France: One last big adventure...

Meze in southern France.
Meze in southern France.
  • A family holiday with teenagers can be a challenging business. Hannah Stephenson embarks on an action-packed séjour in France to keep all generations amused.
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My heart is in my mouth as I watch my two children run off the slope into the void of sky beyond, just a parachute stopping them from plunging hundreds of feet below.

Within a minute they are little specks on the horizon, circling high above the town of Millau, a hotspot for paragliding in the Aveyron region of the Midi-Pyrenees in southern France. My son, Will, 15, is already checking out his action pictures which he later uploads on to Facebook. He hasn’t totally appreciated the magnificent Millau Viaduct spanning the Tarn River in the distance, a showstopper on the landscape and the world’s tallest bridge, designed by English architect Norman Foster and opened in 2004.

Meze in southern France.

Meze in southern France.

Still I am entering that realm of “Could this be our last holiday with the kids?” and seeking adventure may be the only thing that bridges the generation gap. Which is why we travelled to Aveyron, a region known for its amazing river activities, including canyoning and canoeing, as well as adventure circuits, bungee jumping and cycling. And, of course, Roquefort cheese.

We arrive at Val de Cantobre, a campsite in the Cevennes National Park in the middle of nowhere, at the foot of a gorge, surrounded by stunning forests and dramatic limestone rock formations. Hikers love it here, as they trek through open meadows, woodland and terraced hillsides, or follow the path of the river admiring the flora and fauna and the wide variety of birds, as well as scorpions and the odd snake.

Everywhere you look, rocks stick vertically out of the forest hills. Even the beautiful medieval village of Cantobre, a couple of kilometres from our campsite, protrudes out of the craggy hillside, the stone buildings jutting over the edge precariously, looking like they could topple at any time.

If you want to escape tourism, this is the place to be. But the mobile home we hire, the new Aspect range from Eurocamp, has all mod cons, decking and stylish wicker furniture, even a gas barbecue and a permanent awning, so you can sit outside come rain or shine. Wi-fi, however, is better in a cafe in town.

It’s a 30-minute drive to Millau, the nearest big town – where the Rivers Tarn and Dourbie converge and the watery action starts. As abseiling and canyoning with ropes may be a step too far for me and my other half, we opt for the slightly less demanding – but hopefully no less thrilling – river trekking.

Donning wetsuits – even at the height of summer, the Dourbie doesn’t get above 18C – we make our way, using hands and feet, along the rocks, sliding down miniature river rapids feet first and through craggy ravines, as we follow the path of the river. Before long, there’s a great sense of camaraderie among fellow trekkers as we help each other in and out of the water, cheering when anyone conquers a particular fear. At the end of the journey, there’s a moment of trepidation when I jump 20ft from a rock into the river, to the cheers of my family and the others. I feel like I’ve conquered Everest.

In the wake of this water-bound excursion, my teenagers are up for anything river-based, so we take a canoe trip down the Dourbie. The river provides the perfect mix of excitement and tranquillity – one minute we’re taking on a mini rapid, the next we’re paddling through a calmer stretch, admiring the stunning gorges beyond, stopping off at a little beach for a picnic or to take a quick dip in the crystal clear, if icy, water.

The beauty about staying in the Aveyron is that if you want warmer water, you can head for it. The Mediterranean is just 90 minutes away by car on an excellent road, so we bypass Montpellier to reach Meze, which sounds more like a Greek village but is actually a traditional French seaside town, with a big fishing community.

Beaches are plentiful along this coastline, where the Thau lagoon separates a spit of land on which the port of Sete lies. At Meze, toddlers enjoy splashing in the shallow waters, while adrenalin junkies kite-surf in the nearby open water. There’s also sailing and windsurfing in this gusty seaside haven.

On the way back to Cantobre, we come across a sign to La Couvertoirade, listed as “one of the most beautiful villages in France”, so we make a detour to discover the most glorious walled Templars village, dating back to the 12th century.

A leisurely walk through the cobbled streets reveals artisan shops and bijou restaurants where crusaders once stood, but sheep breeding is the mainstay of the economy and at the foot of a village at about 8pm, the collar bells and bleatings of the sheep break the quiet of the evening.

As a family on perhaps one of our last holidays together, we’ll laugh about the river pursuits, the freezing water and the fact that William managed to miss the tallest bridge in the world on the flight of his life. That’s teenagers for you.

• Hannah Stephenson was a guest of Eurocamp ( 0844 406 0552, www.eurocamp.co.uk) which offers seven nights at Val de Contobre, staying in a three-bedroom Esprit with decking and air conditioning, from £386 per party, including a saving of £190, accommodation only. Fly-drive and ferry packages can be arranged through Eurocamp at a supplement.

Roc et Canyon, based in Millau, offers canoe hire, river trekking, canyoning, via ferrata (zip-line adventure trails) and other activities with instructors. Visit www.roc-et-canyon.com or call +33 (0)5 65 61 17 77.

Azimut Evasion runs daily paragliding sessions (weather permitting), tandem flights with professional pilots and individual courses for small groups. Visit www.millau-evasion.com or call +33 (0)6 09 14 46 94.