ACTIVITY holidays in France have become a big growth area. In my book Family France (Boxtree, pounds 8.99) *, the list of activity holidays and specialist operators runs to nearly 10,000 words. The activities feature everything from adventure holidays for children to wine tours, bridge weekends, canoeing, golfing, horse riding, photography and running.

Not long ago, Susi Madron's Cycling for Softies (061-248 8282) practically had the business to itself. Now more than a dozen operators are offering cycling packages. This year Ms Madron has compiled tours with accommodation in family-run hotels in eight regions. An 11-day Gentle Tourer in the Mayenne region of north-west France costs from pounds 587 to pounds 617 per person, including half-board accommodation, bike hire and flights.

Headwater Holidays (0606 48699) offers six- to 14-night holidays in Provence, Burgundy, Loire, Creuse, Southern Languedoc, Jura, Lot and Cele and the Western Alps. A 10-night Chateaux and Chablis cycling holiday in Burgundy, with half-board, costs from pounds 499 per person self-drive. Among other cycling specialists are: Alastair Sawday's Tours (0272 299921); Belle France (0892 890885); Bike Tours (0225 480130); Borderline (0963 250117); Cyclists Touring Club (0483 417217); Explore Worldwide (0252 319448); Inntravel (0439 71111).

Of course, you can always do it yourself. With its excellent network of long-distance footpaths - le Sentier de Grande Randonnee (GR for short) - France has a vast array of perfect walking country. The advantage of buying a package is that the firm not only plots your route, but can also arrange to have your baggage transported from hotel to hotel.

One of the longest established operators, Ramblers Holidays (0707 331133), offers 16 different tours and walking holidays in the French mountains and countryside. Prices range from about pounds 350 for one week to about pounds 650 for two weeks, including flights, half-board accommodation and walking programme. Waymark Holidays (0753 516477) is another well-regarded specialist featuring walks in Corsica, Provence, Savoie, the Pyrenees and Languedoc: 14 nights' half-board in Corsica costs from pounds 695 per person. HF Holidays (081-905 9558) offers walking holidays, led by 'experienced, knowledgeable leaders'. Destinations: Dordogne, Auvergne, Haute Pyrenees and Haute Savoie; prices range from pounds 565 to pounds 718 per person for 14 nights' half-board, flights included.

Other companies include: Belle France (0892 890885); Bespoke Holidays (0732 366130); Borderline (0963 250117); Explore Worldwide (0252 319448); Hotel Treks (081-569 4101); Inntravel (0439 71111); Quatre Saisons (0303 221135); VFB (0242 526338); and Sherpa Expeditions (081-577 2717).

Perhaps the most surprising phenomenon is the emergence of a wide range of arts specialists offering packages linked to painting, music or photography. Music at Ladevie (071-249 7591) offers 10-day summer piano study courses in rural south-west France. A package offering full-board accommodation and tuition costs from pounds 350 to pounds 650 per person. Non-participating partners receive a 15 per cent discount. The price excludes the cost of travelling to France.

If you want to listen to music, DB Jazz Tours (0789 267532) runs escorted holidays to festivals, and Travel for the Arts (071-483 4466) offers packages at three-, four- and five-star hotels in Paris, with tickets for the opera and ballet. Prices range from pounds 225 per person for two-night bed-and-breakfast packages.

For those keen on travelling to France to paint or draw, LSG Theme Holidays (0509 231713) offers packages to Brittany, Normandy, Ardeche, Auvergne, Ile-de-France, Languedoc, Dordogne, Provence and the Cote d'Azur: four- to 15-day holidays cost from pounds 325 to pounds 875 per person, including accommodation in two- and three-star hotels, tuition and travel from the UK.

The Painting School of Montmiral (0786 472023) runs individually tailored courses in the Tarn region. A two-week package, including tuition, model, invited artists, visits to the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum, half-board accommodation and collection from the airport costs pounds 592 per person. Holidays for non-painting partners cost pounds 368 per person.

Other painting and drawing specialists include Bespoke Holidays (0732 366130); Painting for Pleasure in France (0386 438775); and Simply Corsica (081-747 3580).

* Copies of Family France from: Independent Reader Services, PO Box 60, Wetherby, Yorkshire LS23 7HJ; send cheque or PO for pounds 9.99, inc p & p, or telephone 071-956 1502 and pay by credit card. Allow 28 days for delivery.