France is the largest country in Europe, stretching from the chilly North Sea down to the Mediterranean, and from the stormy Atlantic coast across to the Alps. Paris is its heart, and to miss it would be crazy, but there are many other cities and also the glories of the Grande Campagne (that’s the countryside). More than enough to keep gap year travellers busy, in other words.
For adventure travel in France, your best bet is to pack your bags and go. Along the way, and depending on season, you can surf in the west at Hossegor or Biarritz, ski or mountaineer in the Alps to the east, negotiate the street life of Marseille in the south, and then move along the coast to the beaches of the Riviera.
France has plenty for students, backpackers and young people. Paris is a repository of history and culture – just head for the Louvre and go from there – and throughout the country there are palaces and chateaux, not to mention a way of life that is an education in itself. The further south you go, the more relaxed it gets, until you hit the Riviera. Then you can just turn around and do it all again.
If you want to get to know France better, try volunteer work. There are many opportunities to teach English here that will help you get to know the country and its people.