Among those on offer are rock-climbing, abseiling, caving, canyoning, mountain biking and canoeing, along with more sedate pursuits such as horse riding and fishing. In winter a blanket of snow transforms the area into a skier’s paradise, with hundreds of kilometres of some of France’s best cross-country ski trails.
Canyoning I’ve always thought of as more an escape technique than something to be done for fun. And with the water looking more like a torrent than a river it’s clear this could be terrifying.
The water is 8˚C, says our guide Ramin Rezai. That’s twice as warm as a fridge, I tell myself, but it doesn’t stop me nearly fainting twice after coming out. Despite this, it’s actually a lot of fun to go slipping over rocks and down rapids and tombstoning off cliffs into deep pools.
A cave seems an unlikely place to start a rock-climbing expedition, but the French love to be different. After crawling and clambering through a cave once used by gangs smuggling goods to Switzerland, our group emerges on a small ledge halfway up a cliff.
As I wonder how on earth we’ll get down, Ramin starts rigging up a series of ropes around the mountain. After a quick lesson somehow we all make it and, after slipping down a path that would do a mountain goat proud, we come to a sheer drop of more than 30m.
Ramin starts rigging up for the abseil down, but it’s not until he tells us he’s a French army commando who’s recently returned from Afghanistan that I feel a little more comfortable about the fetish-looking rope set-up he’s devised. Of course it works a treat, and plonks us all at the bottom of a beautiful canyon.
On yer bike
Metabief is a popular ski resort, but in summer it has great trails for mountain biking. It hosted the 1993 World Mountain Bike Championships, which gives an idea of the level of terrain.
But with professional outdoors expert Yannick Prysbor showing us the way it’s loads of fun, and proves yet another rewarding, if challenging, way to see the lovely Franche-Comté countryside.
» Daniel Landon travelled with the Franche-Comté Tourist Board and Rail Europe (0844-848 4070; www.raileurope.co.uk). Returns from London to Bellegarde start at £97, and at £79 to Besançon.
The good life
Wine and cheese and ye olde towns
You don’t have to go to the South of France to see pretty villages and countryside or sample great food and wine. Franche-Comté has all of the above and it’s off the beaten track, too.
The provincial capital Besançon is on a bend in the River Doubs and has a pleasant and traditional town centre. The Hotel Charles Quint, at the top of the town next to a cathedral and citadel, has bags of old-French charm. Rooms start from £70 a night.
Ornans is a small town where you can see old men fishing for their dinner in the River Loue. A canoe trip on the Loue, which meanders through the centre of the town, is highly recommended
Vin jaune is the local speciality. It’s a white wine that tastes a little like sherry, but is smoother and tastier. The red wines are also worth giving a go. They’re cool climate wines and light in colour, but unlike most such reds they pack plenty of flavour.
Comté (a rich, milky, hard cheese) is hugely popular. It’s available in Tesco, but while you’re here pick up a fresh block from one of the many dairies and it’s stunning. Morbier is a local ‘blue’ cheese with a black layer of ash in the middle — it looks foul but has a rich, creamy, tangy taste.