Spring is (finally) here! The arrival of the cherry blossoms, slightly lower frequency of French mal à l’aise, and absence of winter coats tells us such.
France is famous for its elegant cities and manicured parks, but the country is filled with natural beauty and diverse landscapes waiting to be discovered. The warmth and sun of spring (without the blistering heat of summer), especially in the south, makes this the perfect time to venture outdoors. From hiking the Atlantic coast to biking through the vineyards of Burgundy, here are some ideas for getting outside and making the most of your wanderlust.
Just south of Lyon, the meandering gorges of the Ardèche river are popular for swimming, camping, and canoeing. The Pont d’Arc, named after the natural rock arch, serves as the starting point for the gorges. You can rent canoes and kayaks (in singles or doubles) and life jackets from Alpha Bateaux. (Map)
The Dordogne in southwest France is another popular river for kayaking, canoeing, and swimming, with many undeveloped stretches. The river runs west from the Massif Central to the Atlantic, and passes through traditional villages, châteaux, and by the famous paintings at Lascaux. Take a picnic and enjoy the shore! (Map)
Hiking and Walking
Every region of France offers a different landscape, so there are plenty of hikes ranging from easy to advanced.
The Pyrenées Mountains are filled with hiking and walking trails, from coastal paths to routes through forests and mountain passes. The Cirque de Gavarnie has various 2-5 hour walks through waterfalls, giant rock faces, and rustic châlets. (Map)
Mont Blanc, the highest peak in Europe, may be the world’s most impressive natural sight. A system of 170 km of trails covers the mountain, and trailside huts (refuges) allow hikers to stop, rest, and eat. (Map)
The GR20 trail in Corsica is famous for being one of Europe’s toughest long-distance hikes, but the Mediterranean island offers beautiful shorter walks as well. The island presents a mix of coastal towns, dense forests, and mountain peaks. Though a part of France since 1768, Corsica retains an Italian flair. (Map)
The mountains behind the coastal strip of the French Riviera are peppered with hiking trails. One of the most picturesque is the Nietzsche Path which runs just east of Nice from the medieval village of Eze to Eze-sur-Mer on the seaside. On a clear day, you can see the coasts of Italy and Corsica. (Map)
Biking is a great way to explore the hilly countrysides and famous wine regions of France at your own pace.
The Burgundy wine region offers spectacular biking. It is scenic and hilly without being mountainous, and the wine towns tend to be small, un-industrial, and cultured. Beaune is good base for exploring the region by bike. The routes around it pass through wooded valleys, farm villages, and medieval castles. (Map)
The Petit Luberon route is located in the westernmost part of the Luberon massif of Provence. Passing over the craggy hills, of the Luberon, the route takes bikers to perched villages such as Bonnieux and Goult, a 2,000 year-old Roman bridge, and the region’s famous lavender fields (flowering between mid-June and early August). (Map)
The Route du Sel is an ancient salt road on the Ile-de-Ré, a small island between Bretagne and Bordeaux. It is a flat route allowing bikers to experience villages seemingly untouched by time such as Ars-en-Ré, Saint-Clément des Baleines, and La Couarde-sur-Mer. (Map)
Normandy is France’s leading horse-breeding region, accounting for 40% of French racehorses. Equestrian centers in the region offer horseback riding day trips in the Eure forest, the bay of Mont-Saint-Michel, and the beaches of Cotentin. (Map)
In southern France, riders can spend days on inn-to-inn treks through Provence and the Luberon Mountain Range. The landscape is dotted with medieval villages, lavender fields, olive groves, and vineyards. (Map)
Spring is when festival season begins, with unusual events taking place all over France.
Held in May from the Wednesday before Pentecost to Pentecost Monday, the Féria de Nîmes celebrates the Spanish-style bullfights historically held in the Nîmes amphitheatre. Today the city’s festival consists of bullfights, bull runs, parades, dancing, and fireworks, and attracts over a million visitors each year. This year it will be held from the May 31-June 5. (Map)
Located in the Basque Region of France, the Bayonne Chocolate Festival (Journées du Chocolat) is held yearly during Ascension week and celebrates the town’s history of artisan chocolate-making. There is traditional basque music, chocolate tastings, chocolate art displays, and workshops to make your own chocolate. This year’s festival is May 26-28. (Map)
Corsica celebrates its own food traditions every spring with A Fiera di u Casgiu, a celebration of the island’s cheese-making traditions. It is held in the village of Vénaco and celebrate’s Corsica’s rural traditions, farmers, and artisans. This year it is held April 29-30. (Map)
Along France’s windy Atlantic coast, an annual Kite Festival (festival du cerf-volant) is held on the beach of Chatelaillon-Plage (this year from April 15-17). There are hot air balloon flights, kite-making, and kite-surfing. A similar kite festival is held at Berck-Sur-Mer with colorful kite displays attracting half a million people every year. (Map)