If you are an adventurous Girl about the Globe and searching for an activity holiday in Europe, the region of Rhône-Alpes, especially Ardeche with its rivers, forests and gorges has some of the best beauty spots and activities to get you as active as possible.
This stunning nature reserve known as the ‘Grand Canyon’ of Europe is so geared up for adventure that even the Tour de France cycle through here. Many of the activities take place in Ardeche National Park and the best time are spring and summer as access to this diverse region can be difficult for transport in the winter months.
What makes Ardeche so popular is its natural surroundings of river dug caves, caverns and canyons that are part of France’s protected natural heritage. Even driving through this region of nature is stunning as you cruise over the overhanging road of the nature reserve and it’s easily accessible from Lyon, Marseille or Montpellier airport. Although most of these activity holidays are in Ardeche, I have included other regions of France for different activities for the top 10 activity holidays in France.
Kayak enthusiasts come from all over the globe to sample the windy waterways of the Ardeche gorge. This 125km grade 2 river with limestone cliffs and steep canyon walls is a must for anyone from a novice to an experienced kayaker and is the perfect place for those who want to experience the thrill of kayaking. Try a weekend river trip through one of the most famous stretches or extend your stay by staying in a Bivouac overnight before battling the rest of the exhilarating rapids through the famous Pont D’Arc.
The Ardeche Gorge stretches along a 30km section and is the perfect place to paddle through the gushing waters. With areas for the novice to the more experienced, there are over two dozen rapids for that extra ‘va va voom.’
If you are new to kayaking, start with the upper section of the Chassezac River, which culminates at the Pont D’Arc, a natural arc that spans one of France’s most beautiful visitor sites. It only takes two hours and is perfect for the first timer.
Once you’ve mastered the gentle lapping of the river, it’s into the Ardeche descent for entrance into the gorge. This natural phenomena is only accessible by kayak or foot. There’s no pressure to complete this seven hour route in a whole day as campsites provide an overnight stay to rest those weary arms and recharge yourself for the following day.
There’s no need to fear capsizing either as rescue techniques and safety drills are all part of a kayaking programme. There’s even a Kayak Clinic for paddlers of all abilities who want to improve their skills. The best time to kayak here is in spring when the current is at its strongest for those exhilarating water thrills.
If you prefer to be on land, the Ardeche area is perfect for cycling enthusiasts with hundreds of open trails and routes to choose from. Vineyards in the east and mountains in the west offer a variety of cycling through quiet countryside. Ardeche has some of the best cross country riding in the whole of the country with long or short rides to suit your biking style in enticing surroundings. You can even cycle all the way to the Mediterranean coast or the French Alps if you’re feeling fit!
Walking and rambling in the wild mountain region will take you past volcanic hills to crater lakes, past buildings made of slate-like stones. Refuel with a picnic stop in the pine forests of Vilefort at stunning viewpoints of this enchanting area. You can opt to do the walks self-guided or a guided walk in the evening gives a new perspective on the forest surroundings of Ardeche. Walking holidays are generally for a week and are available during May, June and September when the weather is cooler.
4. Horse Riding
One of the best ways to explore the region is by horseback. There are over 1000kms of riding paths within the Ardeche region to discover. Gallop past olive groves, secret dales and valleys or through beautiful French estates in the spectacular countryside of Dordogne. If you’re not too confident on horseback, Equestrian centres can provide you with an experienced instructor to accompany you through your ride. Riding holidays typically last from three nights to a week.
Fancy climbing down streams and jumping from waterfalls? Canyoning combines river jumping and scrambling across canyons in stunning scenery. The best canyoning can be found at Chassezac River where the Ardeche lures into its fast flowing river for the mix of activities it combines in canyoning. For safety reasons, you will need an experienced instructor with you for this thrilling activity, especially if you're solo.
6. Zip Lining
Go ape on a day full of zip lines and rope challenges where you can fly through the trees like a flying fox. Overcome your fear of heights by swinging through the jungle like Tarzan in this outdoor activity course. With expert advice on hand, you even get to practice your rope skills before taking the challenge in the treetop assault course. Just remember to harness up beforehand.
There are plenty of places to climb in Ardeche with over 700 rock climbing routes. Climb the limestone cliffs of the Chassezac Gorge then abseil, spy-style down the unique crags into the caves below. Just two hours away is Buoux, offering some of the best climbing that Europe has to offer. If you want the freedom to go even higher, Ceuse has an altitude of 1600 metres and gives a stunning view over the Gapencais landscape.
Got a passion for angling? Try carp fishing in the Dordogne valley, one of France’s hottest destinations. This beautiful lake is within acres of secluded woodland and caters for all types of angling. However, if sitting by a lake isn’t challenging enough, try spearing or harpooning your fish at a Mediterranean French dive school. You even get to keep any caught for your supper!
Try your hand at sailing along the rugged coast of Brittany for large currents and tides or for shelter from the Atlantic Ocean, sail the inland waterway of Rade de Brest, sampling the French restaurants along the way. The Aulne River is a attractive cruising ground through countryside and valleys to the picturesque port of Launay. There are so many ports to choose from that you’ll be spoilt for choice.
France isn’t just great in the summer season. The winter opens up opportunities for those who like the colder activities. Snowy mountains brings the thrills of downhill skiing or snowboarding. There are over 300 ski resorts in France with many clustered around the Alps and the Pyrenees. The most popular being the Three Valleys. Try Meribel for more runs or Megeve for traditional mountain villages.
If you’ve only got a few days to spare, there are plenty of activities you can do here. Combine your trip with a blend of French culture, food and history to make it that extra special. But you don’t have to do it all in one go, with so many natural regions waiting to be explored, you can always come back for more…
Subscribe to Girl about the Globe for monthly solo travel inspiration