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France's varied geography and climate allow for a wide ride range of outdoor pursuits. The French have taken to hiking with gusto, and there are walking paths through every imaginable kind of terrain. Probably the best known trails are the sentiers de grande randonnée, long-distance footpaths designated by the letters GR. The GR 5 winds through the Alps, the GR 4 is in the Massif Central and the popular GR 10 runs along the Pyrenees from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. Cycling is another mania in France. La Margeride in Languedoc is a particularly inviting area for mountain biking, as are the Alps, Brittany and the Pyrenees. Skiing is also popular with some of Europe's finest - and most expensive - facilities in the Alps (at Chamonix, for example), though prices tend to be much cheaper in the Pyrenees around Cauterets and the Massif Central, which is good for cross-country skiing.

The best swimming spots are found along the Atlantic coast (near La Rochelle), the Channel coast of Normandy, southern Brittany, the Mediterranean (including the coast of Corsica) as well as on lakes such as Lac d'Annecy and Lake Geneva. The French are at ease with their bodies, and this is reflected in a number of venues for naturism (walking around bollock naked), mostly in Langedoc-Rousillon and the Côte d'Azur. Other activities include: rock climbing in the Alps and the Pyrenees; horse riding in Burgundy and the French Basque Country; surfing in Biarritz; rafting down the Gorge du Verdon in Provence; and hang-gliding in Languedoc. If your interests are more cerebral, you can take French language courses or learn the ins and outs of the soufflé at regional cooking classes.


The French are a festive bunch, with many cities hosting music, dance, theatre, cinema or art events each year. Rural villages hold fairs and fêtes which celebrate everything from local saints to agricultural progress. Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer in Provence is the venue for a colourful gypsy festival in late May honouring Sarah, patron saint of the gypsies. Enthusiastic singing and dancing characterise this extravaganza. Prominent national days off are May Day (1 May), when people trade gifts of muguet (lily of the valley) for good luck; and Bastille Day (14 July), which is celebrated by throwing firecrackers at friends. Regional events include the primping and preening prêt à porter fashion show in Paris (early February); the glittering and often-canned Cannes Film Festival (mid-May); the International Music Festival in Strasbourg (first three weeks of June); the mainstream and fringe theatre of the Festival d'Avignon (mid-July to mid-August) and the Jazz Festival in Nancy (9-24 October).

Public holidays

1 January - New Year's Day

late March/April - Easter Sunday & Monday

1 May - May Day

8 May - Victoire 1945

May (40th day after Easter) - Ascension Thursday

mid-May-mid-June (7th Sunday after Easter) - Pentecost/Whit Sunday & Whit Monday

14 July - Bastille Day/National Day

15 August - Assumption Day

1 November - All Saints' Day

11 November - Remembrance Day

25 December - Christmas

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