The 10 most beautiful natural sites less than an hour away

The Pilat

1. The Pilat Regional Natural Park

Visiting the Loire is a great opportunity to satisfy your hiking soul. The most important site in the department for this is the Pilat Regional Nature Park. Pilat is a park in the South-East of the Loire, but more particularly a mountainous massif on the foothills of the Massif Central, which culminates at 1 431 meters of altitude, with superb landscapes and panoramas!
Located a few kilometers from the city center of Saint-Etienne, the Pilat regional nature park offers a thousand and one trails (1500 km in all) winding through beautiful landscapes and gives you access to magnificent viewpoints, such as the Gouffre d'Enfer dam, the Col de la Croix de Chaubouret or the Pas du Riot. On a clear day, from the heights of Pilat, you can admire the Mont Blanc.
The Topo-Guides of the Loire will help you to identify the hike that suits you, according to the distance, the difference in altitude and the location.
To choose a good hike, the two main sites are: and https://www.rand

2. The chasm of hell and the Riot Step

A nice romantic and bucolic walk of 8 km, which links two dams of the Furan built under Napoleon III. From the parking lot in the Gouffre d'Enfer valley, a path follows the bed of the old torrent to the foot of the dam. The site is impressive: the rocky walls, vigorously cut, close up to form a narrow and dark gully. The dam of the Gouffre de l'enfer was built to feed St-Étienne. Stairs allow access to the crest. The reservoir develops at the foot of the fir-covered slopes. At 50 m on the left, stairs give access to a viewpoint facing Rochetaillée. Then follow the signs to the Pas de Riot dam. You will be able to admire giant Sequoias classified as remarkable trees during this walk which forms a loop.

3. Le Saut-du-Gier

The Saut-du-Gier is one of the wonders of Pilat offering one of the most beautiful walks of the Massif. This walk is also one of the most demanding of all Pilat. The Saut du Gier is located a few hundred meters from the Jasserie inn. It is very close to there that the Gier takes its source. To reach the Saut du Gier waterfall from the Moulin du Bost in La Valla en Gier you will have to climb steep slopes through the forest, cross the Chirat du Saut du Gier, sometimes using your hands to pull yourself up from one rock to another. Once there, you will be able to admire the Gier river which abruptly falls into a steep gorge to break into a spectacular waterfall cut into an impressive 20 meter high cliff of light pink-gray gneiss.
In the hamlet of La Scie du Bost, do not follow the Grand Creux stream, but take between two houses the Park path n° 4, marked in white and brown, follow it for 300m until the first crossroads towards a magnificent beech tree, there take on the right the path going up to the Saut du Gier waterfall marked. The return is done by the same route. Short hike (2,5 km) but with a little bit of difference in level. Bring a good pair of shoes.

The PiLes gorges de la Loire

4. The Condamines nature reserve: one of the most beautiful sites in France!

This reserve of the Gorges of the Loire is of a crazy richness and is free of access throughout the year. It was created in 1988 and is part of the Natura 2000 network. It extends over the communes of Saint-Victor-sur-Loire and Unieux. The Regional Nature Reserve of the Gorges de la Loire is essentially made up of the steep slopes of the water level of the Grangent dam. It is a wild and precious heritage, appreciated by walkers and nature observers. Hiking trails have been set up to discover this privileged area. You can discover, in addition to a breathtaking view on the Loire, the castle of Essalois, the castle of Saint Victor as well as the castle of Grangent (which floats like a ship on the lake of Grangent), all three coming out of the Middle Ages as in a dream. One of the most famous walks is the Plateau de la Danse which allows to reach a rocky peak in order to admire a sublime view on the gorges of the Loire.
This nature reserve is rich in natural diversity: deciduous forest, mixed forests, grasslands, meadows, moors, rocky areas. It is also renowned for its ornithological wealth (black woodpecker, eagle owl, red kite, white-tailed eagle, etc.), its rare plants or mammals (such as bats, the small wild blue butterfly or the stag beetle).

5. The castle of La Roche

The castle of La Roche is located on a rocky peak since the 13th century. Known above all for the beautiful exterior photos that can be taken of it, with its reflections on the lake of Villerest (artificial lake due to a dam on the Loire), it can also be interesting to visit it during a theatrical visit. This visit allows a different discovery of this site. We go back in time and we leave in the years 1900.

Practical information: From April to June, from Wednesday to Sunday, from 2pm to 6pm; July and August, every day from 10:30am to 12:30pm and from 2pm to 7pm; September, from Wednesday to Sunday, from 2pm to 6pm; October, Saturday and Sunday, from 2pm to 6pm. Full price : 6,50€.

6. Donkey's Pet

In Dancé, there is a very well known walking area: the Pêt d'Âne. The Loire is a wild and winding river. Here is its biggest meander with a very particular shape. This incredible meander of the Loire is a real jewel to discover in the Roannais. The view is splendid and is a very famous place for photographers and Instagrammers. From the parking lot there are several paths, all marked, to cross the surrounding woods and enjoy the shade and the view!

