Gathering individuals from all throughout France (and even some internationals like me,) UCPA is a camp for the “cool kids:” the adrenaline junkies and travel bugs. The Union des Centres Sportifs de Plein Air (UCPA) is a French non-profit that makes it easier for young people get out for outdoor sports holidays throughout the republic and abroad. UCPA flawlessly gets together a group of like-minded individuals aged anywhere from 7 to 39, takes care of the entire trip planning, and brings them on an active vacation. Their trips include everything from skiing in the Alps, hiking on Reunion Island, surfing in Portugal, to virtually anything a wanderluster can imagine.
The process is quite simple: you choose a trip from the proposed selection on UCPA’s website and pick your mode of transportation to get there. UCPA offers a full package including possible flights, train or bus transportation, and an option to arrive by one’s own means at the destination. From when you arrive on your holiday, UCPA takes care of lodging, food, activity ticketing, any necessary equipment, and even some entertainment. It is easily the best way to approach sports travel in France without the slightest resemblance of mass tourist travel or a freshman orientation.
We all find UCPA when we most need it — while looking for sportif travel without having the appropriate company or plans. As rewarding as solo travel can be, sometimes it’s quite nice to share an experience, especially a sport-related one, with kindred spirits.
My trip with UCPA started with a passion for skiing, knowing absolutely no one in Paris, and speaking minimal French. Straight away, I had condemned myself to a week of solitude packing my carry-on with books and portables thinking that I wouldn’t meet anyone. The books and the the laptop, however, remained untouched. Upon arrival at our ski village, my neighbor from the train immediately convinced the receptionist to room us together at our hotel at the Tignes ski village. We left for the slopes as two, and returned eight hours later in a group quadrupled, then doubled, in size. There were pharmacists, lily farmers, bankers, writers, and students. We were just some of the 250,000 people that travel with UCPA annually. Most of the people I met had already done trips with UCPA vouched that they would not travel any other way because it’s well organized, fun, and full of interesting individuals that often become friends. I have since travelled throughout France to meet the friends I made at UCPA. This is, of course, a common bonus for the program.
UCPA also has a mini benefit of being an unintentional language school (and honestly the best one I’ve ever attended). It is a French program for French people speaking, obviously, French. While everyone is encouraged to speak their own language, the predominant language is absolutely French and there is no way to avoid improving your own French skills as an international. When a ski instructor is yelling something in a language you do not understand at an elevation of 5,938 meters, you bet that you will learn that language.
A quick search for upcoming months shows tempting trips of spring skiing (especially taking into consideration current Moscow-temperatures in Paris), windsurfing, and even going as far as the Philippines and Nepal. A six-day trip in May for learning to windsurf on the southern coast of France includes all equipment, 23 hours of instruction, 6 nights of accommodation, food, and evening entertainment for $678.
Photo courtesy of Angelika Pokovba.