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Last updated : Nov 2009
France Sports
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The most popular spectator sports are rugby and football, which the French follow passionately. Emotions exploded to fever pitch when France won the football World Cup in 1998.

The Tour de France cycling race during summer is one of the world’s most prestigious cycling races and a favourite spectator event.

The French Open at Roland Garros near Paris is one of the four Grand Slam tennis tournaments and attracts all the world’s top players as well as drawing huge crowds.

Another notable event on the French sports calendar is the 24-hour motor race at Le Mans.

The highlight of the horseracing calendar is the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe held on the first Sunday in October each year. It takes place in Longchamp close to the Bois de Boulogne.

Canal cruises

France is criss-crossed by some 8500km (5313 miles) of canals and rivers, and houseboats can be rented easily.

Popular itineraries include the Lorient–Redon route (along the former route of the Brittany invasions), Marne–Strasbourg (through the vineyards of Champagne to the Alsace-Lorraine canals), the Burgundy Canal (a popular wine route), and Bordeaux–Sète (a 500km/313 mile-journey from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean along the Canal du Midi). Boats can be rented from numerous private operators who can also arrange the necessary permits. Most vessels sleep between two and 12 people. The return journey is usually via the same route, one-way trips are possible but involve extra costs.


French towns and cities are actively promoting the use of bicycles. There are some 28,000km (17,500 miles) of marked cycling paths throughout France. Bicycles can be hired from many local tourist offices, and French Railways (SNCF) also offers bicycles for hire at some 30 stations. There is an extensive network of pistes cyclables (cycling paths) along the Atlantic coast, all the way down to the Spanish border.


Good fishing regions include Brittany for salmon and trout, Franche-Comté which has many lakes, Languedoc-Roussillon good for mountain fishing), and Midi-Pyrénées, famous for the fario trout. Trips with local fishermen are possible along the Atlantic coast. Popular catches include crayfish, lobster, scallops and, at low tide, crabs, shrimps and mussels. Deep-sea-fishing trips are widely available on the Côte d’Azur. Permits for river fishing can be obtained from local city halls.


There are over 200 golf courses in France. A number of companies are offering themed golf holidays which combine golfing with other activities as well as sightseeing. Popular destinations include the Loire Valley, Burgundy and the French Alps.


There are thousands of miles of carefully marked trails throughout France. These are known as Sentiers de Grande Randonnée, and are generally marked on maps as well as being recognisable by a red and white logo marked GR. The hiking routes are complemented by an extensive network of gîtes and mountain refuges providing inexpensive but comfortable accommodation. A Guide des Gîtes de France is available from bookshops.

Horse riding

Although popular and available countrywide, one of France’s favourite destinations for horseriding is the Camargue where even inexperienced riders can gallop along sandy beaches and through the characteristic marshland. Horses can be hired from numerous stables throughout the country.


The French Alps offer excellent skiing with some of the world’s best-known resorts. There are over 480km (300 miles) of ski pistes, over 150 ski lifts, innumerable ski schools and quality resort facilities. All the major resorts offer skiing package holidays. The season runs from early December to the end of April. The height of the season is during February and March, which is reflected in the higher prices.

SNCF, in association with the French Association of Resorts and Sports Goods Retailers (AFMASS), organises skiing holidays. Packages are only marketed in France, visitors should contact SNCF on arrival.

Traditional sports

Traditional boules, also called pétanque, requiring as much dexterity as social skill, is frequently played in public squares. Visitors wishing to join in may find it easier if they speak French.


France has over 3000km (1880 miles) of coastline, ranging from the rugged English Channel and Atlantic coasts in the north and west to the sunny shores of the French Riviera (Côte d’Azur) along the Mediterranean in the south. All types of watersports are available, although the warm climate of the Mediterranean provides obvious advantages, with swimming in the sea possible practically all year round.
Useful travel links
www.enit.it Tourist Board of France
VisitFrance Outdoor sports information