7. Cruise from Saint Victor sur Loire

If you don't have the soul of a sportsman, if you are with your family, or if you simply want to take it easy, there is nothing like a cruise on the lake of Grangent to discover one of the most beautiful sites of France: the gorges of the Loire!
At the leisure base of Saint Victor you will be welcomed by the crew members on board the electric boat Grangent. They will be your guides during commented cruises. Along the water, in the meanders of the Loire, you will discover the reasons for the choice of this part of the river for the construction of a water retention dam. You will admire the lake of Grangent under its various environmental aspects: granite rocks, moors and forests as well as the medieval constructions erected from the 11th century on the crests of the Gorges of the Loire. Ticket sales at the ticket office on the port of St Victor sur Loire (between the 2 snack bars) Every day from Tuesday to Sunday, departures at 3:00 p.m. and 4:15 p.m. (closed on Mondays) Boarding 1/4 hour before each departure. Online booking recommended (exchangeable 24 hours before departure, non-refundable).
Fare for a family of 2 adults and 2 children: 33,50 €
Boarding address : Pontoon L1217 rue du port 42230 St Victor sur Loire

The Forez Mountains

8. Les Hautes Chaumes

Located in the Livradois-Forez Regional Natural Park and in the Forez Art and History Country, the Hautes Chaumes cover the highest ridges of the Forez mountains. It is a huge natural space (40 km long and 20 wide), classified Natura 2000, located between 1 300 and 1 643 m of altitude, its highest point being the summit of Pierre-sur-Haute. Unrolling a long carpet of moors and pastures with changing colors over the seasons, the Hautes Chaumes offer hikers an exceptional panorama open, to the west, on the chain of Auvergne volcanoes, and, to the east, on the Alps: a 360° viewpoint. For centuries, men have proudly exploited this mountain with its harsh climate, known for its two products of excellence: the Ambert and Montbrison ants, A.O.P. cheeses. The Hautes Chaumes offer an atypical face still shaped by agro pastoralism. This wild territory, favourable to hiking and discovery, shelters a rich fauna and flora. Its particularity is to be very little populated in trees, this for two reasons. The first one is human, with important cuttings made in the Middle Ages. The second is natural, because difficult climatic conditions prevent trees from growing. The Hauts-de-Chaumes resembles the landscapes of the Aubrac plateau, the Scottish Highlands or Mongolia. You will have a strange feeling of traveling, without leaving our beautiful department of the Loire. While walking around you will discover sumptuous viewpoints on the Pilat massifs, the Auvergne and the Alps. The place is so immense that you will have the impression to be alone in the world, far from the civilization.

For a hike within everyone's reach :

9. The ruins of the castle of Couzan

Dominating from the top of its promontory the Forez plain, the castle of Couzan, built in the 11th century, is a remarkable testimony of the medieval military architecture. Formerly the most important fortress of Forez, only vestiges remain, but it makes a fantastic walk. Located in the commune of Sail-sous-Couzan, this fortress has preserved from its past its keep and its fortified enclosures that can be visited during a guided tour. One does not come to the castle of Couzan to visit a historical monument, but to take advantage of an exceptional site where nature has regained its rights and where one has an incredible view that will take your breath away.
For a guided tour (it is not necessary to visit the site but highly recommended) the reservation is made at the Loire Forez Tourist Office.
Phone : 04 77 96 08 69

10. The medieval site of Donzy

The Medieval Site of Donzy is located 1.9 km from the center of Salt en Donzy, on the edge of a small river, the Charpassonne, and on the passage of the Monorail, a single-rail railway line built at the end of the 19th century between Feurs and Panissières, which was never opened to the public but which today offers a very beautiful hiking trail
The ruins of the castle of Donzy itself rise on a hillock dominating the Forez plain. Built on a square plan flanked by three large towers, it was the property of the Counts of Forez from the 12th century, then of the Bourbons who took it over in the 15th century. It was demolished in 1603 at the request of the inhabitants under the pretext that it was used as a refuge and shelter for many brigands.
Before, from the 13th to the 15th century, Donzy was an important and brilliant city.
Because of its historical importance, the site has been the object of particular attention for about twenty years on the part of the Municipality and the Association for the Safeguarding of the Heritage of Salt en Donzy. With the strong involvement of volunteers and the advice of archaeologists, significant work is carried out every year for its conservation and rehabilitation, such as the consolidation of the walls of the old castle, the ramparts and the chapel.
The site is also the object of projects concerning its botanical aspect. A medieval garden is being reconstructed since 2014, offering a pathway with commented plantings allowing visitors to recognize the typical plants of the Middle Ages that are still found on the estate.
Today it is a place full of charm where one will enjoy finding the traces of a past life in ruins which vegetation almost triumphed. A site that is visited every year by several thousand walkers, mountain bikers and horse riders, and whose many visitors who stop in the summer on the banks of the Charpassonne at the foot of the ramparts also appreciate the coolness of the white water and the shade of the undergrowth.
It is a shady walk that will make you dream!