RACING'S TOUR DE FRANCE; BASTILLE DAY SPECIAL North, south, east or west, French correspondent Scott Burton shows you where's best.
Many of the smaller tracks race just two or three times a year and the whole day will often form part of a wider local festival. If you're lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time these can be a real treat. As well as the racing there is sure to be local food and wine on offer and plenty to do for youngsters. The website fetesdescourse.fr has dates and details of such events.
Another joy of racing in France at this time of the year is that many meetings stage twilight and evening meetings. Look out on listings for the words 'semi-nocturne' or 'nocturne' to avoid turning up three hours early.
The main disciplines you will see on fixture lists are plat (Flat), obstacle (jumping) and trot (trotting or harness racing), while a meeting described as 'mixte' is likely to be a combination of trotting and one or both racing codes.
For many, the Normandy resort of Deauville is the first and last word in French summer racing, and it is hard to argue with the quality of the sport or the sheer glamour surrounding the place throughout August. You do not have to fork out to stay in Deauville or across the estuary in similarly minted Trouville either, with little more than an hour in the car taking you as far as Caen to the west and the Channel ports of Le Havre and Dieppe in the other direction.
But if you are enjoying a beach holiday and want to turn up in shorts and flip-flops, then Clairefontaine, five minutes drive away on the other side of Deauville, will offer a more relaxed alternative in beautiful surroundings and you will still see most of the crack French riders in action.
Indeed, the main Deauville course (or Deauville-La Touques, to give it its full pedigree title) is something of the sartorial exception at this time of the year, so do not be afraid to 'come as you are' at other provincial tracks.
Those who have been lured from the summer delights of Goodwood or Galway may also be surprised at the location of many racecourses.
You may struggle, for instance, to name one serious racing venue in Brittany. Yet according to the Western Regional Horseracing Federation (Federation Regionale des Courses hippiques de l'Ouest), there are more than 40 courses, stretching from Plouescat on the Brest peninsula, across to the port of Saint-Malo and down to Saint Jean de Monts, south of Nantes. Talking of Brittany, for those able to venture inland past Rennes, two highlights for jumping fans are Craon and Le Pertre.
Back on the Atlantic coast you will find a string of promising alternatives.
Located on the Cote d'Amour near Saint-Nazaire, the chic resort of La Baule hosts world-class showjumping in May. But with a multi-million-euro refurbishment of the racecourse at La Baule's more family-oriented twin, Le Pornichet, completed last month, it is racing and trotting on the Fibresand, in front of a futuristic new grandstand, that is now set to be the focus of attention throughout the summer months and into the autumn.
Venturing down the west coast into the Vendee, Les Sables d'Olonne offers good facilities and good sport, with national standard meetings on July 31 and August 1. And anybody visiting Bordeaux need not worry that the city's Le Bouscat course shuts its doors between mid-June and September 14, with Royan la Palmyre at the top of the Gironde estuary and La Teste de Buch a few miles to the south-west.
Those exploring the many castles of the Dordogne might fancy a detour to sample the charms of jumping at Pompadour, which stretches out below the three towers of the local chateau. Cross-country is the speciality here, with the climax of the summer meeting being the Ascension Day Holiday on Monday, August 15. The local horseracing society is ever-welcoming to British visitors and became twinned with Folkestone racecourse in 2007.
The Basque coast, with its bustling heart at Biarritz, has long been a favourite destination for those seeking the glamour of a casino or the thrill of the surf. While the local hippodrome is a strictly trotting-only venue, the courses at Dax and Mont de Marsan are within easy reach over the flat expanses of the Landes.
The proximity of the Spanish border means tapas (pintxos in Basque) is the order of the day here, while San Sebastian is only an hour away if you happen to be holidaying on the other side of the Pyrenees.
The Auvergne may be an area better known to the French than foreign visitors, but if you find yourself travelling through the Massif Central, perhaps on the way to the Mediterranean, Vichy hosts good racing during the summer, notably during its Grande Semaine de Galop from July 17-23. The town has moved on from its wartime associations and among the many culinary delights to accompany some good racing is the auvergnat sausage. However, be warned, there's a reason the French head for the coast during the summer - Vichy is likely to be sweltering.
OF COURSE this is a country with more than one racing passion and many tracks play host to meetings given over solely to trotting. For those holidaying in the sultry south this is likely to be the norm as the soaring temperatures preclude horses racing flat-out.
Away from the beaches, lower-grade Flat racing is hosted near Avignon at both Cavaillon and Carpentras, while the better action resumes at Marseille-Borely in the first week of September.
In contrast, the Channel coast offers a real feast on the Flat and over jumps. Aside from Deauville and Clairefontaine, there are the delights of Dieppe and Le Touquet, both of which offer Flat and jump racing, although fans of 'les obstacles' will be out of luck during August.
