France is a country of contrasts, offering cosmopolitan shopping delights as well as rustic outdoor adventures. Here are a few great ideas for those looking for an active vacation.
Ferme de Soulan, Pyrénées
Rustic lodging, home-made meals, snow slopes…you can have it all at la Ferme de Soulan, an old farmhouse located in Saint-Lary, an ancient mountain village. Pascal and Laurence have transformed their property into a charming bed and breakfast inn. Built around a courtyard, the house features four cozy non-smoking rooms, each one with a distinct personality. A perfect day starts with a healthy breakfast made of home-made yogurts, small breads, pastries and jams. What you do afterward is totally up to you. You can laze around the main lounge by the large bay windows that offer an exceptional view of the mountains and the villages down in the valley. Or you can play outdoors. A three-minute drive will take you to the snow slopes of Saint-Lary, open to all types of skiing. Non-skiers can hike through the Parc National des Pyrenees, play golf or visit the Roman churches located in the Vallée de l’Aure and la Vallée de Louron. At the end of the day, head to the hammam or sauna available at la Ferme for a moment of total relaxation. Next, dinner awaits you at la table d’hôte set-up in a homey atmosphere, right near the fireplace. Most likely, Laurence, a gourmet cook, will treat you to a traditional dish – her stews are incomparable, seasoned with home-grown ingredients. And, to accompany the feast, the host will serve local wines that your palate will definitely appreciate. Perfect till the last drop.
Tarbes Lourdes, Pyrénées, (80km)
Trailing the Vercors
A range of forest-covered hills in the Dauphiné between the Rhône Valley and the Route d’Hiver des Alpes, the Vercors offers magical vistas. An imposing limestone massif runs north-south among woodlands, mountain pastures, and towering rock formations such as the Mont Aiguille. The highest point, the Grand Veymont, tops at 2,314 meters. Considered one of the best trekking destinations in the world, the park boasts 1,700 miles of trails. Open all year-round, the park is suitable for hiking, mountain-biking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. However, you may feel tempted to try other means of exploring the country-side such as riding a dog-sledge or, why not, a donkey. Whatever means of transportation you choose, you will be surrounded by impressive flora and fauna. Indeed, as the largest natural reserve area in France, the Vercors is home to 1800 species of flora, 80 of which are protected and 60 are orchids. It also shelters 135 species of nesting birds, a wide colony of vultures and even a few wolves. At Lans en Vercors, a village right in the heart of the Vercors, you will find a variety of lodging opportunities to include bed and breakfasts, hotels, eco-lodges, farmhouses or chambres d’hôte. Not too far away, the Village d’Autrans sits in the midst of forests. It offers similar amenities. Not to miss: the cheese factories – a specialty of the area.
The Vercors is easily accessible by train and/or car from Lyon, Grenoble and Valence.