Think France and your mind automatically goes to food, the Eiffel Tower and hanging out at a cafe. But the country that delivers icons and romantic lanes is also filled with superb natural landscapes and outdoor adventure. These are a few of my favorites.
Spot flamingoes, wild horses and cowboys in the wild Camargue. Pink-winged birds fly across red salt lagoons and equine beasts gallop across desolate beaches in this uncultivated wetland near Montpellier. Drive the area, and soon enough you’ll encounter the guardians (cowboys) clad in checked shirts and leather hats, who herd cattle and live in thatched cottages amidst the marshy rice paddies (the gourmet red camargue rice is from here). One section of the Camargue is a dedicated nature reserve, be sure to stroll through the Pont de Gau bird sanctuary where thousands of rose-colored flamingos graze.
Arles /Camargue Tourism
Get an adrenaline kick canyoning in the Gorges due Verdon. Jumping off rocks into pools of water, zipping along natural water slides, rappelling down cliffs and swimming under waterfalls: it’s all de rigueur in a euphoric day of canyoning. Embrace this slippery fun in the hinterlands of Provence, surrounded by greenery and striated rock formations, where a variety of routes offer the adventure for all levels. La Mason du Canyoning offers a large choice if options, plus a handful of rock climbing trips if you prefer to stay dry.
La Maison de Canyoning
38 Rue Nationale
Go surfing in France’s Basque country. France’s southwest coast is the wave riding capital of the country, and one of the best in Europe. Grazing on the wild Atlantic coast near Spain, the area boasts a California-esque atmosphere, but with baguettes and Txakoli, a crisp white local wine. It boasts swells for novices and experts and heaps of places to take a course-our favorite is Hastea Surf School. Base yourself around Biarritz, also known as surfer’s paradise, where cobblestone-filled towns face killer waves and feature laid-back surf culture.
Hastea Surf School
Rent a houseboat and float along the Canal du Midi. Navigate southern France’s Canal du Midi on a slow boat: vessels from Adnavis are easy to drive and can be rented with bikes for added mobility along the way. It’s an excellent chance to grab a few friends and relax with a few bottles while embracing true slow travel along undulating hills and vineyards. From the extraordinary walled, medieval city of Carcassonne, head east through a series of 17th-century locks and moor up at Colombiers, an ancient stone village lined with cafes, and take a spin around on two wheels to stock up on local cheese and nibbles for more gliding and imbibing.