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You long for great open spaces, but you don’t want to leave France ? With its varied landscapes, pleasant climate, and rich heritage, France remains a tourist destination par excellence. The list of places in France most visited by tourists, includes must-see sites such as the Mont Saint-Michel and the castles of the Loire. These places are undoubtedly exceptional, and I don’t want to denigrate them, but let’s not forget the spectacular natural beauty that France also offers ! True masterpieces of Mother Nature, waterfalls have become tourist sites in their own right over the years. With their incredible power and deafening crash, visitors often remain stunned by their beauty and the splendor of their appearance as the water flows.

« There is a waterfall in every dream. Cool and crystal clear, it falls gently on the sleeper, cleansing the mind and soothing the soul. »
(Virginia Alison)

Perhaps you have dreamt of Niagara or Iguaçu Falls. Still, France has many waterfalls, each more beautiful than the next. These magnificent waterfalls, found in hilly and mountainous areas of France, stand up well in comparison to the largest waterfalls in the world. Here is a selection of waterfalls that will make you travel around the world while remaining in the heart of France…

 

The Arpenaz waterfall:  Yosemite in the Haute-Savoie

You feel like you are in the amazing Yosemite National Park. However, we are not in California but in the department of Haute-Savoie, near the village of Sallanches in the far east of France, close to the Swiss and Italian borders. In the heart of the Faucigny massif, theArpenaz waterfall has been a natural site listed since 1991. With a free fall of 886 feet and a total height of 1,199 feet, the Arpenaz waterfall is the fifth highest waterfall in France. The name « Arpenaz » comes from the Celtic prefix « Ar », meaning white water, and the Celtic suffix « pen », meaning rocky head. For an etymological parenthesis, many place names in Savoie and Haute-Savoie end in oz, az or uz (La Clusaz, Col de la Forclaz, Le Servoz to name a few.) But to avoid sounding like a tourist know that as a general rule, the « z » at the end of proper names should not be pronounced…

The magnificent waterfall of Arpenaz dominates the village of Luzier. Take a distant viewpoint on the approach to the village of Luzier where you can see the entire context of the waterfall against its mountainous backdrop while fronted by a grassy valley.

Like its California cousin, Horsetail Fall in Yosemite National Park, the Arpenaz waterfall sometimes turns into a fiery waterfall on a clear day when the sun’s rays hit it at the right angle.

 

The waterfalls of the Cirque de Saint-Même: the State of Oregon at the gates of the Chartreuse

Mother Nature offers plenty of gems. One is hidden at the bottom of a valley. A magnificent spectacle rewards your efforts at the end of a steep hike, a hike that works, without any doubt, your quadriceps… Echoing the Multnomah Falls of the Columbia River Gorge in the state of Oregon, the magnificent waterfalls of the Cirque de Saint-Même lie in the Hauts de Chartreuse nature reserve. At an altitude of 2,953 feet, near Saint-Pierre-d’Entremont, the Cirque de Saint-Même attracts many sightseers every year. It includes four waterfalls. From top to bottom, the waterfalls are called Cascade des Sources, Grande Cascade, Cascade Isolée, and Pisse du Guiers. The waters of the Guiers Vif fall in the center of the Cirque in a vertical drop of 985 feet. Among the most extraordinary waterfalls in their respective countries, the Multnomah and the Cirque des Saint-Même are active year round and fed by underground springs. The falls can be admired from the bridges that span their waters.

The waterfalls of the Cirque de Saint-Même are active year-round and fed by underground springs. The waters of the Guiers Vif fall in the center of the Cirque in a vertical drop of 985 feet.

 

The waterfalls of Ray-Pic: Iceland in the heart of the Ardèche

One of the most unforgettable cascades in the Ardèche… The Ray-Pic waterfalls are in no way inferior to the famous basalt waterfall of Svartifoss in the Skaftafell natural park in Iceland. The name « Ray-Pic » doesn’t sound French. Nonetheless these magnificent falls lie in the Ardèche massif in the heart of the legendary Cévennes, near the small village of Péreyres. On this outstanding natural volcanic site, classified as early as 1931, the waters of the Bourges River burst through basalt rock, creating a passage. The water then cascades down 200 feet in two falls between a basalt lava-flow shaped like organ pipes. The lava came from the now-dormant volcano Fialouse, also called Maar of Ray-Pic. The volcano Fialouse culminates at 4,242 feet above sea level. Its vast Crough crater presents an almost circular shape about 3,937 feet in diameter.

