If the thought of France doesn’t immediately conjure up images of snow covered Alpine mountains and turquoise rivers cutting through brilliant limestone cliffs, chances are you’re not alone. That’s a shame. Because behind the philosophy, cigarette smoke, baguettes and other clichés lies a country whose highest elevation is well over 15,500 feet (Mont Blanc), where the Lacanau surfing is second to none, the Ubaye rapids are Class V and boulders at Fontainbleau are just begging to be traversed. True, there are plenty of gentle pastures and vineyards producing internationally acclaimed wines and cheeses, but if it’s adventure you’ve come for, it’s time to take a bolder look at the country of love.
For your most extreme excursions into the French wilderness, head south. Between the towering Alpine borders with Switzerland and Italy towards the east, and the Pyrenees along the Franco-Spanish border to the immediate south, you’ll have no problem hiking, skiing and climbing until your heart’s content. Throw in some quality white water rafting along rivers like the Ubaye and the Isere and we’d say you’re off to a pretty good start. Now it’s off to the Gorges du Verdon a little closer to the Mediterranean. Known around these parts as the Grand Canyon of Europe, you won’t be able to help but wonder how this incredible park slipped beneath your radar for so long. Come to think of it, you may say the same thing about Corsica, that beautiful rocky island so replete with Mediterranean adventures but often overlooked by tourists and locals alike.
Heard enough? Good, because we’re just getting warmed up. Though central and northern France don’t offer quite as much intensity in their outdoor selections, they’re nothing to scoff at. Why not try your hand at hang-gliding over the Volcanoes of Auvergne, exploring the depths of the Padirac Cave or biking the historic forest of Compiegne? If diving is your passion, you’re covered there too. The bulk of France’s most scenic diving is done off the warm coastal waters of the Mediterranean, but the northern beaches of Normandy offer unparalleled wreck dives for those seeking an up close and personal experience of WWII. When you put it all together (and trust us, this is only a taste), the wild side of French geography really does put on quite a show. Why not experience it for yourself?