Rippling between the Tarentaise and Maurienne Valleys is Parc National de la Vanoise. Designated France’s first national park in 1963, the 529-sq-km park has more than 100 peaks surpassing 3000m. At its highest points, this is a desolate landscape of glaciers and lichen-spattered rock; at lower altitudes, Alpine meadows and spruce forests flourish. Marmots, chamois and France’s largest colony of bouquetins (Alpine ibexes) – around 1800 – graze freely beneath the larch trees while 125 bird species wheel overhead. Amplifying the drama are historical fortifications like stocky Fort Victor-Emmanuel and Fort Marie Thérèse.
Along the southern edge of the park (west to east), Termignon, Lanslebourg-Mont-Cenis and Bonneval-sur-Arc are good bases. The former two have more shops and restaurants, while quaint Bonneval has a middle-of-nowhere charm.
In winter, the seasonal closure of the Col de l’Iseran blocks direct road access from Val d'Isère, thereby protecting the sizeable Val Cenis ski area from crowds.