1. Faire la fête
The south of France is blessed with a glorious summer climate and the locals make the most of it, at festivals which are spread throughout the season. Arts and theatre aficionados are in for a treat in Avignon, Orange and Aix-en-Provence which, respectively, hold performing arts, opera and classical music festivals.
Summer is synonymous with jazz in Marciac and Nice, where annual festivals serenade hazy warm evenings with bluesy soundtracks, and the national Fête de la Musique animates each bar and concert venue in the country on June 21.
2. Make a splash
With those first rays of summer sun comes an irrepressible desire to swim – be it in the sea or a sparkling turquoise pool. Pair it with a good novel and a cocktail menu, and you could be set for the week, but kids may need a little more entertainment. This is where France’s many waterparks come in, as they cater to each member of the family. They boast slides and flumes to suit tots to teens, and hot tubs, saunas and more peaceful pools for the adults. Head to an Aqualand park (of which there are seven in the south of France) or the recently opened Aquariaz, Europe’s highest-altitude waterpark, at Avoriaz in the Alps.
From snow-white Camargues to prime Normandy thoroughbreds, the French love their horses. Combine this passion with France’s rich diversity of landscapes – beaches, forests, mountains and vineyards – and you’ve got the perfect formula for a horseback holiday. Equestrian holiday organisers abound and offer a range of guided or unguided trails. Special interest holidays with the company Ride in France include gourmet and wine tasting trails, riding in the snow, heritage tours and beach rides. This summer could be your chance to get back in the saddle!
4. Surf and sandcastles
France’s beaches are among Europe’s most beautiful and varied. Brittany’s windswept coastline offers uncompromising, wild splendour and hidden sandy coves, while further south, the Atlantic beats against the golden shores of Biarritz, daring intrepid wave-riders to take on its surf.
On the opposite side of l’Hexagone, the Med laps languidly upon the elegant Côte d’Azur, where deluxe seaside towns and shaded campsites cater to bathers and sunseekers throughout the area’s long, sun-kissed summers. France is unbeatable for a beach holiday. Grab your bucket and spade, surfboard or snorkel, but please don’t forget to pack the sunscreen…
5. France by bike
That world-famous, annual cycling extravaganza Le Tour de France pays testament to the country’s unashamed love of two-wheel transport, which makes l’Hexagone a great destination for amateur cyclists as well as professionals. A steadily expanding véloroute network of tarmacked, quiet ‘voies vertes’ (‘green ways’) is improving cyclists’ lot and a multitude of companies specialise in cycling tours. These vary in strenuousness as much as by special interest, often combining gastronomy or cultural stop-offs.
If you like your cycling leisurely and meals to be gourmet, try a holiday with Cycling for Softies, and for a broad range of options by theme or region, check out Headwater’s impressive selection of options.
6. Mountain air
The French Alps and Pyrénées usually invoke images of snowy peaks to be skied upon during the winter, but missing out on France’s mountains during warmer weather is a real shame. These venerable ranges take on a new, dreamlike character during the summer, when they’re carpeted by wildflowers and lush grasses, and nourished by trickling streams, crystalline lakes and rushing rivers.
Go hiking with InnTravel, whose staff transport your luggage between hotels while you trek independently through the Alps. Or if you’re tempted by the lesser-traversed Pyrénées, consider the challenging GR10 route and look for the scallop shells designating the beginnings of the Catholic pilgrimage route, the Way of Saint James.
7. Tee time
Golf is huge in France, with official figures showing that there are over 400,000 registered players at a total of 668 golf clubs. As a result, it’s a fantastic place to enjoy a golfing holiday, not least due to its sheer topographical diversity. You can play in the foothills of the Alps or or in historic Brittany, on a sun-kissed fairway in Provence or a wind-swept green by the Atlantic coast. Find a suitable course via regional tourist boards, perhaps picking a location rich in cultural heritage for days away from the green.
8. Sleep beneath the stars
The French are mad on camping, and they do it in style. From Brittany to the Riviera, Jura to the Gironde, French families spend much of July and August in comfortable holiday camps – often replete with pools, restaurants and self-catering facilities.
Some campsites are downright luxurious, with wooden cabins, lodges and bungalows replacing the canvas tents usually found elsewhere. France’s campsites are ranked by star ratings and the top ones are located in areas ideal for outdoor activities such as walking, climbing, horse riding or swimming. Many also accept pets so you won’t have to worry about non-human family members getting left behind!
9. On the water
Have some family fun in the gorges of Verdon and the Ardèche, which are magnets for canoeists and kayakers. Long, flat stretches of water are interspersed with rapids perfect for thrill-seekers, and particularly plucky Francophiles can even try their hand at white water rafting in the Alps and Pyrénées.
Canoeing, kayaking and rafting holidays are bookable via several different organisations – including those you can simply stumble upon when you’re there. If you’d rather book in advance or tailor your whole holiday around a boating trip, companies such as Experience Ardèche offer guided river tours, and regional tourist boards can recommend white water rafting hotspots.
10. Get a gîte
You don’t have to decide on holiday activities in advance of decamping to France – if at all! Sometimes, a week or two of peace and quiet is ‘just what the doctor ordered’, so why not simply hire a gîte and worry about the finer details when you arrive?
Countless companies rent out cottages, villas, farmhouses and even châteaux in every corner of the France. Specialist rental websites, such as Chez Nous, feature thousands of holiday homes in locations which include the chocolate-box villages of the Dordogne, the exposed sandy coves of Corsica, the forested plains of the Ardèche and the olive groves of Provence.