10 unusual ways to travel in France…
1. Hit the road
Do you dream of cruising through the south of France in the utmost style, getting a taste of celebrity status while motoring through the vineyards and historic villages of the Dordogne and Lot Valley?
Hiring a vintage voiture is the classiest way to traverse the French landscape, and vehicle rental company Cross Channel Sports Cars can provide timeless Morgan sports models and sleek MGB Roadsters, in pristine condition, to claim as your own for a day, week or even longer. But for a truly Gallic driving experience, it has to be the Citroën 2CV – bumbling through the countryside in one of these French icons is about as fun as driving can be.
2. Up, up and away!
Picture the scene: you’re suspended in mid-air, silently drifting in seamless harmony with the breeze, a fairy-tale landscape unfolding beneath you as you float ever higher. Riding in a hot air balloon above the Loire Valley, countless white castles appear jewel-like between dark green forests and crystal lakes, glinting in the sun and reflecting the balloon’s colours and curves as you soar overhead. And you can substitute the Loire’s châteaux for the olive groves of Provence, the volcanoes of Auvergne or Burgundy’s vineyards – could you imagine a more magical method of seeing France afresh?
3. In the saddle
You don’t have to have to possess too vivid an imagination – or be an expert rider – to fancy yourself a French monarch of days past, when you’re perched atop a trusty steed, cantering through the forest of Fontainebleau and trotting right up the sandy drive of the Château of Versailles. Horse trekking holidays are widely available across France and you can combine various special interests with this unique method of exploring the country’s terrain. Gourmet tours, coastal treks, exploring medieval villages, vineyards and grandiose castles – all of these are possible, and so much more fun to visit, when you’re on horseback.
4. A Bird’s eye view
At 4,810 metres above sea level, you’d think that Mont Blanc, the crowning glory of the French Alps, which juts steeply heavenward, would be high enough. However, this iconic peak will soon drop far below as you lift into the skies on a helicopter ride through one of Europe’s most breathtaking mountain landscapes. The rugged, rocky peaks below, which are enveloped by piercingly white snow, shelter the alpine town of Chamonix – from your vantage point, its deluxe hotels, shops and restaurants appearing as a sea of warm lights and white-roofed, chocolate-box chalets.
Brittany’s Houat Island is home to some of the region’s dreamiest beaches, its long, sun-seeking sandbanks stretching southwards. But to enjoy these deserted white sands, turquoise shallows and unspoilt restaurants, you must first cross the Quiberon bay. You can simply hop on a ferry from the mainland but why go for the boring option when you could cruise across in a traditional sailing ship? Hauling and rigging your way across the open water definitely merits an afternoon sunbathe and slap-up seafood platter!
6. Take a hike
With its many mountain ranges, France is a hikers’ dream come true, yet one trail conquers all. Corsica’s infamous GR20 route is perhaps Europe’s most spectacular mountain trek, though it may also be its toughest, and takes at least two weeks to complete. Traversing the island from Calenzana in the north to Conca down south, the 180km trail cuts between towering summits, glacial lakes, deep pine forests and sweeping craters. Daunting though this description may seem, the route actually requires no climbing skills, so if you’re searching for an adventure amid awe-inspiring scenery, this could be your next pleasurable challenge.
7. Express train
Especially in light of mounting concerns over the impact of air travel upon the environment, increasing number of travellers are opting to ditch the long queues and claustrophobic security checks, in favour of a far more relaxing mode of transport. Rail travel is quick, comfortable and hassle-free – the Eurostar whisking you to France in just a couple of hours, and swift SNCF trains to any destination thereafter. France is blessed with an efficient, reasonably priced rail network that puts Britain’s to shame, with speedy TGV trains connecting every major metropolis and regional routes to each corner of l’Hexagone. All you have to do is sit back and relax…
● www.sncf.com, www.railbookers.com
8. Set sail
Surely, the most peaceful way to explore France is to take a boat cruise. And with so many all-inclusive, pre-organised trips readily available, a river cruise is a truly luxurious, hassle-free holiday option. With an on-board chef, tour guide and the crew tending to your every need, cruises provide maximum enjoyment and relaxation – from a sumptuous breakfast, to daily sightseeing excursions and the three-course dinner. Glide down the Garonne to Toulouse, pass through Carcassonne on the Canal du Midi or moor up in central Paris – France’s waterways are à vous!
Family holidays can be hard to get right – you need to find a balance between keeping busy and not overdoing it, especially with kids of different ages in tow. A cycling holiday can tick all the boxes, providing an active holiday that doesn’t have to be too taxing plus plenty of variety, with each day’s ride being different. France is cycling mad and its largely clear rural roads and canal towpaths make holidays here a doddle. You can even arrange to have your luggage transported between hotels or chambres d’hôtes so you can just focus on enjoying your own very own Tour de France.
10. On the road again
Whether you’re talking a pristine condition 1960s ‘split screen’ model or the modern version, piling into a VW Camper van and hitting the open road across France provides the ultimate in holiday freedom. Maybe you have a destination in mind or simply want to drive towards the horizon and see what you discover on the way. On the Côte d’Azur, you’ll never stray too far from glorious beaches and great quality restaurants, which provides welcome peace of mind for first-time adventurers who are travelling in, and living out of, a camper van. But for the initiated, the vast expanse of France lies ahead to be explored at your will.