Eco-Friendly Holidays In France
France lends itself well to many things: fine art, high mountains, long meals, grand road trips. It’s also no stranger to landmark global events, so when the world’s first universally binding climate deal was hammered out last December, the French capital seemed as apt a city as any to witness the pact.
Ben Lerwill is a freelance travel writer based in Oxfordshire. His work has appeared in more than 50 publications, including National Geographic Traveller, The Times, The Independent, Wanderlust, BBC Countryfile and Time Out.
Fittingly, the country’s size and profound sense of space also mean it offers plenty in the way of low-carbon, eco-friendly visitor activities. If you’re keen to experience France in a green, sustainable way yourself, here are nine of the best ideas.
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Take A Canoeing Break In The Dordogne
The Dordogne has long exerted a kind of woozy, sepia-tinged hold over travellers – and for good reason. Often referred to as France’s (sunnier) version of The Cotswolds, it’s a slow-moving region of riverside towns, oak forests and spectacularly good food. Hiring a canoe can be a superb way of settling into the unrushed feel of the area: it’s possible to paddle along part, or even all, of the 120-kilometre stretch of river between Argentat and Beynac, drifting under limestone cliffs and lofty chateaux. The experience can essentially be as long or as short as you’d like it to be – rentals are available from a few hours at a time to a full week. And there’s nothing like a day on the water to work up an appetite…
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Try Snowshoeing In The Pyrenees
Green travellers tend to have a difficult relationship with winter sports. But whereas skiing and snowboarding can have a huge long-term effect on a mountain landscape, snow-shoeing generally only causes a fraction of the impact. There are no pistes to prepare, no passes to buy and, as a general rule, no lifts to take. In the case of the devastatingly beautiful Pyrenees, meanwhile, snowshoeing also gives far greater scope for escaping busy resorts and heading out into the true wilderness of the mountains. Guided small-group tours between remote high-altitude huts are readily available in areas such as the Aigues Tortes National Park, where frozen lakes, sharp peaks and steep valleys provide the backdrop.
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Book Into A Solar-Powered Hotel In Paris
The most notable hotels in Paris are usually more associated with 19th century opulence and ravishing marble lobbies than green credentials – but not so the Solar Hotel. Billed as “the first low-priced urban ecological hotel”, the award-winning property has features including solar panels, fully organic breakfasts, a secure sun garden and a free-bike policy for guests. It’s located in the Montparnasse district in the 14th arrondissement, not far from the oasis-like Jardin du Luxembourg. You’d be best looking elsewhere if your heart’s set on petit fours and four-poster beds, but for a budget hotel with a conscience, it’s a great option.
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Eat Well At La Vudèle
France and food go together like onion soup and fresh bread. Gastronomy is an integral part of the culture, but there’s infinitely more to the national repertoire than the rich dishes that usually take the limelight. At La Vudèle, an old farmhouse set among the lavender fields of Provence, the emphasis is on “bio-vegetarian” dishes using locally sourced produce. Over the summer months, guests are invited to join communal three-course dinners under a mulberry tree in the garden – even the wine comes courtesy of a nearby co-operative. Also on offer are yoga retreats and organic cooking lessons.
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Go Hiking On Corsica
The GR20, a trail which runs north to south across Corsica for around 180km, is one of the best known long-distance walking routes in Europe. It’s also one of the hardest. Among the many things that makes this Mediterranean island so special, however, is the fact that hikers can strike off on all sorts of alternative routes – shorter and easier, yes, but often no less handsome. Try the half-day route from Pozzo to Monte Stello on the Cap Corse peninsula, follow the Chemin des Crêtes (Way of the Ridges) as it snakes over different peaks or opt for a four-hour circular walk in the Balagne region for sensational views of Calvi Bay.
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Stay In An Alpine Eco-Lodge
Finding an environmentally friendly retreat in the Alps doesn’t mean shivering through the night in a wind-blown wooden lodge. If you book a stay at Le Grand Joux – a three-floor retreat with an organic spa, a yoga deck and a gloriously remote mountain location – you can expect the comfort and service levels to be more in keeping with a five-star hotel. The lodge runs different retreats throughout the year, specialising variously in everything from photography to hiking, and is also open to independent travellers. It sits in the Portes du Soleil region, close to the little commune of Morzine.
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Take The Family To A Horse-Drawn Caravan In Brittany
There’s a (wholly sensible) school of thought that believes a holiday should be all about getting away from it all – an escape from the everyday clamour of technology. Few options fit the bill better than a break in an old-time wooden caravan. You can choose to stay put in one place and wallow in the greenery of the Breton countryside, or, with the help of a local draught horse, you can turn it into a week-long family tour through local woods and villages. And if you’re really lucky, you’ll be plodding the lanes well away from pesky distractions like phone reception.
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See Champagne On An Organic Wine And Bike Tour
Less than 150km from Paris, the Champagne region is predominantly – some would say exclusively – famed for its fizz, but it’s a fine place to visit in its own right. And for travellers keen to sample some of its wines as well as explore the mellow folds of the countryside, it’s possible to organise a four-day bike tour that takes in a number of highly considered organic wineries. The itinerary also allows for detours to some of Champagne’s best castles, gardens and scenic lookouts. Guided and self-guided options are both available.
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