What to do in France

Above: Hiking the Auvergne © Photo courtesy of Maison de la France (French Tourism Office)

 
Hiking the Auvergne

Top things to do in France


Discover the best of France on foot, by bicycle, on water or by car.

Hiking


Choose from a network of around 60,000km of well-marked trails – known as GRs (Sentiers de Grande Randonnée) for long distance trails and PRs (Sentiers de Promenade et de Randonnée) for shorter routes.

Explore France from the coast of Normandy through the Loire Valley to the towering Pyrenees in the south. Try the Chemin de St-Jacques (GR65) that follows the ancient pilgrim route from Le Puy in the Auvergne across the border to the shrine of Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

Or hike the GR3, tracing the Loire River from source to sea. GR and PR routes are available from bookshops and most tourist offices throughout France.

Top hiking locations include:

The Auvergne

– Located in the heart of France, the Auvergne region of the Massif Central offers wild and rugged terrain. Hike up through wooden valleys through upland grasslands to the jagged Puy de Sancy, at 1885m the highest peak of the Auvergne region and the source of the Dordogne River.

The Alps

– Hike among glaciers, high Alpine meadows rich in flora and fauna, and soaring peaks – many topping 3000m, including the highest, Mont Blanc, at 4807m. Try the Chamonix valley for impressive views of Mont Blanc, the Parc National de la Vanoise to see wild ibex goats or choose from around 2850km of sign-posted trails for easy walks in the Parc Naturel Régional du Vercors. Trails lead through beech and pine forests to rugged limestone cliffs and deep gorges.

The Pyrenees

– Discover some of France’s finest walking trails amid peaks that top 3000m. Try all or a portion of the classic 800km-long GR10 route, which crosses the complete mountain range from west to east. Or try one of the shorter walks through the Ariège region, which features steep, lush-green valleys and plentiful wildlife, including vultures and marmots.

Provence

– Hike through the dramatic and vast Gorges du Verdon, Europe's largest gorge, or across lavender fields and gentle hills of the Luberon or the unspoiled Alpine wilderness of the Parc National du Mercantour. Look out for chamois and golden eagles.

Cycling


From the nation that hosts the legendary Tour de France, it’s not surprising to find around 50,000km of marked cycle paths (pistes cyclables) as well as mountain bike trails.

Explore the Loire Valley on La Loire à Vélo, a 320km network of cycle trails; the rich vineyards of Burgundy; the Landes Forest in Aquitaine; or the scenic Parc Natural regional du Luberon. Take your own bike or hire or buy one in France.

Kayaking


Several river gorges in south-west France, including the Dordogne, Ardèche, Vézère and Tarn, offer exciting kayak and rafting adventures through dramatic scenery.

Canal boating


Choose from more than 8500km of canals and rivers to explore some of the prettiest countryside in France. Glide through Brittany along a network of canals and waterways, along the Canal du Midi, a 500km route linking Bordeaux on the Atlantic coast to the Mediterranean. Cruise the River Marne to the Rhine through the Champagne region or try the Canal de Bourgogne through Burgundy. Houseboats and river barges are easily rented.

Horse riding


Saddle up at an equestrian centre (centre équestre), found in most French towns, and explore the French countryside. Join the French ‘cowboys’ in the windswept Camargue at the Rhône Delta or trek alpine trails in the Pyrenees and Rhone-Alps.

Fishing


Both the Mediterranean or the waters off the Atlantic coast offer the opportunity to hook grey mullet, bass, mackerel and bream. Inland, Brittany is renowned for carp, salmon and trout; Normandy for salmon and trout; the western Pyrenees for salmon; and the rivers Lot, Tarn and Garonne, in the south-west, for bass. Permits for river fishing can be obtained from local authorities.

Wine tours


Tailormade tours to France’s 10 principal wine regions are widely available. Highlights on the wine calendar include the annual Beaujolais Nouveau (released on the third Thursday of November), the Vendanges (grape harvest) festivals in Burgundy during autumn and champagne tasting in Champagne.

Skiing


The French Alps are famous worldwide for skiing, with more than 480km of ski pistes and some of the world’s best-known resorts. The season generally runs from early December to the end of April, with peak season during February and March. For modern resorts with the latest high-tech ski lifts, try Tignes, Les Deux-Alpes or Val Thorens. But if you prefer old-world charm, then visit resorts such as Megève and Courchevel.

Driving


Discover some of the best of France on a driving adventure along byways that lead to hidden valleys and mountain villages. Highlights include:

La Route des Crêtes

(Alsace-Lorraine) – Drive through rich forests into the Vosges, one of the oldest mountain ranges in France. Try delicious cheese at Munster and enjoy panoramic vistas of the Jura and the Black Forest from the Col de la Schlucht. Along the way, take a break and hike along well-marked paths.

La Côte d'Or

(Burgundy) – Discover some of the best vineyards in Burgundy along this 60km drive from Santenay to Dijon, passing through the towns of Puligny-Montrachet, Volnay, Beaune, Nuits-St-Georges, Vosne-Romanée, Gevrey-Chambertin and Marsannay-la-Côte.

Gorge of the Ardèche

(The Rhône Valley) – Take the scenic route (D290) through the dramatic canyons of the Ardèche, with well-marked path to several panoramic lookouts overlooking the 285m-deep canyon.

La Route des Grandes Alpes

(The French Alps) – Explore the best of the French Alps on a panoramic drive from the lakefront town of Evian to coastal Nice. This 740km drive takes you through the resort towns of Morzine, Chamonix and Megève and across many of France's most dramatic mountain passes, many of which are only passable in the middle of summer.

Regions of France to explore

Burgundy
Brittany
Pyrenees
Champagne-Ardenne
Ile de France, Paris
Languedoc-Roussillon
Rhone-Alps
Loire Valley
Provence
Normandy
Dordogne
Côte d'Azur
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