Mountain law (Loi Montagne)

Mountain Law (Loi Montagne) is, along with Coastal Law, one of the major turning points in France in the design of territorial planning. It can be seen as a reversal of positions and attitudes in a global context marked by the institutionalisation of sustainable development with the Brundtland Report in 1987. Even if the scope of this law is criticised and limited, it is a perfect example of a changing era.

A new paradigm after decades of environmental concerns

The Mountain Law was the culmination of a long-standing sensitivity, the first tangible element of which dates back to the enactment of the Pastoral Law (loi pastorale) in 1972, which was completed by the Vallouise speech delivered by then French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing in 1977 (Ill. 1). It was from this moment that a certain number of guidelines would emerge and produce a new paradigm for mountain development and protection: the fight against desertification; the fight against what was then considered to be excessive development of tourism and especially skiing; support for multi-activity usage and protection of natural heritage (Ill. 1).

Ill. 1. Chronology of protective legislation for mountain areas (production: Philippe Duhamel, based on Violier et al, 2021, p. 151)

Features and challenges

Passed on 9 January 1985, i.e. one year before the Coastal Law, the Mountain Law was considered to be a mosaic with 30 action plans of equal importance. However, 25% of the articles concerned agriculture and another quarter tourism, which clearly underlines the challenges of this law between development and protection of traditional activities and thus of the landscape.

From a tourism perspective, it was a matter of giving control back to the municipalities in terms of tourist activities such as municipalising ski lifts and limiting contracts signed with developers to thirty years. The procedure for creating or extending new tourist units (unités touristiques nouvelles, UTN) was decentralised and issued by the prefect, at the request of the municipalities. This would affect one fifth of the territory, or more than 6,000 municipalities.

Furthermore, this law set up new governance by creating a new authority called massif, the objective of which was to promote the inter-knowledge of stakeholders, who until then had had no contact or dialogue. This would enable elected representatives and socio-professional partners who previously kept their thinking and contribution within administrative limits to meet, exchange and even co-construct projects. Initially there were eight, but now there are seven: Alps, Corsica, Jura, Massif Central, Pyrenees, Vosges, Reunion. The system was completed by the creation of the French National mountain council (Conseil national de la montagne), which remains a consultative body, and the Massif committee (Comité de massifs), a forum for consultation and guidance for each massif. Since 2005, each has been drawing up the interregional planning and development plan.

Adapting to a changing world

Finally, the Interregional massif agreement (convention interrégionale de massif) committed the State and the regions concerned to a programme of priority actions in line with the interregional plan. The law was updated in 2016 by the ‘law for the modernisation, development and protection of mountain territories’, known as Mountain Law II (Loi Montagne II).

It ratified the specificity of mountain territories and tackles new issues such as digital technology, seasonal work and the restoration of tourism real estate.

Philippe Duhamel


  • Violier Philippe, Duhamel Philippe, Gay Jean-Christophe, Mondou Véronique, 2021, Le tourisme en France 1. Approche globale. Londres, ISTE Editions, coll. «Série Tourisme et systèmes de mobilité n°5», 273p.