Admire the cities and countryside of l’Hexagone from new perspectives with our activity guide
Balloon ride over Rocamadour
The Plus Beau Village of Rocamadour in the Dordogne Valley makes an immediate impression as it juts out from the plunging cliff face of a long, narrow limestone gorge. Walking the patchwork of alleyways of this ancient pilgrimage site is magical, but the best views are from the skies in the basket of a hot-air balloon. Local company Aerostat runs tourist rides over the gorge and also organises an annual hot-air balloon festival (26-27 September this year) involving 30 montgolfières.
Tel: (Fr) 6 79 24 28 21, www.rocamadouraerostat.fr
Fly over the Mont Blanc glaciers
Enjoy an unbeatable view of the peaks and glaciers around Mont Blanc with a flight in a four-seater aircraft from Megève Altiport. Trips start at €70 per person for a 20–minute flight over the Chamonix Valley, but for the complete mountain experience choose the 40-minute trip (€140) which goes up to 3,000 metres. Alpine meadows and wooded slopes morph into snow-covered ridges and gullies as you climb up over the Vallée Blanche and the Mer de Glace glacier towards the Aiguille du Midi and Mont Blanc itself. Jagged peaks seem almost within touching distance and pockets of glacial water glint blue beneath the wings as your pilot explains the pristine landscape like a 3D geology lesson.
Tel: (Fr) 4 50 21 03 21, www.aerocime.com
Walk the walls of Carcassonne
The fortifications ringing the restored medieval cité of Carcassonne make an impressive sight from a distance. But to feel their true magic, take a stroll around the ramparts, across drawbridges, past monumental crenellated walls and under witch-hat towers, while taking in views of the countryside and Pyrénées in the distance.
Tel: (Fr) 4 68 10 24 30, www.tourisme-carcassonne.fr
Scale the Dune du Pyla
Who needs the Sahara when you’ve got the Dune du Pyla? Europe’s highest sand dune towers up to 110 metres high and stretches for three kilometres along the coast near the Baie d’Arcachon south-west of Bordeaux. Prepare for a calf-burning climb and a mouthful of blowing sand on the way to the summit; it will all be worth it when you stand atop a golden crest looking down on panoramas of the deep-blue Atlantic Ocean on one side and sprawling forests of pine trees on the other.
Ride the Nantes elephant
Take a ride on the wild side aboard the city of Nantes’ 12-metre-high wooden elephant. The adventure begins with a climb up a spiral staircase that passes through the mechanical interior to two viewing platforms. Once everyone’s on board (the capacity is 50 passengers), the elephant lets out an almighty trumpet call and slowly moves off from its home inside the Machines de l’Île workshop for a 45-minute tour of the Île de Nantes. The ‘creature’ has been so well engineered that you feel as if you’re riding a real elephant; it winks, stomps its feet and sprays unsuspecting onlookers with water. The highlight is the incredible view; stand on the upper deck and look over the city and the River Loire.
Tickets cost €8.50.
Tel: (Fr) 2 51 17 49 89, www.lesmachines-nantes.fr
Cliff hang on a Via Ferrata
Test your nerve on the vertiginous climbing trails that feature sky-high tightrope ladders, cable runs and swinging bridges built into sheer rock faces. There are more than 150 dotted about the French mountains, particularly in the Alps and Pyrénées, with the most famous being the Route des Escrins in Hautes-Alpes. The routes are graded according to length and difficulty, and led by an experienced guide, so even inexperienced climbers can have a go.
Take an aperitif at La Chèvre d’Or
The sumptuous hotel and Michelin-starred restaurant La Chèvre d’Or dominates a clifftop in the village of Èze between Nice and the principality of Monaco, ans has breathtaking views over the Mediterranean. Cobblestone paths weave between a series of terraces, courtyards, sun decks and swimming pools that drop down dramatically to the sea, offering many picturesque settings for an intimate aperitif at sunset.
Tel: (Fr) 4 92 10 66 66