Break out the bubbly—France inaugurated its 11th national park last Friday. Straddling the border of Burgundy and (you guessed it) Champagne, the Parc National de Forêts de Champagne et Bourgogne is a mere three-hour drive from the cafés and boulevards of Paris, making it an excellent day or weekend trip from the City of Light.
The new national park is the largest one in metropolitan France, covering 965 square miles of forest and countryside. (Guiana Amazonian Park in French Guiana is the largest of France’s national parks, containing more than 13,000 square miles.)
The area, which sits on the Langres plateau between the Haute-Marne and Côte-d’Or departments, was selected for its biodiversity and cultural significance. According to Hervé Parmentier, director of the French Public Interest Group (GIP) responsible for creating the park, 80 percent of the trees in its ancient deciduous forests were standing during the French Revolution. The park also protects a number of rare flower species, including the sabot-de-vénus orchid, as well as wildlife, including black storks, wild boar, deer, and wild cats.
You can hike 1,250 miles of trails or kayak nearly 450 miles of waterway, but it’s not all green space. Parc National de Forêts also encompasses 127 communes, which are home to 28,000 residents. When not traipsing through the forests, visitors can stop in at local shops and businesses. There are archeological sites in the park as well, with remains that date back to 750 B.C.E.
Over 10 years in the making, Parc National de Forêts joins the ranks of some of France’s most iconic outdoor spaces, including Pyrénées National Park, known for its jagged peaks and high-altitude lakes, and Calanques National Park, famed for its rocky, inlet-dotted coast. The area’s visitor numbers are expected to jump from 30,000 per year to 100,000 within the next two to three years, so if you want to beat the crowds, plan your trip now.