The French Alps
The French Alps are some of the most impressive mountains in the world. Their immense size, verticality (15,000 ft.), visual grandeur and accessibility make this region of France one that should be on everyone's "places to see before I die" list. Geneva in Switzerland and Lyon serve as the perfect international entry points, allowing road or railway access from international airports to regional northern destinations such as the Chamonix Valley/Mont Blanc or les Porte du Soleil (for example, Avoriaz, Les Getz, Morzine) as well as southerly French alpine resorts such as the Paradiski (La Plagne and Les Arcs, for example) and Val d'Isere. Chambery and Grenoble also have smaller airports and provide quick, easy and breathtakingly beautiful access for summer hikes, ice climbing, mountain biking, skiing or snowboarding, parapenting and virtually every alpine activity imaginable.
Low-cost European domestic air carriers such as EasyJet and RyanAir have challenged the railways for transportation supremacy throughout the continent, but the French Train a Grande Vitesse, or TGV, is a great option for quickly accessing alpine or coastal regions. Although the ticket price might surpass the cost of airfare, you will avoid airport hassles including excess baggage fees, which can be significant when traveling with ski gear, for example, and ultimately enjoy more comfort on-board. The TGV zooms you across the French countryside at speeds upward of 200 m.p.h. and takes you from Paris to Geneva for access to the highest peaks in the Alps in barely 3.5 hours. The TGV departs directly from Paris, so it's a breeze to get around after your international flight arrival.
Let's clear the air. ... Not all French cheese smells horrible. Even if it does, there is a chance the taste does not reflect the pungency of the odor. That's for your own taste buds to discover. Regardless, buying cheese and a fresh baguette before heading into the French wilderness is the best thing you can do to keep your belly and wallet fat during your stay in France. Try two of the alpine dietary staples, "comte" or "abondance" cheeses. These varieties are quite mild, firm and will not melt, and ultimately stink, in your backpack.
Blanc ou Rougue?
There's more to Burgundy than world-class vineyards and wine cellars. This region is as pastoral and picturesque as it gets. The topography of the area makes it an especially great region for cycling. If you prefer something on two wheels with an engine, the long, winding roads of Bourgogne are a motorcyclist's dream. The entire country is prime for biking of all types. (Does the Tour de France ring a bell?) But the roadways of wine country top them all for cruisability.
France's Greatest Outdoor Secret
For more than 40 years, French citizens have taken advantage of one of the planet's most incredible sportive vacation options offered by the Union nationale des centres sportifs de plein Air, or UCPA. The UCPA provides incredible autonomous or guided activity holidays for visitors from ages 7 to 39. If you can think of a sport, from the mundane to utterly insane, the UCPA can get you out on the water, up in the hills or floating through the sky for cheap. Cheap is actually an understatement. These vacation packages include lodging, food, instruction/guiding and equipment, and only exclude transportation costs. After calculating flight costs, your trip to the French Alps for a weeklong ski/snowboard holiday will cost you no more than a trip to the Rockies. Whatever you do, be sure to avoid the UK middle-man booking agents (for example, Action Outdoors or Ski UCPA.co.uk), and book directly with the UCPA. Vive le France!