A glance at the congested map on the national federation's website - lescourseshippiques.com/hippodromes -federations-trot-galop-courses.html - should confirm that many British tourists will be spoilt for choice in their holiday location. Just click on the green dots for details.
The list on the right gives details of all the courses outside of Paris that stage national-level or category 1 fixtures during the summer.
And if you are not within range of a course any time soon, just start planning for next year.
Deauville and Clairefontaine While Deauville is known as Paris-on-sea, or the 21st arrondissement and boasts class on and off the track from the end of July to the end of August, Clairefontaine, just across town, provides an idyllic, laid-back alternative. The only visitors who might fail to fall for its charms are those who suffer from hay fever, given the estimated 70,000 flowers on display. Children are particularly well catered for with a variety of activities before racing starts, including the chance to meet the jockeys. Leave the Sunday best in the suitcase, bring a picnic, and sample a combination of Flat and jumping www.hippodrome-deauville-clairefontaine.com Le Pornichet Next door to fashionable La Baule on the Cote d'Amour and three hours from Paris by TGV, Le Pornichet has undergone a major investment with a futuristic grandstand and Fibresand racing surface.
Free entry for under-20s. Restaurant: 0033 240660209 www.hippornichet.fr Craon and Le Pertre Craon hosts its three-day Glorious festival on the first weekend in September, the centrepiece of which is the Grand Cross-Country de Craon, the sixth leg in the pan-European Crystal Cup series, and watched by a crowd of 20,000. Restaurant bookings: 0033 629806266 (mobile). www.hippodrome-courses-chevaux-53-craon.courses-craon.com/Le Pertre may not be able to match its bigger neighbour for state-of-the-art facilities, but the spirit of the sport's roots is very much alive on its big days of July 31 and August 21 www.lepertre.com Dieppe They have been racing at Dieppe's Rouxmesnil course since 1852, with the present stable blocks dating to 1895. While the sport may be half a notch below the top level, the catering in Les Vertes Salines panoramic restaurant or Open Ditch brasserie certainly isn't. Direct ferry service from Newhaven. Restaurant: 0033 235842928 www.hippodrome-dieppe.com Vichy hosts the biggest summer festival outside Deauville during the Grande Semaine de Galop in July, with plenty of familiar names among riders in attendance. The feature is the Group 3 Grand Prix de Vichy, which is part of the evening meeting on July 20 www.courses-de-vichy.fr Pompadour nestles to the south-east of the Dordogne in the Correze department. The course's speciality is cross-country and steeplechasing, with the Ascension Day fixture on August 15 staging the Grand Cross de Pompadour. The track sprawls under the walls of the chateau, which is itself host to a branch of the National Stud. You'll hear plenty of resonant accents among the crowd owing to the twinning arrangement with Folkestone racecourse www.courses-pompadour.com Major French summer fixtures Beaumont-de-Lomagne September 5 Chateaubriant July 18, August 16 Clairefontaine July 23 (evening), 28, August 1, 6, 8, 11 (evening), 13, 18, 22, 25, 27, 31.
Compiegne July 25 Craon August 21 (children's day), September 3, 4, 5 (Grand Festival des Trois Glorieuses) Dax August 19, September 4 Deauville July 30 Prix de Pyche (G3) (evening), 31 Prix Rothschild (G1), August 2, 4, 5, 7 Prix Maurice de Gheest (G1), 9, 12 Prix de Lieury (G3), 14 Prix de Pomone (G2), 15 Prix Jacques le Marois (G1), 17, 20 Prix du Calvados (G3), 21 Prix Morny (G1), Prix Jean Romanet (G1), 23 Prix de la Nonette (G2), 26, 28 Grand Prix de Deauville (G2), 29, 30 Dieppe July 18, 20, 27 (trotting July 30 and throughout August) Hyeres September 5 La Teste de Buch July 21, 29, August 4, 8, September 3 Le Lion-d'Angers July 26, August 18 Le Pertre July 31, August 21 (featuring Grand Cross-Country) Le Pornichet July 23, 26, 29, August 2, 9, 12, 15 30 Les Sables d'Olonne July 30, August 1 Lyon La Soie September 6 Marseille-Borely September 1 Mont de Marsan July 22 Moulins September 2 Nancy September 6, 7 Pompadour July 17, 24, August 6, 15, 21, 28, September 4 Saint-Malo August 3, 23, 24 Vichy July 17-23 (Grande Semaine de Galop), 28, August 3, 5, 10, 12, 15, 16, 19, 29 WHEREVER YOU ARE IN THE WORLD, DOWNLOAD OUR DIGITAL NEWSPAPER RACINGPOST.com/diginews - BE IN THE KNOW