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top 10 outdoor adventures - provence

The rare snow-covered olive tree! Photo: Moulin Castelas

It may seem odd to write about outdoor activities while many places are covered in a blanket of snow - even Moulin Castelas olive groves in Les Baux-de-Provence! But in my defense, we have come to expect "odd"; and as a girl growing up in Minnesota, January was the perfect time to snuggle up with a cup of cocoa and dream about my adventures for the coming year!

I may have grown up, but adventure planning is still a favorite pastime. If you need inspiration, here is a list of 10 amazing outdoor adventures waiting for you!

An avid hiker, I could have filled this list just with breathtaking hikes in Provence. However, I realize we all have different adrenaline levels, so I am confident that you will find something that makes your heart race - or keep it at a steady pace! Chacun à son goût!

Let's take it nice and slow to warm up!

#1 - Beaches of Fréjus

When I can take no more of sub-zero temperatures in Minnesota, I often dream of laying on a beach, basking in the warm sun. Of course the French Riviera is famous for its beaches. We have heard all about St. Tropez, Nice and Cannes, but the beaches in these popular resort towns are composed of small rocks, not sand, and can be extremely crowded during the tourist season (yes, there will be a tourist season again!). Many years ago, during a family trip to Provence, we were given a tip to go to Fréjus instead, located about half-way between St. Tropez and Cannes. Fréjus-Plage is in a protected gulf, and has a magnificent sandy beach. I have such great memories of the kids playing for hours in the sand and water, while we got massages on our lounge chairs!

#2 - Boat ride on the Calanques

The beautiful, tranquil waters of the Mediterranean Sea, flanked by steep walls of white rock - it is a magical place to wander. Les Calanques are inlets nestled between Cassis, Marseille and La Ciotat. There are many hikes along the top of these cliffs, but the most leisurely way to explore is by boat. (Let's not get our heart rate up too fast!). Each turn gives you a completely new view than the passage before. Resembling the fjords of Norway, albeit on a smaller scale, it is a unique experience to behold in France, and one I can't wait to repeat.

There are several different companies that offer excursions, from different departure points. Here are several options:

#3 - Hot Air Balloon in Forcalquier

From sea to sky! After relaxing in the water, you may want to get some adrenaline pumping, without working up a sweat. The "purist air in Europe" resides in Forcalquier, so what better place to take flight? Soar over hilltop villages, lavender fields, and wild sage. Traveling by hot air balloon is a magical experience as it is so quiet and peaceful. Landing is a different story, but you wanted to get your heart pumping a bit, right?

#4 Hiking in Le Colorado Provençal

Finally, we get to hike! But attention aux chaussures! The gorgeous ochre is coming home with you - on your shoes, pants ...

Start in the picturesque town of Roussillon. There is a short path that gives you a nice overview of the various colors. Then head to Rustrel (a half-hour by car) to take one of 2 trails, one "easy" and one "easy to medium". The landscape is simply extraordinary, and worth buying new shoes!

#5 Parc National du Mercantour

Now that we are warmed up, let's head near the Italian border for a bit more serious hike! As I said, there are SO many hikes to choose from in France - approximately 37,000 miles in just Grandes Randonnees - but this is one area I have in my sights to conquer next. Alps on one side, Mediterranean Sea on the other, the scenery is jaw-dropping! Choose from one of many longer hikes in this stunning setting.

#6 - Snorkel or Scuba off of the Porquerolles

A return to the water! This time, with a bit more "interaction"! There are a group of islands located just off of the Hyères Peninsula that seem much farther away from the glam of the French Riviera than they actually are. Here you can get up close and personal with a variety of marine life. This authentic jewel of the Mediterranean offers an abondance of adventures. Pick your comfort level and snorkel or scuba to the depth of your content!

#7 - Horseback Riding in the Camargue

"Sauvage" - wild and free - this is what I think of when I think of the Camargue. Regal white horses and bright pink flamingos line this rugged marshland - 360 square miles of meadowlands, freshwater marshes and salt ponds beckon. (Did you know that they actually grow rice here?). The best way to experience this mysterious land is on horseback. A bucket-list experience for sure.

#8 - Rafting in the Gorges du Verdon

The Gorges du Verdon have also been on my list for quite some time. The azur waters are so inviting, and the surrounding cliffs make you feel very removed from the bustle of everyday life. There is so much to do in this area - pick your passion: bird-watching, hiking, kayaking or even rafting (a bit outside of the gorge). Truly a magical place! This site gives you a comprehensive look at all there is to see and do, plus all of the logistics:

#9 - Biking Mont Ventoux

Is your heart pumping yet? You will need a LOT of energy to bike up to the top of Mont Ventoux. (I remember feeling a bit dizzy after driving up Mont Ventoux!). Regularly featured in the Tour de France, that should be your first warning! This is not for the casual, beachside pedaler! The celebrations of those who make it to the top are quite impressive, and well-deserved. It is fun to linger at the top to bear witness. I must add that going down the mountain has its own set of thrills, and I do not trust my ability to apply breaks enough to attempt this challenge either. I will live vicariously through your adventures here, and enjoy the journey en voiture. Bon courage!

#10 - Jump from Le Pont de l'Artuby

And now for the serious adrenaline junkies ... a drumroll please .... you can bungee jump from the bridge of l'Artuby ! At 182 meters high, it is the highest bridge in Europe. (Go big or go home, right?). There are several different agencies that you can pay for this most terrifying experience of a lifetime!

Once again, I will applaud your accomplishments! Feel free to share about your experiences in the comment section below!

I hope you have found your petit bonheur! If not, there is always a sunny cafe in Provence where you can sip a cold Pastis or Cote de Provence! But more on the gourmet adventures of Provence to come!

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