by Telegraph Travel's France, The Daily Telegraph, January 4, 2017
Our recent domination of the Tour de France has inspired an upsurge in Lycra-clad Britons torturing themselves in the Alps and beyond. Last time I drove up the Mont Ventoux (exhausting enough), I could barely accelerate for flocks of cyclists having what appeared to be the worst time of their lives. They will tell you they love it, and I can’t prove they are lying. Adventure specialist Explore is among those organising this sort of break for those with the stamina and the commitment. Cycling For Softies is more my kind of tour operator, offering bike trips along the new Loire Valley cycle-way which is largely flat (see the "tour operators" category below for company details).
But cycling's not all. France is a vast, and vastly diverse, adventure playground, from Med beaches to glaciers. The incurably active need only ever to stop to eat their sandwiches, and then not for long. Summertime in the Alps or Pyrenees might involve hiking, canyoning, climbing, kayaking, rafting, mountain-biking - or all five. KE Adventure specialises in the field.
Meanwhile, the Verdon Gorge, Europe's version of the Grand Canyon, and Haute-Provence in general, are also focal points of hairy-legged endeavour. But it's equally rewarding to get to the side of well-worn tracks - in the gentler, more rounded volcanic hills of the Auvergne or the lovely, little-known Jura mountains of Franche-Comté, hard by the Swiss border. Belle France will get you to the former, Headwater to the latter.
Scroll down for a list of tour operators offering activity holidays in France
And then there is the coast. France offers almost everything you can do on or under water, short of whaling. European surfing started in Biarritz in 1957; the Aquitaine coast, pounded by Atlantic rollers, remains France's HQ for board folk. Meanwhile, the Med is usually (though not invariably) less vigorous. If nevertheless you fancy doing more than just lolling about on a beach, look out for the Station Nautique logo. It indicates that a resort - say, Cavalaire - is particularly talented at sending you off diving, sailing, jet-skiing, kite-surfing and otherwise knocking yourself out.
Tour operators offering activity holidays in France
Walking and cycling
ATG Oxford (01865 315678; atg-oxford.co.uk ) High-quality escorted walking, and cheaper, independent walking/cycling options.
Belle France (01580 214010; bellefrance.co.uk ) Large choice of mostly independent cycling and walking holidays.
Exodus (0845 508 4195; exodus.co.uk ) From challenging Alpine treks and rides along classic Tour de France sections, to gentle, self-guided cycling.
Explore (01252 883597; explore.co.uk ) Small-group French tours vary from Mont Blanc trekking to easy cycling along the Canal du Midi.
There are many operators to choose from to book your walking holiday in France
Headwater (01606 828307; headwater.com ) Relaxed, independent walking, cycling and canoeing breaks.
HF Holidays (0345 470 8558; hfholidays.co.uk ) Guided walking, often with choice of walks each day.
Inntravel (01653 617000; inntravel.co.uk ) Large selection of easy-paced, independent walking and cycling options.
The Verdon Gorge
KE Adventure Travel (017687 73966; keadventure.com ) Good for serious trekking in the Alps, Pyrenees and Corsica.
Ramblers Worldwide Holidays (01707 331133; ramblersholidays.co.uk ) Guided walking – holidays in the southern Alps' Mercantour National Park are new; see its Adagio programme ( adagio.co.uk ) for "ambling rather than rambling".
Saddle Skedaddle (0191 265 1110; skedaddle.co.uk ) Wide choice of escorted and independent cycling, including taxing options over high mountain passes.
Susi Madron's Cycling for Softies (0161 248 8282; cycling-for-softies.co.uk ) Staying at comfy hotels offering good food.
Other self-guided walking options:
Other cycling options:
Family activity holidays
Acorn Family Holidays (0121 504 2070; acornfamilyholidays.co.uk ) Camping in the Ardèche, Normandy and, new in 2015, on the Opal Coast near Calais combined with a Disneyland Paris visit.
Activities Abroad (01670 789991; activitiesabroad.com ) Canoeing, rock climbing and more in the Ardèche.
Esprit Sun (01483 345628; espritsun.com ) Bases in the Alps; excellent childcare.
Families Worldwide (01962 737560; familiesworldwide.co.uk ) Action-packed Pyrenean adventure.
The Col de Peyresourde, in the central Pyrenees Credit: © Radu Razvan 2014/Radu Razvan
PGL (0844 371 0101; pgl.co.uk ) Affordable breaks for families and unaccompanied children at several French centres.
Exodus offers canoeing in the Dordogne, Explore and KE Adventure Travel multi-activity trips to the Alps (see contacts above). Some operators listed above also offer family-oriented walking and cycling breaks: Inntravel (see above) has a new self-guided cycling option in the Loire.
BoatingLe Boat (0844 334 8952; leboat.co.uk ) Cruiser rentals from many bases on the French canals.
Freewheel Afloat (0116 255 8417; freewheelafloat.com ) Rents pénichettes - lovable French barges.
Naturetrek (01962 733051; naturetrek.co.uk ) Great choice of wildlife tours - searching for butterflies, dragonflies, birds, and wild flowers.
Making DIY arrangements for summer activities in Alpine resorts is easy. These companies are good for hotel and/or self-catering breaks/accommodation in the mountains:
Tour operator listings by Fred Mawer
This article was written by Telegraph Travel's France experts from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.