Summer is (finally) here! The blossoming fields and ubiquitous talk of vacances d’éte tell as much.
France is famous for its elegant cities and manicured parks, but the country is also filled with natural beauties and diverse landscapes waiting to be discovered. The warmth and sun of summer 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 cave 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 all over the county 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 mountainous 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 countryside 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, unindustrialized, 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)
During Summer, festival season is in full swing and unusual outdoor events take place all over France.
Nîmes is a French commune (municipality) in the Occitanie region of Southern France. This year, from June 17th to July 24th the Arena of Nîmes will hold its annual “Festival de Nîmes—” an outdoor concert series featuring an array of artists from Angèle and MIKA to Stromae and Julien Doré.
Vieux Nice (known in English as Old Town) is a neighborhood in Nice that sits along the French Rivera—the southeastern coast of France on the Mediterranean Sea. From mid-May to early September you can stroll through the illuminated streets of Cours Saleya in the heart of Vieux Nice for nightly artisanal and crafts markets from 6 PM to midnight. Cours Saleya not only offers a great cooling outdoor activity, but the area is also home to a number of outdoor restaurants, many serving fresh seafood and other dishes with a Mediterranean flare. (Map)
In Paris from July 15th to August 21st, La Villette—the third largest park in France—hosts free Open Air Cinema. Seating opens at 7 PM and the films typically begin around 9:30 PM. La Villette ensures that there is something for everyone, and hosts everything from special childrens’ programs known as “Little Cinéma d’éte” to screenings of classic Quentin Tarantino films and plays and ballets by the Paris Opera.
Swimming is a great way to cool down during the warm French summers!
Back in the Occitanie region of southern France, head to Nîmes for the shallow and refreshing waters of the Gardon River by Pont du Gard. Pont du Gard is an ancient Roman aqueduct that stands as both the world’s tallest and best preserved Roman aqueduct bridge. (Map)
The Languedoc region is also home to many great spots for outdoor swimming. In the Languedoc National Park, you can find the beautiful swimming holes of Les Gorges d’Héric. The clear and fresh water is surrounded by picturesque boulders and perfect diving spots. (Map)
Charlinda Banks is a rising Junior at Brown University studying International and Public Affairs & Literary Arts. She is currently an intern at Frenchly, and she is passionate about all things francophone and creative writing.