Outdoor Activities in South Aquitaine
Information on hiking, biking, canoeing, surfing and horse riding in the hills and coast of south-western France. With contact details of regional sport and activity associations...
The Dune de Pilat, situated near Arcachon is the largest sand dune in Europe; the Aquitaine region is home to Europe's largest pine forest; Aquitaine is known as the surf capital of Europe.
There are many outdoor and sports activities in the South West France départements of Pyrénées Atlantiques and Landes, and much useful information available. The Atlantic coast is an ideal place for all water sports: swimming, canoeing, kayaking, surfing, windsurfing and fishing. The varied landscapes throughout the region are suited to walking, climbing, horse riding, cycling and mountain-biking.
Hiking and Walking
With its varied landscapes South West France is very well suited for walking and hiking: the Landes has 2,000 Km and the Pyrénées-Atlantiques has 5,000 Km of marked hiking trails.
Hiking areas include the Bay of Arcachon to the north, and the Regional Nature Park in the Landes de Gascogne. For more difficult hiking trips the Basque country of the Pyrenees Mountains is very popular. One of the best known hiking trails is the GR10, a route from the west coast through the Pyrenees to the Mediterranean.
The Fédération Française de la Randonnée Pedestre (FFRP) is the overseeing body for all marked and maintained walking routes in France. It provides information and guide-books (most in French) for walkers in the area.
Top 25 hiking maps are issued by the Institut Géographique National (IGN). They are to a scale of 1:25,000 and have all maintained trails and parking areas marked. The maps are sold at newsagents (presse) and bookshops.
All nationally recognised trails are categorised as follows:
- GR (Grand Randonnée): Registered hiking trails that often run across the entire country
- GRP (Sentiers de Grande Randonnée de Pays): Registered regional trails that will take you around a particular region for several days
- PR (Sentiers de Promenade): Walking and hiking trails for short circuits, lasting several hours
The French route marking system shows paths by means of signs and blazes.
- For clear explanations of the waymarks, or blazes (balises): Click here
Local walking committees are able to provide a number of useful walking guidebooks.
- Comité Départementale de la Randonnée Pedestre des Landes
At: La Mairie, 40180 Narrosse
Tel: 05 58 90 12 84
- Comité Départementale de la Randonnée Pedestre des Pyrénées-Atlantiques
At: 22 Ter, rue J.J. de Monaix, 64000 Pau
Tel: 05 59 30 01 30
Fax: 05 59 46 52 46
Mountaineering and Climbing
Rock climbing areas in Aquitaine include les Falaises de Tautavel in Arguibelle, Le Céou, the Campagne de la Bugue and the Val de Dronne in the Périgord.
Professional guides are available and recommended in most areas. They should hold a diploma from the Ministry of Youth and Sports, and a qualification from the Mountaineering and Rock-climbing Federation, the Fédération Française de la Montagne et de l'Escalade (FFME).
Information (in French) is available on the grade, training options and availability of guides from the FFME.
- Fédération Française de la Montagne et de l'Escalade
At: 8-10 Quai de la Marne, 75019 Paris
Tel: 01 40 18 75 50
Fax: 01 40 18 75 59
- Centre Régional Aquitaine d'Escalade
At: 11 Impasse des Hortensias, 64400 Bidos
Cycling and Mountain Biking
South West France has a regional development scheme with the aim of developing over 2,000 Km of maintained cycle routes in the Aquitaine region; there are currently over 2,000 Km of mountain biking tracks that are signposted and show the levels of difficulty.
- Cycling trips ideas in the Sud-Ouest from the tourist office in South Aquitaine
Canoeing and Kayaking
Popular areas for canoeing and kayaking include the white waters of the Pyrenees and along the Atlantic coastline. Navigable rivers for canoeing and kayaking are classified into six grades, Classes I to VI. There are many organisations providing training, transport and equipment for trips, either one day or several.
The sport is monitored by the Fédération Française de Canoë-Kayak (FFCK). It has information on appropriate rivers and expert guides, where available.
- Fédération Française de Canoë Kayak
Tel: 02 48 89 39 89
- Comité Régional de de Canoë Kayak d'Aquitaine
At: Route du Hon, 40380 Gamarde-les-Bains
Tel: 05 58 98 50 06
Canyoning is allowed in the summer only, generally 1 April to 31 October. All the skills of caving, diving and climbing are necessary to practice this sport. There are strict rules concerning the responsible use of all canyoning sites, as regards protection of the ecology, and treatment of the site.
- For a list of canyoning sites in Aquitaine (most in the Pyrénées Atlantiques) see the Descente Canyon website
The Aquitaine region has over 8,500 Km of sign posted tracks for riders and over 150 places for accommodation that are specifically for horseback tourism.
The wide-open spaces in Aquitaine and the beaches of the Landes coast as well as the small towns of the Pyrénées make excellent riding environments.
- Comité Régional d’Equitation d’Aquitaine
At: Hippodrome du Bouscat, 33492 Le Bouscat
Tel: 05 56 28 01 48
Fax: 05 56 16 26 55
- For comprehensive information on hiking, climbing, biking and riding, skiing and watersports see ePyrenees.com