bottomed boats made by skilled local builders. End the day at a small restaurant that serves regional dishes before spending the night in a lodge in stilts.


03. Le Parc naturel régional de l’Avesnois

A calming palette of green awaits! This is a land of rolling countryside and clear flowing streams, full of charming nooks and crannies and pristine ecosystems: meadows, deciduous forests, flowering orchards, meandering rivers, water mills, village shops, and even chapels constructed from the local blue stone. These combine to form the DNA of this land, a relaxing haven for angling and walking. Your taste buds will tingle at the sight of local specialities, such as the famous Maroilles – one of the finest strong cheeses you’ll ever try. You might find it in a local puff pastry tart or on a cocktail stick with a drink. Outside, the cows are part of the scenery, providing a peaceful rural feel. The Parc Naturel Regional status not only preserves the environment, it also protects local knowledge. In the village of Sars-Poteries, for example, you can visit the MusVerre – a stunning blue stone museum in the middle of pastureland – to marvel at the skills of the glass blowers who created incredible coloured forms from their blowpipes between 1802 and 1937.


04. Le Parc naturel régional de l’Oise Pays de France

Explore on horseback, on bike or by foot this dual treat of the Oise and the valley of Oise. It’s an area with a truly exceptional heritage that has seen Gauls, Romans and kings of France leave their indelible mark. Discover standing stones, settlements, arenas, abbeys and churches – in both Roman and Gothic styles – chateaux, parks, gardens and sumptuous estates. There’s Chantilly, a haven for thoroughbred horses that you can watch train and gallop down the “piste des Lions”. Visit the cathedral in the royal city of Senlis or the abbey of Chaalis, which houses frescos by the Italian artist Francesco Primaticcio – known in French as ‘Le Primatice’ – in its chapel. Meanwhile, the majestic forests of Halatte, Chantilly and Ermenonville provide more than 50,000 delightful acres (20,000 hectares) in which to enjoy the park’s clear air. A blend of walking and culture – this green space improves both body and mind.


05. Le Parc naturel régional de la Baie de Somme Picardie maritime

Le Parc Naturel Régional de la Baie de Somme is the newest addition to the PNR family. It’s named after one of the most beautiful bays in the world, the captivating Somme bay, which is also a deserving owner of the ‘Grand Site de France’ classification. Here, people, salt marsh sheep and samphire share the shores with seals, which you can see on the banks of the Pointe du Hourdel at low tide. It’s quite a spectacle! When it comes to walking, the sky’s the limit: pristine coastline, the three valleys of the Authie, the Maye and the Somme, which are home to not only seals, but also flocks of birds at the Marquenterre ornithological park. You’ll also get to meet the friendly Hensons – a local breed of horses.
Don’t miss the timeless resorts of Mers-les-Bains, Saint-Valery-sur-Somme or Le Crotoy. Or, if you prefer the emerald green countryside of Picardy, then the historic counties of Ponthieu and Vimeu are perfect for you. Another hidden gem? Try the abbey in Valloires for the serenity of the gardens where the rose of Picardy grows, the story of the abbey and La table du Jardinier restaurant (the gardener’s table) where you can eat and drink local produce.