During the school holidays in February, many French families take off for the mountainous regions of France in order to enjoy skiing and other winter sports. This year however, because of the Covid, the ski lifts will remain closed. But the variety of other winter activities are still attracting local visitors.
Outside of the snowy months, the mountains still attract and allow you to experience some of the incredible nature and regional specificities of these areas, with the most important mountain regions in France being the Alps and the Pyrenees.
The world-famous French Alps
As you can probably imagine, the Alps attract a lot of tourists, be it in winter or warmer months.
Chamonix Mont Blanc
Chamonix is located at the foot of the Mont Blanc and if you are into impressive mountain vistas, a visit here is a must. The town of Chamonix itself serves as a base for the mountain activities.
For the brave, you can take a cable car to the Aiguille du Midi. Be aware that this ride is often very crowded, and definitely not for those who are afraid of heights. The views are stark and breathtaking. At the top, you can step out into the emptiness a glass cube to get a look down. Please note that I have not tested this last adventure, because I am not a crazy person.
From the Aiguille du Midi, a cable car will take you across the glaciers for a 50-minute ride like no other with a round-trip to Italy and back.
If heights are not your thing, go 1.5 miles underground (2,480 meters) by driving through the Mont Blanc tunnel. After a little more than 7 miles (11,6 kilometers), you will exit in the Aoste valley in Italy. It is fairly expensive (about 58 euros for a round trip), and again please note I've not tested this adventure, because I am not a crazy person.
The trip via the Montenvers rack and pinion train to the Mer de Glace glacier is very enjoyable, giving beautiful views with a little less adrenaline. Once there, you may visit the Ice Cave, which is dug out every year and gives you a glimpse into the heart of the glacier. There is also an information center, giving information about how climate change is unfortunately causing the glacier to disappear at an alarming rate.
Photo : Mer de Glace glacier, Pixabay
Annecy is a beautiful medieval town on the banks of Lake Annecy, one of the largest French lakes. During warm weather, many beaches dot the lakeside, and a refreshing dip in the pristine water with the mountains as backdrop can’t be beat.
Canals meander through the old part of town, thus giving Annecy the name of the “Venice of the Alps.” Cobblestone streets, pretty colored houses and flower boxes everywhere ensure a charming visit. Stroll across the Pont des Amours (the Lover’s Bridge), take in the view and share a kiss that legend says will ensure you will stay together forever.
Photo : Annecy - Venice of the Alps, Needpix
All foodies will be satisfied in Annecy with delights that range from gastronomic to the most simple. Famous French chef Marc Veyrat’s restaurant located in nearby Manigod offers a culinary experience hors pair – just make sure you have the budget. Raclette and fondu make the most of locally made cheeses. Ice cream shops abound, and we recommend the Glacier des Alps.
Famous for its hot springs, which are recognized for their beneficial health properties, this spa town will surprise you. Becoming very fashionable in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many Belle Epoque buildings were constructed to welcome the spa-goers: hotels, casinos, etc. You may also enjoy the area from the lovely waters of Lake Bourget via a cruise – make sure you see the Hautecombe Abbey located across the lake from Aix.
The rich regional tradition and charm of the French Basque Pyrenees
Covering the southwestern part of France, from the Atlantic coast, through the Pyrenees mountains to around Oloron-Sainte-Marie, the French Basque country (known as “Iparralde” meaning the “north side”) is a great place to go to enjoy the exceptional beauty of the mountains as well as the region’s history and traditions.
By adventuring away from the coast, the lush valleys and mountains will reveal to you charming and authentic villages, traditional farms and lovely Basque houses. Plus, you will be awarded by getting away from the tourists on the beaches.
A good introduction to the area is to start with Sare, a lovely hilltop village with houses built in the traditional Basque style. From here, you can take a vintage rack train to La Rhune, offering a beautiful view of both the Pyrenees mountains and the coast.
Photo : Vintage train from Sare to La Rhune, OT St Jean de Luz
Itxassou (famous for its black cherries, which when made into jam are the perfect condiment to Basque cheese), Espelette (famous for its dried red peppers), and Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port (an important stop on the Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle pilgrimage trail) are all delightful towns nestled in the valleys and deserved to be explored.
Photo : Peppers drying in Espelette, Pixabay
Near Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port is the Vallée des Aldudes, and upon entering it, you will feel at you are in the heart of the Basque country. A great way to get a feel for this area is with a visit with Pierre Oteiza and his black-teat pigs. After seeing the baby pigs in front of the restaurant, a 1-hour walk will take you to the fields in the mountains to see the adult pigs. Afterwards, enjoy a cold cut platter and a glass of local wine.
The Gorges of Kakuetta is a paradise of lush vegetation and water. While only smugglers used to brave the steep paths, hikers of all levels now enjoy the area via various option including an easy hike of about 2 km, up to an 18 km trek reserved for seasoned hikers.
Photo : Waterfall at the Kakuetta Gorges, Needpix
- Laura Crotet, France Just For You
If this article has inspired a French mountain adventure in you, please contact us and we can help you plan your trip.