Best climbing areas in France

Doug Williams
"Because it is there." — George Mallory

The ancient cliffs of France have a reputation as the best places in the world to indulge your passion for climbing. The venues consist of near perfect rock, awesome views and the added invitation to climb down to some great food. There are routes of all grades. The sedimentary limestone was laid at the bottom of ancient oceans during the Jurassic period.

You would do well to try the following sites before moving on to the likes of Le Saussois, Orpierre, Sisteron, Sainte Victoire, and Cimai.

Verdon Gorge

The Verdon Gorge as it opens out onto the Lake of Sainte-Croix

Four of the best places to climb in France are listed here, and the first of these is Verdon Gorge, or Verdon as it is usually called. It is simply stunning in its geography and is surely one of the best climbing areas in Europe. The Grand Canyon of France, what more could you ask for with its stunning views and limestone that seems to have been formed specifically for climbing.

There are hundreds of routes, many multi-pitched, and pure free climbing walls. Although it would not be the first choice of the elite climber, who may rather opt for Ceuse or Siurana in Spain, it is popular with climbers from all over the world who want to experience the perfect vertical limestone.

The routes are all moderate on exposed faces which are mostly protected with bolts along with belay and rappel stations, fixed so that all you will need for your climb is the minimum of kit such as a rope, harness, and a rack of quickdraws. Most of the routes are vertical but slabby, and you will need good footwork and strong fingers to succeed. Towards the top, the limestone gets more packed and harder than the bottom section.

Between Castellane and Manosque, the river Verdon has carved out the deepest gorge in France

The outstanding feature of the Verdon is that it is full of near-perfect shaped pockets or “gouttes d’eau”. Most of the climbing is done on the south facing cliffs, these being more accessible from the Route des Crêtes road to Marseille and Nice on the Mediterranean coast, the closest airport is Nice.

Falaise de Céüse

View of the southeastern slope of the mountain of Céüse, from the commune of La Freissinouse (hamlet of the Pons)

The Falaise de Céüse in the Haute-Alpes region in South East France is a two mile long limestone cliff on the south part of Montagne de Céüse. Here you will find rock climbing of the purest variety. After an hour hike, one reaches the 200 to 500 foot high limestone cliff with many routes and grades to climb and wonderful views

Said to be one of the most beautiful climbing areas in France

The 140 million year old limestone makes for perfect climbing terrain on a cliff streaked with gray, blue and gold hues and its finger friendly pockets take climbers up to overhanging walls and vertical faces.

Céüse offers many routes in the 5.10 and 5.11 categories. This is climbing for sport. Each route is protected with beefy bolts and double bolt lowering anchors. This area is known for bold runouts between the bolts, particularly on the older routes which were established by the late French expert climber Patrick Edlinger.

Cliffs of Céüse, Biographie and Berlin Wall sectors

Les Calanques

Calanque de Morgiou, Calanques National Park

Stretching along the Mediterranean coast of Southern France between Marseille and Cassis is Les Calanques, a series of mountainous limestone cliff that form a series of craggy valleys which offer hundreds of climbing routes. This rugged terrain is perhaps the best and the largest climbing area in France. Calanques is the French name for a rocky inlet.

Calanques Cool

There are 25 separate places to begin your climb. The rock is rough, with diverse features like cracks, slabs, dihedrals, arêtes, and pinnacles. The bolted climbing happens on clean, open cliff faces. The extreme routes offer hanging walls and caves, but on the moderate routes, short faces and long multi-pitch routes also appeal.

There is a fantastic mix of geography, mountains, sea, and views that go on forever with enticing Mediterranean scents filling the air. Enjoy nature at its finest. Les Calanques is in southern France, on the coast due east of Marseille airport.


Baume des Peyrards in Buoux Photo Credit

Pronounced “boowks”, Buoux has a mile long cliff called Falaise de l’Aiguebrun. It is a majestic cliff in a narrow canyon in the Montagne de Luberon, a long mountain range in the Provence region of France. Hard sport climbing was first developed in this area in the 1980s. This is when it was dubbed “the Laboratory” and the world’s best climbers came here to challenge themselves. It is one of Europe’s best climbing areas.

Secret staircase carved in the rock of Fort de Buoux Photo Credit

The tall gray cliffs, sometimes as high as 600 feet, are full of hundreds of five-star routes at 5.10 and 5.11 grades. It has many very interesting climbs, with pockets from small and shallow one finger dishes to the full hand mailbox jugs and Huecos. Buoux is the home of the Buoux handhold. The nearby village of Buoux is its namesake and is 4 miles south of Apt, the old Roman town east of Avignon.

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