discover rural france
where to go???
The thing about France is, well, there's a lot of it, and it
might well turn into the most unsatisfying and potentially expensive mistake
you make if you try to do too much in one trip. Because there are so many
regional and local identities and cultures, you can construct visits around
simple themes and specific areas.
Long before you arrive, however, do have some idea of where
you are going, what it is you want to see, and, most importantly of all, don't
try to cram too much into one day...build in a bit of slack, and save a little
bit of time for that serendipitous opportunity that pops up around the next
corner. There is just no fun charging about like a headless chicken, and quite
a lot to be said for parking your bum and ordering a glass of wine...or
Arguably, there are six main areas of France that pull in
the tourists. You might want to follow suit; then again, if you're happy enough
to brave the unexpected, then you might want to avoid these: Paris, the Alps,
Provence and the French Riviera, Languedoc-Roussillon, the Loire valley, and
Brittany. Now, I'm not saying you should never enjoy these fabulous
destinations, on the contrary. But be open to the alternatives...and there are
many of those.
If you want to escape the urban life and seek out rural
peace and quiet, almost any part of France will have something to offer, but
there are areas that are more out-of-the-way, more rural, and less populated.
In particular, there is a large swathe of France, running from the Belgian
border in the north-east, to the Pyrenees in the south-west that contains plenty
of open spaces, and ample opportunity for walking, cycling, horse riding and other
outdoor and adventure activities. Consider these:
In the northeast, there is the Ardennes, with its forests,
and the open spaces of Champagne and Lorraine, rolling pastoral landscapes that
have seen significant depopulation over the last hundred years. In the northern
part of Burgundy, between Paris and Dijon, lie the Morvan hills, heavily wooded
in parts, and popular area with weekend walkers.
The Massif Central
The Massif Central embraces some of the emptiest parts of
France, including large parts of the Auvergne and Limousin, as well as the
northern reaches of the Midi-Pyrénées, the northern parts of Languedoc, and the
west of the Rhone-Alpes region. Many long-distance walking trails cross this
area, passing through some pretty wild and desolate areas, such as the barren limestone
Causses in the departments of Lozère and Aveyron, the granite-dominated Aubrac
in the middle (Aveyron and Cantal), and the Chaîne des Puys (volcanic uplands
running through the Puy-de-Dome, Cantal, Haute-Loire and Ardèche departments).
This is a beautiful part of France, perfect for those who relish wide open
Gascony and the Pyrenees
Toulouse is a place not to be missed, but to the south of
the city the rolling countryside of Gascony rises to meld into the foothills of
the Pyrenees and the high Pyrenees beyond. The Pyrenean foothills feature
wooded, steep-sided valleys, and offer many opportunities for walking. The high
Pyrenees, by contrast, soar to over 3,000 metres, offering high-mountain
terrain, and plenty of trails (Grandes Randonées), including many suitable only
for experienced mountaineers.
To the east of the Rhone valley lie the French Alps and
their acolytes, the Vercors and Bugey. This is a place of outstanding mountain
scenery, from the dry terrain of the Verdon area of Provence, to the snow-capped
domes of Mont Blanc. Many areas of the Alps have been heavily developed for
winter sports, but away from the ski
resorts, there are hundreds of square kilometres of untamed hill and mountain,
well equipped with marked walking trails, linking valley to valley, or village
to village. The high Alps are home to two of France's best-known national parks, le Mercantour and
of the Alps, running up the northern side of the border with Switzerland, the
Jura mountains in the Franche Comté region offer another large mountainous area,
characterised by spruce forests and meadows, as well as lakes and streams.