Multi-activity holidays in the French Alps
The stunning, varied landscapes and fantastic climate of the Southern French Alps provide the perfect setting for the activity holiday of a lifetime. Here are 10 of the top French Alps activities during spring, summer and autumn.
Once the winter sports season is over and the snow is melting, the French Alps come alive with summer outdoor adventurers from cyclists to kayakers and everything in between.
The Southern French Alps with its glorious weather (300 days of sunshine per year!) and varied topography of jagged mountains and glaciers, beautiful lakeside beaches and lavender fields all within an hour of each other, is an absolute paradise for a wide range of summer activities. From rafting down raging alpine rivers to soaring high above the idyllic peaks and valleys on a tandem paraglide, you'll never be short of fun-filled adventure on a visit to this remarkable part of the world.
Add to this the fact that it is still a relatively undiscovered secret, with a strong Alpine Provencal culture evident in the many traditional villages scattered through its valleys. As an outdoor holiday destination; you don’t get much better!
TOP 10 FRENCH ALPS ACTIVITIES
On a hot summer's day, there is nothing more enticing than jumping into a pool of clear alpine water. Add into the mix abseiling down dramatic waterfalls and sliding down natural toboggans; this is a fun activity guaranteed to get the adrenalin going and make you laugh. Perfect for families with teenagers and great for team building and bonding experiences amongst friends.
You will need a head for heights as you navigate your way over sheer rock faces using wire ladders and traverse over deep ravines on suspended bridges. One of the most popular in the Southern French Alps also has three giant zip lines to get you back down again! Via Ferrata was invented by the Italian army to get their troops across inaccessible mountains efficiently and safely and have now become a sport in its own right.
The Southern French Alps is famous for paragliding with several hotspots renowned for their favourable thermals and paragliding-friendly microclimates. Once you have got over the fear of running off the edge of a cliff, flying high above the mountains with the birds is just sheer exhilaration. You can do a full course to learn to fly yourself or try a tandem experience and let someone else control the parachute!
E-biking is the new craze in the Southern French Alps and I, as a keen cyclist with perfectly fit cycling legs am a convert! E-biking makes it possible to go double the distance and at twice the speed that you normally can and makes the mountains accessible to all on a bike. It also makes it possible for hardcore mountain bikers to double their distances and up their technical skills and get to places they would never normally do in a day.
A day at the Serre Ponçon Lake on one of its many beaches is a ‘must do’ when you visit the Southern French Alps. Explore the secret coves around its coast in a kayak, enjoy the thrills being of being towed behind a speedboat, or test your skills windsurfing or waterskiing. The quieter parts of the lake are the Ubaye and Chorges end, whereas the Embrun end is much busier.
The Southern French Alps is famous for its white-water and kayakers visit from all over the world to test it out. For those of us, that lack the kayaking skills to paddle the rapids in a proper hard-shell kayak, rafting or inflatable canoes are a perfect alternative. Enjoy the thrills of this natural roller coaster ride down the rapids. Great for families, perfect team building and a good laugh for friends.
Not to be confused with high ropes adventure, tree climbing is a unique activity in the Southern French Alps. The difference from when you did this as a child is that you are roped up, so you can go as high as you like and can attempt those tricky branches you never dared to when you were little! After an afternoon in the leafy canopy of the trees, you can opt to spend the night there in special tree hammocks and tents. Sleeping out in alpine forests with an array of fabulous wildlife going about their business is a truly wild adventure.
Climbing on warm rocks with the scent of lavender stimulating your senses is a rare pleasure that is possible in the Southern French Alps. If you have participated in and enjoyed the explosion in popularity of indoor climbing walls, putting those skills to use outside in a beautiful natural environment is the icing on the cake. A perfect family activity that can be adapted for all levels.
Back to those white-water rapids, but this time on a specially adapted surfboard. Wearing flippers and hanging on to your foam board you’ll surf down the river for an exhilarating ride! You can’t get much closer to the water, and every bump will feel enormous. Only for the adventurous!
Best time to go: June, July and August are best for optimum water levels.
TOP 5 EXPERIENCES
1. The Serre Ponçon Lake
One of the largest artificial lakes in Western Europe and truly magnificent. Its turquoise blue waters stretch for miles against a backdrop of spectacular mountains. At the dam, a major engineering feat in the 1960s and of significant interest to any historian, engineer or scientist, there is a visitor’s centre with a film in several languages about its construction: the actual building of the dam, flooding of the valley and displacement of villages which was very controversial at the time.
2. A market visit
Most of the villages and the town of Gap have a regular weekly market with local produce and arts and crafts on offer. The hustle and bustle and the colourful displays of fresh produce, cheeses and charcuterie, the array of souvenirs, pottery, jewellery and other arts and crafts make a market visit an exceptional experience and, beware, a temptation to spend! The best local markets in the summer months are in Chorges and Gap, with Chorges also having a night market once a week.
3. Fromagerie restaurant
Cheese is the staple of French food, particularly in the mountains, and it all happens in local fromageries. This is a restaurant attached to the local Col Bayard Fromagerie in the village of Laye. It is more than just a restaurant with a full range of cheeses, made by them and other local produce available to browse and buy as well as your lunch or dinner. With absolutely everything on this menu involving cheese, this is a cheese lover’s heaven!
4. Prapic village
Prapic is the last village of the Champsaur valley before the road is blocked by mountains. It is in effect the end of the road! The village is classically alpine, which has preserved its original architecture and layout to this day. All the houses have the traditional steep roofs, to help snow fall off, with hay lofts (insulation) on the top level, the living area on the mid level and the stables on the ground floor where the heat generated from the animals heated the living area above.
5. The Valgaudemar valley
This is often referred to as the Himalayas of the Alps. It is a 22km long thin valley with 3,000m+ peaks lining each side. You can drive all the way to the end where there is a large hotel / refuge and restaurant called the Gioberney, a great place for lunch or walk from. As you eat your ice cream on the terrace you can admire the famous Bride’s Veil waterfall and the mountains and glaciers surrounding you – it is really pretty spectacular. The walk up to the Lac du Lauzon is a must too.
WHEN TO VISIT
Best times to go:
May to July is the big winter snow melt and the arrival of spring and summer. This is a beautiful time of year for nature lovers as the hibernating animals emerge, and the flowers and butterflies blanket the mountain pastures with a magnificent array of colours against a snow-covered mountain backdrop.
It is also the best time of year for water sports such as rafting and kayaking as the roller coaster river rapids are in full flow!
In July the Tour de France often visits the region and is either an event to definitely add to your bucket list or avoid completely depending on your passions!
To participate in sports such as cycling, biking and walking, May to June and also September to October are perfect as it is not too hot for exercise and you are just outside the main school holiday periods for quieter roads and paths.
July and August are the busiest time with European school holidays spanning the two months. However, busy here is like a very quiet day in the Lake District so don’t worry too much about this. July and August are great times of year for access to all the activities and some activities like canyoning, which is often too dangerous in spring due to high water levels, is fantastic.
Summer is also the time of year when the majority of festivals and events take place, and it boasts the best markets!
Autumn is not to be forgotten either. Autumn has the most beautiful light for photography, and as the trees change colour, the mountainsides are a spectacle to get excited about. Climbers, cyclists, walkers and mountain bikers will love autumn in the Southern French Alps.
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