You can’t step twice in the same river

Could it be the last hol­i­day with the chil­dren? Hannah Stephen­son and fam­ily make the most of a beau­ti­ful val­ley in the Midi-Pyre­nees

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Yheart 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.

Of course, there’s an in­struc­tor strapped in with each of them, which al­lays my fears some­what, and 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 MidiPyre­nees 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.

Fly­ing on top of the world may not be for ev­ery­one, but I am en­ter­ing that realm of ‘Could this be our last hol­i­day with the kids?’ Seek­ing adventure may be the only thing that bridges the gen­er­a­tion gap.

Ca­noe­ing down the Dour­bie

So, hold­ing that thought, we travel the long jour­ney to the 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 hill­side 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 French 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 look­ing like they could top­ple at any time.

This neck of the woods is ideal for road bikes, as the roads which cut into the gorges are fairly flat and even. You’ll need to ven­ture fur­ther to make the most of moun­tain bikes, with trails that scale the top of the gorge.

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.

It’s a 30-minute drive to Mil­lau, the near­est big town – where the Rivers Tarn and Dour­bie con­verge and the wa­tery ac­tion starts.

We take a 13km 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 wa­ter.

For those who think this sounds too se­date, think again. My daugh­ter Grace, 14, and I cap­size on one of the rapids af­ter slam­ming into a rock, which is pretty scary and jaw­drop­pingly cold with­out a wet­suit, and although we can stand up ev­ery­where, it takes us a while to catch our breath and haul our­selves back into the ca­noe

If you want warmer wa­ter the Mediter­ranean is just 90 min­utes away by car on an ex­cel­lent road, so we

HHan­nah and her fam­ily ex­plored the Dour­bie River by by­pass Mont­pe­lier to reach Meze, a tr tra­di­tional old French sea­side town, w with a big fish­ing com­mu­nity.

Oysters, seafood plat­ters, moules fr frites and other fishy spe­cial­i­ties are w widely avail­able from the restau­rants sc scat­tered around the pretty har­bour.

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.

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.

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