The countryside in France offers so much for those who enjoy outdoor pursuits. And we believe that the best French adventures are as good as anywhere on the planet. It is the sheer variety that keeps holiday makers returning time and again, but this also makes it difficult to narrow down your plans. To give you a taste of the options we’ve pulled together the top 15 activity holidays in France.
Home to the Alps and the Pyrenees, Mediterranean and Atlantic coastlines, great summer weather and plenty of winter snow France is a country of contrasts. There are rivers, forests and gorges to enjoy plus pure Alpine playgrounds that are accessible in both summer and winter.
France has a special mix of tranquil beauty spots and testing adventure sports that challenge the best of us. Add some of the best food on the planet, Gaelic flair, a spot of culture and far more wild space than much of Europe and you have a country that is perfect for those seeking adventure.
From the Ardeche gorge – known as the ‘Grand Canyon of Europe’ – to Chamonix the gateway for Mont Blanc, to Corsica a mountainous island in the Mediterranean, France is fully geared up for active holidays. National Parks are well maintained, tourism facilities are top notch and France caters to all budgets from low cost camping to five star luxury.
Here are what we consider to be the best French adventures. They are in no particular order, and we expect your top 15 will differ to ours – please let us know your perfect trip in the comments at the bottom. We hope this article inspires you to plan activity holidays in France.
A strange one to start with, however camping is something that can be done all over France and combined with most of the activities below. Blessed with large and beautiful national parks, relaxed rules on wild camping (out of sight of paths and leave in the morning) and great weather, France is made for camping. It also has some of the best camp sites known to man.
There is everything from small managed wilderness sites where your pitch will be far away from others, to large holiday camps where your tent is already set up. When camping in France you can have pools, children’s entertainment, nightly shows, bars, restaurants and more. Alternatively you can find a quiet spot in the middle of nowhere – just remember to leave no trace.
Home to the highest peak in western Europe, Chamonix draws mountaineers like moths to a flame. But it is not just the Mont Blanc summit that is within reach. There are a plenty of smaller peaks to climb that require crampon and crevasse work on glaciers to help you hone your skills.
Reaching the peak at 4,810 metres is no walk in the park and as activity holidays in France go they don’t get any higher. But it is possible for first time mountaineers to summit Mont Blanc. Although it will take a week holiday to give time to learn the relevant skills and allow three days for a guided summit attempt.
Known for steep and challenging off-piste Chamonix is a big draw for ski mountaineering in the winter. Ski tourers and splitboarders climb peaks, access couloirs, ride untouched faces and explore glaciated valleys for some of the most extreme freeride skiing and snowboarding on the planet.
Corsica is the birthplace of Napoleon and home to the sublime GR20 mountain trek. It is a 180 kilometre trail across the spine of Corsican mountains taking 15 days with 12,000 metres of ascent. The scenery is beautiful with incredible mountain views all the way to the coastline.
It is physically difficult so you need to be in very good fitness. At points it is also technically challenging, while ropes are not required it is not easy going and it is well worth joining a guided trip. You’ll need some technical ability and strength to negotiate the lofty pinnacles and some treacherous sections on one of the best French adventures.
Hiking in the Ardeche region is far easier but still very rewarding. Trails will take you over volcanic hills to crater lakes, and past buildings made of slate-like stones. Refuel with a picnic stop in the pine forests of Vilefort at the stunning viewpoints of this enchanting area.
The Ardeche is easy to do a self-guided hike, but there are plenty of guided walking tours available. Most Ardeche hiking holidays last a week and are best during May, June and September as the weather is good but it is cooler than the peak summer months.
If you prefer to travel on two wheels then France is the perfect destination for cycling enthusiasts. Home to the Tour de France and with hundreds of open trails and routes to choose from you can follow the passes of the pros or take on something much easier.
Cycle through vineyards, do wine tasting in the Loire Valley or Bordeaux region. Follow easy cycle paths along rivers to the coast of the Med or take on the Alps or the Pyrenees. The level of choice is what makes France cycling holidays so popular.
Home to Europe’s largest bike park, Portes Du Soleil combines trails in Morzine, Les Gets, Chatel and Avoriaz in France plus Champéry-Morgins in Switzerland. Les Gets was one of the first ski resorts in Europe to welcome summer mountain bikers so comes with plenty of pedigree.
There’s everything from pro lines to beginner routes. You can enjoy seriously challenging competition trails, natural single track, flow tracks, north shore and jump lines that range from manageable, to scary, to down right ridiculous. With more than 600 kilometres of marked trails including 75 lift accessed downhill routes it is a vast MTB playground.
If you are an intermediate rider have a read of this review of Avoriaz mountain biking holiday. Any of the Portes du Soleil towns are good to stay in, but Morzine has the best summer vibe. Without a doubt mountain biking here is one of the activity holidays in France.
Two of the best climbing holiday destinations in the world are located close to each other in France. Orpierre has become a popular climbing village, with more than 650 routes from 3 to 8c offering climbs of up to 200m in height. Most routes are graded 5 to 6 and around 30 new pitches are developed each year.
Ceuse is around an hour away with more than 350 routes ranging from 5a to 9a+. Located at 1600m, compared to Orpierre’s 700m, it is cooler here which is great in the summer. And for many Ceuse is the best sports crag in France. Check out this Ceuse and Orpierre rock climbing weekend to help you plan one of the best French adventures.
Fancy climbing down streams and jumping from waterfalls? Canyoning involves negotiating your way down a canyon using scrambling, rope work, sliding and jumping. It is great fun and can be made as extreme as you like with the added bonus of being surrounded by stunning scenery most people never see.
