HORSEBACK VACATIONS IN THE MOUNTAINS
France is not only a country of vineyards, beautiful beaches and historic cities... French mountains offer very different faces to the rider.
Some of Europe's most imposing mountains border France to the southeast (the Alps) and southwest (the Pyrenees). In the center of France, Massif Central is made of ancient volcanoes, and the linear folded ridges of the Jura mountain range go from Alsace at the east to the Alps in the south.
The Alps is the collective name for one of the great mountain range systems of Europe, stretching from Austria and Slovenia in the east, through Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Germany to France in the west.
The highest peak of the Alps, and in Europe, is Mont Blanc, 4810 m.
A popular area loaded with vacation opportunities, the French Alps were sculpted by glaciers, giving the corresponding valleys a mild climate and rich soil.
Inspiring craggy peaks and snowcapped mountains rise up in the French Alps, where there are fantastic opportunities for skiers and snowboarders.
Weather gives way very rapidly and varies from summer to winter.
With pleasant weather in the summer the valleys open up to lush green fauna and fields of wildflowers. In winter, you can expect snow on the mountains, and sometimes in the valleys.
The Pyrenees are a range of mountains in southwest Europe that form a natural border between France and Spain.
They separate the Iberian Peninsula from France, and extend for about 430km (267 mi) from the Bay of Biscay on the Atlantic Ocean to Cap de Creus on the Mediterranean Sea.
For the most part the main crest forms the Franco-Spanish frontier, with the principality of Andorra sandwiched between them.
The amount of the precipitation, including rain and snow, is much greater in the western than in the eastern Pyrenees, which leads to a marked contrast between these sections of the chain in more than one respect.
A still more marked effect of the preponderance of rainfall in the western half of the chain is seen in the aspect of the vegetation. The lower mountains in the extreme west are very well wooded, but the extent of forest declines eastwards, and the eastern Pyrenees are peculiarly wild and barren.
The Massif Central
The south-central part of France is dominated by the ancient Massif Central.
Subject to volcanism that has only subsided in the last 10,000 years, these central mountains are separated from the Alps by the north-south trending Rhone River Basin.
The mountains of Auvergne, which culminate in rocky peaks at over 7000 feet, are the backbone of France's Massif Central.
This area of highland is the largest volcanic area in Europe. As the experts stress, the volcanoes are dormant... though not extinct.
There is plenty of volcanic activity going on deep below the ground, as is still seen by the hot springs at Chaudes Aigues in the Cantal, where the water comes out of the ground at a temperature of 82°C, the hottest springs in Europe.
Nonetheless, there is little reason for alarm, as there has been no volcanic activity in Auvergne for over 7000 years. Traces of the volcanic past are however to be seen throughout the region, not just in the form of the volcanoes themselves, but in the numerous lava flows, volcanic plugs - often capped with castles - and sets of "organ rocks" that form one of the region's remarkable geological features.
While the northern end of the province stretches up the Loire and Allier valleys towards the low-lying Centre of France, most of the southern part of the region is hilly or mountainous, with large stretches of land lying at over 1000 metres (over 3000 ft). These uplands are penetrated by the valleys of many rivers, most notably the Loire and the Allier which both rise in the south of the Auvergne.
Sparsely populated, the Auvergne boasts a fine natural and cultural heritage, including beautiful valleys, large expanses of coniferous forests, and spectacular hillscapes. It is a region much appreciated by ramblers and nature lovers, as well as by people in search of a holiday far from the madding crowd.
The Jura Mountains are a small mountain range located north of the Alps, separating the Rhine and Rhone rivers and forming part of the watershed of each. The mountain range is located in France, Switzerland, and Germany.
In France, it covers essentially the region of Franche-Comté, stretching south to the region of Rhône-Alpes east of the department of Ain, where the range reaches its peak at Le Crêt de la Neige. The southern end of the French Jura is in the northwest of the department of Savoie. The north end is in the very south of Alsace.
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