The waterfall of Ray-Pic cascades down 200 feet in two falls between a basalt lava-flow shaped like organ pipes. The lava came from the now-dormant volcano Fialouse.

 

Sillans-la-Cascade: le Rio Celeste du Var

In the heart of the Tenorio Volcano National Park in northwest Costa Rica the turquoise blue waters of the Catarata del Rio Celeste plunge 98 feet into a circular basin bordered by luxuriant vegetation. But nestled in the department of Var in the heart of the region Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur in southeast France, we discovered Sillans la Cascade, the French cousin of the Catarata del Rio Celeste and one of the most beautiful waterfalls in France. The river La Bresque features two 132 feet-parallel drops into a deep turquoise poolhidden in a splendid green forest. This idyllic landscape of a waterfall and its turquoise blue lagoon surrounded by tropical vegetation gives only one desire: to splash into this magical setting. However, same to the Rio Celeste waterfall in Costa Rica, swimming in the main basin of the waterfall of Sillans la Cascade is prohibited to protect the fragile ecosystem that makes for the beauty of the place. In May 2011 the Var department classified the Sillans Cascade as a « Sensitive Natural Area ». Access to the waterfall pool is closed to the public. So much better !

« Above them, a waterfall tumbled from a cliff as high as a church steeple. The water fell in milky blue strands, shooting spray in the air that danced in rainbows of gold, pink, and blue»
(A taste for nightshade by Martine Bailey)

Sillans la Cascade features two 132 feet-parallel drops into a deep turquoise pool hidden in a splendid green forest.

 

The Hérisson waterfalls: little French Canada in the heart of the Jura

Steep mountains with torrents and waterfalls, lakes offering shades of green, blue, and turquoise, forests of deciduous and coniferous trees, we are not in Canada but in the Jura department in eastern France. With more than 965 mi2 of forests, that is 50% of the department’s surface; the forest is the DNA of the Jura. Moreover, the Celts called the massif « Jor », the Romans « Juris », which means « forest »or « country of forests ». In the middle of this greenery, nature’s treasures are hidden, such as the Hérisson waterfalls, sometimes tumultuous and refreshing, sometimes calm and peaceful.

While walking in the forest of the Haut-Jura natural park, the hiker discovers the beauty of the Cascades du Hérisson along a 24.6 miles round trip.

Near Ménétrux en Joux, the Hérisson River, fed by the lakes Bonlieu and Ilay, runs for about 2.3 miles in 31 falls over a descent of 820 feet, including seven main waterfalls, all different and unique. The Hérisson waterfalls are part of the “« Vallée du Hérisson, Plateau des 7 lacs » which is part of the network of the Grands Sites de France. However, do not expect to see hedgehogs (hérissons in French) ! The name comes from « Yrisson », meaning « sacred water ». To discover the series of 7 waterfalls, put on your hiking shoes to walk the 4.6 miles round trip. Coming from Ilay, Bonlieu, or Doucier, they are several points where you can start a walk along the river. Whatever your starting point, the waterfalls will follow one another: the Saut Girard (115 feet), the Saut de la Forge (33 feet), the Grand Saut (197 feet), the Eventail waterfall (213 feet)… These falls have their particularity and charm, making them magnificent places to walk. The Eventail waterfall is, without a doubt, the most photographed of the Hérisson waterfalls. Admire it, then close your eyes and listen to the murmur of the water. Relaxation guaranteed !

The Eventail waterfall is, without a doubt, the most photographed of the Hérisson waterfalls.

 

The Glandieu waterfall: Asia at the gates of the Ain

waterfall that has a little taste of Asia ? With luxuriant vegetation, noise, and mist rising from the water one would believe oneself elsewhere. And yet, the Glandieu waterfall is located in the department of Ain in the region Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes in eastern France. This picturesque waterfall is within an area classified as a Sensitive Nature Area. This waterfall is part of the Gland River which flows down to the Rhône. It is composed of two successive falls with a total height of 196 feet. The unique quality of the cascade lies mainly in its shape and the emerald moss covering the rocks over which the water appears to form a complex series of nets. The Glandieu waterfall is so easy to access that you can admire it from the roadside or the restaurant terrace just opposite. The Water trail, a 4.6-mile walk, leads hikers to the fall. The outbound route follows the Gland River to the falls, and the return route crosses the ancient marshes of the Rhône plain.

The Glandieu waterfall is composed of two successive falls with a total height of 196 feet. This waterfall is so easy to access that you can admire it from the roadside.