The French Alps is perfect place for canyoning. You can make a full week of it visiting the Barberine Canyon in Chamonix, The Belle aux Bois in Megeve, Nyon Canyon in Morzine plus many other spots all relatively close together. For safety you will need to go with an instructor, so check out these canyoning companies in France.
Located around 90km south of Paris, Fontainebleau is a bouldering Mecca. It is home to huge rock formations with everything from small boulders for kids to big slabs, mantels and overhangs for experienced climbers. There is plenty for everyone and it is regarded by many as the best bouldering destination in Europe.
Cuvier, Cuisiniere, Isatis, l’Elephante and the Trois Pignons are just some of the areas to play. Routes are marked and colour coded by difficulty making it a great place for building your skills and strength. There are so many bouldering options you could climb here for years without taking on the same problem twice (once you’ve cracked it of course!).
Hossegor and Biarritz are neighbouring seaside towns not far from Bordeaux where you’ll find great surf and fun nightlife. You can lounge around in the sun, drinking and partying or spend every moment catching the warm consistent waves. Widely regarded as one of the best surfing destinations in Europe it is well worth a visit.
After a day surfing head to a bar to enjoy the nightly drink fuelled madness. In October the French leg of the World Surf League passes through Hossegor for a week of hedonism. This is just one of many great surf spots in France making surfing one of the best French adventures.
Known for some of the best summer windsurfing in Europe Leucate is found just north of Perpignan on the warm Mediterranean coast. Located near the Spanish border you’ll find excellent conditions with reliable winds caused by the nearby Pyrenees.
The Tramontane winds often reach 40 knots in the summer – so even pro windsurfers will find a challenge. There is both coastal windsurfing to enjoy and large sheltered lagoons with waist deep water. The Défi Wind Race and the Mondial du Vent Festival attract thousands of windsurfers every year.
The French Atlantic coast is dotted with excellent kiting spots. But perhaps the top one is Lacanau just west of Bordeaux. There is an excellent beach break that makes this one of the best kite spots in Europe so an easy choice as one of the best French adventures.
It is suitable for everyone from beginners to experts with a wide range of conditions from the beach making it one of the most accessible activity holidays in France. While the warmer air and water in the summer means you could get away without a wetsuit, it is still chilly in the breeze so well worth bringing one.
The winding waterways of the Ardeche gorge are very popular for kayaking holidays. This grade 2 river has stunning limestone cliffs and steep canyon walls. It is a must for anyone from a novice day tripper to an experienced kayaker looking for a long paddling trip.
Try a weekend Ardeche kayaking holiday through one of the most famous stretches and extend your adventure by staying in a Bivouac overnight. After battling the rapids a huge highlight is passing through the famous Pont D’Arc. The best times to visit are from spring to early autumn – access in the winter can be difficult.
Try your hand at sailing along the rugged coast of Brittany. Just be prepared for large currents and tides creating challenging conditions. Alternatively shelter from the Atlantic Ocean, on the inland waterway of Rade de Brest, sampling the French restaurants along the way.
The Aulne River is a attractive cruising ground through beautiful countryside to the picturesque port of Launay. There are so many ports to choose from you’ll need a very long holiday to see them all! This is one of the best French adventures if you are looking for a bit of relaxation.
Fancy a multi activity summer trip to the mountains? Then the Pyrenees is perfect with great weather and plenty to do. On a five day trip I tried canyoning, electric mountain biking, ziplining, paragliding, Via Ferrata, hiking and rafting. And there is so much more to choose from.
The Pyrenees are quite different to the Alps, feeling both more French and more rustic. Although not as high, the peaks are just as dramatic, so you can enjoy a Pyrenees multi activity holiday in the splendour of mountainous surroundings. This is one of the best activity holidays in France if you want plenty of variety.
France isn’t just great in the summer season. With more than 300 ski resorts the snowy mountains attract skiers and snowboarders from all over the world. The Tarentaise Valley is home to three of the world’s biggest ski resorts with Three Valleys (Les Menuires, Meribel, Val Thorens, Courcheval etc) the largest lift linked ski area on the planet.
The Tarentaise also includes Espace Kily which is home to Val d’Isere and Tignes and Paradiski which hosts Les Arcs and La Plagne. When you add the smaller but still excellent resorts such as St Foy and La Rosierre you have one of the greatest concentrations of ski runs on the planet. The off-piste is not bad either!
As a snowboarder I could choose any of the above ski areas plus many others in France to recommend. However, I have chosen Avoriaz mainly because they were among the first resorts in France to embrace us sideways shredders. It is home to multiple snow parks, including The Stash which has been described as the best ski run in the world.
Avoriaz is in the heart of the massive Portes du Soleil which also includes Morzine, Chatel, Les Gets and resorts in Switzerland. You can stay at any of them to freeride the Portes du Soleil, enjoy the perfectly prepared parks and speed around the 650 kilometres of pistes.
So there we have it 15 different adventures and this is only the tip of the iceberg. You could paraglide in the Alps, horse ride in Normandy, go rafting in the Pyrenees or scuba dive in both the Med and the Atlantic.
In addition, any activity holiday in France can blend French culture, food and history to make it extra special. Fortunately you don’t have to do all of France in one go. With so many regions waiting to be explored, and adventures to try, you’re likely to return every year.
We hope you found this guide to the best French adventures inspirational. If you want to book a trip then check out these France activity holidays.