The biggest country in Western Europe, France’s landscape is richly diverse. A quarter of the country is forest and a half is countryside, yet it’s also home to Europe’s second tallest peak. It has volcanoes and mountains, beaches and plains. And it has waterfalls aplenty.
In this article, we’ll explore these watery wonders, seeking out France’s best waterfalls and the most famous waterfalls of France. And we’ll start at the top, with the highest waterfall in France.
Grande Cascade de Gavarnie: The Highest Waterfall in France
It’s within the fittingly majestic surroundings of the Pyrénées Occidentales National Park that one finds what is probably the highest waterfall in France. Grande Cascade de Gavarnie, often simply called “Grand Cascade”, is a 1,450-foot high horsetail waterfall, impressive even within the already magnificent UNESCO-listed area. Fed by a glacier in neighbouring Spain, the strength of the waterfall is highest in warmer months, when the snow melts and it thunders down at up to 7,063 cubic feet per second.
Cascade du Ray-Pic
Springing from the volcanic basalt columns of Monts d’Ardèche Regional Nature Park, the waters of the Bourges River takes two leaps totalling approximately 200 feet. This extraordinary spectacle is known as Cascade du Ray-Pic and is one of the best known waterfalls in France. It’s also of great geological importance. Indeed, since 1931, it has been classified as an outstanding natural site.
Cascade de Sillans
Cascade de Sillans holds a place amongst the most picturesque of all French waterfalls. This double-act of wispy streams pouring 131 feet into bright azure waters is nothing short of spectacular. Located in the Var department of the Provence region, this twin horsetail fall, fed by the Bresque River, is enhanced by its setting amidst oak forests and steep cliffs.
Its name is said to be a combination of Celtic words meaning “living water” and the “rocky head” and Cascade d’Arpenaz embodies just that. Indeed, the sight of the glacier-fed waters bursting through the rugged mountains of the French Alps and plunging around a thousand feet down is a testament to the power of nature. Arguably the author and poet Théophile Gaultier described this most iconic of French waterfalls best when he said that it “seemed from afar a vein of silver embedded in the stone”.
Cascade des Tufs
It’s perhaps its otherworldly quality that makes Cascade des Tufs one of France’s best waterfalls. Located within the forests of the Jura Mountains in eastern France, Cascade des Tufs emerges fountain-like from the limestone or “tufa” in the village of Planches-près-Arbois. In the summer, its wispy sprays flow dreamily into the pool below, while in the winter, it freezes solid, an 82-foot high ice sculpture.
Cascades de Gimel
Some of the most famous waterfalls of France are known by the single title of Cascades de Gimel. Located in the Corrèze department of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region of France, this trio of tiered waterfalls fed by the Montane River have a total drop height of approximately 470 feet. Individually, it’s La Queue de Cheval which is the tallest, dropping almost 200 feet in one fell swoop. Meanwhile, Le Grand Saut, which translates as “the big leap” is more like three jumps totalling some 147 feet and La Redoule zigzags downwards around 124 feet.
Cascade De Runes
Within the UNESCO-listed Cévennes National Park, the Runes River tumbles down the granite rocks of Mont Lozere, forming one of the prettiest waterfalls of France. Cascade De Runes is a split, segmented cataract within dense forest and also marks the point where the Runes River flows into the Tarn.
Cirque de Saint-Même
Cirque de Saint-Même is not a waterfall, but a natural amphitheatre located almost 3,000 feet above sea level in the Chartreuse Mountains of France. Nevertheless, this geological wonder is synonymous with not one but four famous waterfalls of France that descend its steep cliffs and jagged rock formations. Known as Cascade des Sources, Grande Cascade, Cascade Isolée and Pisse du Guiers, they flow amidst an array of wildlife and greenery.
The Best Waterfalls in France
As we’ve seen, the waterfalls of France are truly natural wonders. What’s more, there is no shortage of excellent French waterfalls, especially in the south of the country.