 

The Rouget waterfall: the Sierra Nevada of the Alps

We feel like we are in the Sierra Nevada in Yosemite Park in California admiring the Bridal Veil Falls, but we are in the Alps, in Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval. The Rouget waterfall, referred to as the « Queen of the Alps », is located at an altitude of 3,150 feet in the Giffre valley. This waterfall cascades down the cliff in two falls for a total drop of 263 feet. The water comes from the torrent of Salles, fed by run-off from the mountain massif Griffe des Fonds, which then flows into the Giffre River. In 2009, the Rouget waterfall was voted the most beautiful waterfall in France. It is the second most visited classified natural site in the commune of Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval known as « the land of waterfalls ». In the valley of Sixt-Fer-à-Cheval, the hydrographic network is dense, feeding numerous waterfalls. Upstream from the Rouget waterfall, there are two other falls: the Cascade de la Pleureuse and the Cascade de la Sauffaz, both of great beauty. A folk legend associates the Rouget waterfall with virility and fertility. Locals customarily offer a bottle of its water to newlyweds…

The Rouget waterfall, referred to as the « Queen of the Alps », cascades down the cliff in two falls for a total drop of 263 feet.

 

Cascade des Baumes: a perfume from the Caribbean in the Aveyron

How can we not think of the magnificent Cuban waterfalls in Trinidad making their way through the rocks to create a pool of emerald water? However, we are not in the Caribbean but in the French Departement of Aveyron in the Occitanie region of southern France. Just over 12 miles west of Millau, lies the majestic Baumes waterfall, also known as the Saint Rome du Tarn waterfall. The Lévezac River flows from the top of a tuff cliff down over 65 feet into the emerald waters of the Tarn. Nature lovers can rent a canoe, pedal boat, or a paddle boat for a trip under this impressive and refreshing waterfall. As in Cuba, we admire here the most daring who jump from the rocks into the emerald waters of the Tarn like Fanfan la Tulipe or more sophisticated acrobats did. Each one will find his own style…

The Baumes waterfall cascades from the top of a tuff cliff down over 65 feet into the emerald waters of the Tarn.

 

The Baume-les-Messieurs waterfall: Quebec tuffs in the heart of the Jura

On the Gaspésie peninsula of Quebec, the Chute waterfall is one of the most beautiful. In the Jura, the Baume-les-Messieurs waterfall, also known as Cascade des Tufs, is one of the most gorgeous waterfalls in France. These two tuf waterfalls are the perfect alliance of mineral and vegetal. The water of the river Dard flows over rocks covered with emerald moss forming an exceptional showcase. The site of the Tuff waterfalls is located near one of the most beautiful villages of France. The name comes from the chalk stone called Tuff. These waterfalls, the largest of which is called the « Saut du Dard », are made up of several spurts that multiply to form a breathtaking landscape of great fragility. It is difficult to recommend the best period of the year to visit the waterfall of Baume-les-Messieurs. In every season, there is something beautiful. In the fall, the surrounding foliage displays a kaleidoscope of colors, and in winter the frost creates impressive sculptures. In spring, the hue of green and against the melting of the snow is as much acoustic as visual with the deafening noise of the water coming out of the ground. There is a clear view of the moss in the summer, and it is the perfect place to cool off. The Hérisson waterfalls are located about 40 minutes from the Baume-les-Messieurs.

The Baume-les-Messieurs waterfall flows over rocks covered with emerald moss forming an exceptional showcase.

 

The Saut du Doubs waterfall: a river that looks like a Scandinavian fjord

The Saut du Doubs is more than just a waterfall. It is, above all, an unspoiled natural environment with a river that runs between mountains and cliffs. It’s the highest waterfall in the Jura Mountains. In winter, the Saut du Doubs looks like a Scandinavian fjord, but the Doubs basins attract sightseers mainly in summer, by boat, on foot, or in a horse-drawn carriage. The river, 328 to 656 feet wide and 98 to 130 feet deep, flows peacefully through spectacular gorges. The meanders of the Doubs River and the deep gorges have made this place the first classified natural site of Franche-Comté. The magnificent waterfall of Saut du Doubs is nestled on the French-Swiss border. A unique transnational waterfall between the villages of Villers le Lac in France and Brenets in Switzerland, the waterfall has a drop of 88 feet, a natural dam between the lakes Chaillexon and Moron. This waterfall results from a landslide that blocked the passage of water 14,000 years ago. It is rare to see the waterfall of Saut du Doubs frozen in winter; however, the Doubs River and its basins are often covered with ice !

The magnificent waterfall of Saut du Doubs is nestled on the French-Swiss border. This waterfall has a drop of 88 feet, a natural dam between the lakes Chaillexon and Moron.

 

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